Sermon Feb. 18, 2018
Journey for the Kingdom: Journey of Transformation
Have you ever watched a movie where the main characters go on a road trip, whether it was a planned trip or it happened by accident? I’ve watched some road trip movies. Usually as the result of being thrown into road trips, at the end of the movie, the characters learn a lesson and change for the better, although I don’t think all road trip movies are meant to result in transformation. Hear this one story, for example. When Charlie finds out that his estranged father died and left his expensive estate to his other son of which Charlie is unaware, he follows the clues and finds Raymond in a mental institution. Being angry at his father, Charlie kidnaps Ray and tries to get half of the estate by negotiating Ray’s return. When that doesn’t work, he tries to gain custody of his disabled brother to assume control over his inheritance. Unwittingly, the two brothers are thrown on the road with a lot of different events happening that prolong their trip. During this trip, the selfish Charlie learns about their childhood and starts to love his brother. At the end of this journey, Charlie truly gains a brother and abandons his greed. The end. This is what road trip movies are about; the travelers changing for the better.
I started my message with road trip movies because the Season of Lent has started, and Lent is a period for our spiritual journey. During Lent, we embark on a spiritual road trip into examining our lives, our wrongdoings and shortcomings, and letting God transform us. To get there, we have to practise different spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditating on the Holy Scripture, fasting or other acts of self-denial, as well as giving and serving. Lent is a time when we get a second chance at getting closer to God. This process starts with repentance; that is why the beginning of Lent is Ash Wednesday when we receive ashes on our forehead as a sign of repentance. Christians practise acts of self-denial during Lent to get closer to God but often we don’t remember that giving up something during Lent is NOT the goal, but just a means to an end, which is getting closer to God. We fast, pray, meditate on the Holy Scripture, or give to the poor because we want to reconcile with God. So even if you decided to give up chocolate for Lent and fail, you shouldn’t feel so bad about it. What we should focus on is not what we give up and don’t do, but what we pick up and start doing in order to get closer to God.
Let us take a look at the gospel text we read, and learn from Jesus how to start this spiritual road trip. The journey of Jesus as God’ chosen one starts with a baptism. We already heard that, for Jesus, baptism was a moment of identification as God’s chosen one, a decision on his part to boldly live preaching and spreading the Kingdom of God, and approval from God. As we start this new beginning, a second chance from God, we too need to go through the process of proclaiming our identity as God’s children, making a decision to live as God’s people, and believing that God loves and chooses us. After baptism, Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be trained, equipped with the spiritual strength he needed to start his ministry; where he was headed was a hostile world where he would face opposition and persecution, as well as the temptation to quit and run away from his destiny. Our spiritual journey during Lent, for us, is the training process in the wilderness. We quietly listen to God’s voice and learn to be God’s people. We too will face opposition and temptation to give up God’s way of life. This period of spiritual training is kind of like going on a cleansing diet after overindulging during holiday seasons. I don’t do juice fast or whatever else we do to cleanse our body, but I know the benefit of doing a cleanse once in a while. We can get rid of toxins from our bodies, feel better, and start over. Lenten spiritual practices are like a spiritual cleanse; through our spiritual disciplines, we become spiritually healthier and stronger.
After the spiritual training in the wilderness, Jesus was ready to start his public ministry. He came out preaching the message of God’s kingdom and urging people to repent to be ready for this kingdom. To start living the kingdom lifestyle, we should make amends with God and with one another; this is what repentance is about and why we start Lent with repentance. We need to constantly make amends and fix our relationships to belong to God’s kingdom because Christianity is a religion of relationships; we have a relationship with God on the one hand, and with our fellow humans and all of God’s creation, on the other. God created us to live in harmony with each other and with all creation. And as we read in the Book of Genesis today, God made a covenant with us. Covenant is like a marriage vow; it’s a proclamation that we are God’s people and that we will be faithful. Being united by covenant means, even if we fall apart, we will make amends, reconcile, and come back to each other.
As we start the Season of Lent this year, I invite you to embark on a spiritual road trip. We don’t know what we will encounter at the end of the journey. This journey is based on trust. Giving up control is not a very comfortable thing, but I invite you to let God take you to unexpected places. I invite you to pick up a daily routine of prayer, readings, and reflections. Lent is 40 days, like the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted and spiritually trained, but not counting Sundays. Every Sunday during Lent is like a little Easter, a day of celebration. During the 40 days of Lent (not counting Sundays), I invite you to pick up a spiritual discipline to follow. I also usually pick something to pray for during Lent. For example, several years ago, I was full of anger and hurt, so I prayed for 40 days to be able to forgive this person. And it worked. I encourage you to pick something to pray for. You might have someone you have difficulty forgiving, or you would like to become more loving or more positive. Think of an area where you could use improving, and pray for it during Lent. Let God transform you. Let us embark on this spiritual journey for God’s kingdom, a journey towards transformation.
Rev. Sunny Kim