October 29, 2017 Sermon (Reformation Sunday)
Reformation of Our Own
During the Presbytery weekend, I had the honour and privilege to preach at Rev. Ibi’s covenanting service in Cranbook. I was worried about Ibi starting his first solo parish ministry, and the Cranbrook congregation that probably never had a pastor from such a different place. I was filled with love and worries as if he were my little brother; then I came to a sudden realization. “Wait a minute! But I am also from a very different culture!” Since I feel so comfortable in the west, I often forget the fact that I grew up in a very different culture. I suddenly remembered the time when I was told that it is rude to not keep eye contact when you are talking with someone. It was more than 10 years ago. In my culture, it is rude to look straight into someone’s eyes when you talk to them, especially if the person you are addressing is older or in a higher social status than you are. So learning to keep eye contact with people during conversations, being an introvert to begin with, was painful. I would talk to someone or listen to them, while keeping a smile or a look of empathy depending on the topic, but inside I keep saying to myself, “Don’t break eye contact. Don’t break eye contact. Oh, this is so uncomfortable!” After more than 10 years from then, I feel much more comfortable with the eye contact; but still every time I have to be conscious. I had not realized how much my culture influenced me, especially in my relationships with different people. I also heard from a Korean missionary in Kenya that once she felt a young man was rude because he didn’t come and introduce himself. In Korea, a younger person or someone of a lower social status has to come and introduce himself/ herself. It turns out, in this young man’s culture, it is rude to talk to someone older or of a higher social status without being introduced by a third person. Oh the cultural differences…
The point of sharing these anecdotes is to remind you that unknown things can be scary and that we all have to go through learning experiences. Phobias come from not knowing and understanding. When you’re a Christian Caucasian and not used to people of colour and different religions, you may feel uncomfortable with them or become suspicious of them. When you’re heterosexual and not used to homosexuals; you may feel uncomfortable with them or think that being different is wrong. Changes can be scary, because you don’t know what to expect. Changes are uncomfortable because it is human nature to want to keep things familiar. But there come times when changes are needed for progress. Industrial revolution changed the way people lived their lives. I’m sure a lot of people got scared at the change and even resisted it. When we have illness inside our bodies, it is necessary to disturb the state of the body to get rid of the illness. We may have to go through the pain and fear of surgery to eventually become healthier. This scary change happened in the Christian Church 500 years ago. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which not only gave birth to the Reformed Church/ Protestant Church, but also gave the Catholic Church an opportunity to reform within itself.
I’m sure we have all experienced going through changes, and the fear and discomfort that came with them. You disturb your life by marrying someone and starting a new life; that’s scary. You leave your home to start university or a new job at a new place; that’s scary. So, you can imagine how scared and confused the Reformation people were. Besides, think of what happened afterwards; Catholic kings and queens killed and persecuted the Protestants, and Protestant kings and queens did the same to the Catholics. Father Jim and I could have never become friends back then. But there was illness, cancer cells in the body of Christ. Surgery was needed, and surgery was what happened. Brave men and women stood up against the corruption of the Church, and the new church was born, to which we belong.
I could have said, “Reformation happened, and the rest is history”; but unfortunately, the Christian Church/ the body of Christ, like everything else in the world, keeps becoming sick. Like every other body in the world, the body of Christ needs constant care and treatment. Reformation is not the past. Reformation is, or should be, an ongoing process. Like there are standards for doctors to check if our bodies are healthy, there are also standards for the body of Christ to check if it is healthy. In today’s gospel text, Jesus is being tested yet again by the religious leaders of his time. He must have been sick and tired of dealing with these people. Jesus summarizes the whole Jewish Law in two commandments; love God and love your neighbors. There are millions and zillions of individual commandments for the Jewish people, but they all come down to these two. What’s the point of the millions of commandments? To make people love God and love one another. So let’s examine the health of our Christian Church. Do our ministries demonstrate our love for God and for one another? Oh wait, some churches are rejecting and insulting LGBT people; is that love? Some pastors make millions of dollars by preaching prosperity gospel and refusing to open up their mega churches for flood survivors. Is the body of Christ healthy? But of course, some other churches dedicate their resources and service in the works of reconciliation and inclusive love. So, we know that some parts are healthy and some are not. This is why the Reformation movement has to be an ongoing process.
How shall we love God and our neighbors? By taking care of God’s creation. Listen to how Paul and his members loved each other. “But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” We should love one another as a nurse tenderly cares for her children. Does a nurse tenderly caring for her children says to one of her children, “You are a lesser human being, so you can’t get the same good things as other kids”? She’d be fired, don’t you think?
Surgery is scary, even an easy one that doctors can perform within an hour. Changes are scary because we don’t know what will come of it. Changes are also uncomfortable because “that’s not how we used to do things.” Think of the brave men and women who led the Reformation movement and how healthier the Church has become; so we know that painful change was necessary. But the Church keeps being corrupted in different areas, and in the same areas too. 500 years ago, the Church asked for money in exchange for promise of atonement and salvation; mega churches of our time ask for money in exchange for promise of material prosperity. The Reformation is not history. This is a tradition that our ancestors in faith have started and we should continue. Different eras bring different problems. We have to be vigilant in caring for this body of Christ to which we belong. Sometimes small changes, and sometimes big changes are required to keep the body of Christ healthy. We should not let our fear of change get in our way of progress. I used to be so scared of going to the dentist that my cavities would become worse by the time my mother dragged me to the dentist, kicking and screaming. We should not let that happen. We should be vigilant about what our church needs to grow healthy, and ask ourselves if our ministries fulfill the two Great Commandments of loving God and our neighbors. Let’s consider this 500th Reformation Day as a new beginning. Let us love each other and help each other in working towards a healthier Church… together. And may we never stop learning new things and changing.
Rev. Sunny Kim