May 13, 2018 sermon (Christian Family Sunday)
The Final Countdown
When I was pursuing my theological studies in New Jersey and working as a student pastor, my theological school dean’s husband David came to my church as an interim pastor. One day I found out that David much prefers to do a funeral than a wedding. I was younger and had no experience doing weddings or funerals, so I couldn’t understand why he would prefer funerals. Now that I am a parish minister and do quite a bit of funerals, I started to appreciate them. Especially, the two funerals I have done recently made me appreciate the process of preparing for and doing a funeral, and I thought of David. Now I think I can understand him.
Last month I did the funeral of Margaret Christensen, and last Saturday, I did a funeral of a woman named Peggie Pusztay. She lived in Garden View, and although she hadn’t attended church for a long time, she belonged to the United Church of Canada. Both these women were great mothers, as I could tell by interacting with their children and hearing them share their memories. When I was watching the photo slide show of Peggie Pusztay, “I felt my heart strangely warmed” to quote John Wesley, our Methodist father. What I appreciate about funerals is hearing life stories; I feel like I learn about life a little more whenever I get involved in a funeral. Mostly they are stories about family; parents and children, and their life together, with all the glories and bumps mixed together, as life generally is. I think about families and learn the importance of family as I do funerals.
I started with funeral stories because today is Mother’s Day, and our United Church celebrates today as Christian Family Sunday. First, I salute all mothers. When I say “all mothers”, that includes women who have children, and both women and men who “mother” people with their love. Today is Christian Family Sunday, so what we are celebrating is family. Family comes in all shapes and sizes. It transcends the biological and legal family boundaries. Today, I will talk about one such family. It’s the family that God established through Jesus, and it’s called the Christian Church/ God’s kin-dom. Today, instead of the word kingdom, I will use the word kin-dom for two reasons. First, the word kingdom alienates women (“king”). Second, this gender-neutral term that is new to the church focuses on the family relations (“kin”, as in “family” and “relatives”).
In John chapter 17, Jesus prays for his disciples before he leaves them. He knows he has to leave them, and he knows that they should be prepared. When he is gone, his disciples should continue the ministry of God’s kin-dom that he started. He already told his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit, which will be the beginning of their new but also not-so-new ministry.
Now, what Jesus is praying in John chapter 17 can be boiled down to 4 things; one, that God will equip and prepare his disciples, two, for their unity, three, protection from the Evil One, and four, to set them apart by the truth. Jesus asks for God to protect them from the Evil One, because although they live in the world, they don’t belong to the world; they belong to God and God’s kin-dom. He also asks God to set them apart, who belong to God, and to equip them for the ministry and service for which they are called and he started. Since they are set apart and don’t truly belong to the world, the world hates them; hence they need protection from evil. After a period of waiting, the disciples will receive the Holy Spirit and be sent out as God’s ambassadors. Next Sunday is Pentecost and we will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples on the day of Pentecost, which is a Jewish holy day. This event gave birth to the Christian church, so it is our birthday. Considering that today is Mother’s Day, I think the birth analogy is appropriate. Until Pentecost, the first disciples went through a waiting period. When a woman gets pregnant, she usually knows the due date, but the first disciples just had to wait. After this waiting period, a new community, a new family formed by God through the ministry of Jesus was born. The Acts of the Apostles testifies that the first Christians lived together and shared everything; this is a perfect example of a family outside the biological and legal boundaries.
In today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas, who betrayed Jesus and ended up taking his own life out of guilt. The apostles are welcoming a new member of family, and the selection method might seem strange to us; but casting lots was a common method for the ancient Jewish community. Can you imagine if we used the same method to choose our church leaders? Anyway, this is a moment of welcoming a new member of the apostles’ community/ family, and Matthias became kin and family to the other apostles.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day and Christian Family Sunday today, let us appreciate our families, not only our mothers. Let us appreciate our biological and legal family, and then our family outside the biological boundaries; church family, members of our local community, and national and global communities. Let us appreciate our Christian family, brothers and sisters of other faith traditions and cultures, because we are all God’s children. With the Holy Spirit working in us, let us expand our family boundaries.
Today, we start the final countdown till the birthday of our Christian Church. With technology progressing, we are getting worse and worse at being patient. Just like the first disciples who had to wait for the promised Holy Spirit without knowing when, we should patiently wait for God’s works in our lives; for when we ask God for help and wait for the answer, we can be quite impatient. In our lives, we don’t usually know God’s time, but since next Sunday is Pentecost and the birthday of our Christian Church, we can count down and wait (for Pentecost and our birthday, that is). I invite you to use this week to practice patience in your lives. Patiently wait for God’s time; it needs practice. This week, we are waiting for the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the birth of the Christian Church and God’s kin-dom in which we belong to God and follow the way of Jesus. It was a new family/ new community and new life for which the first disciples were waiting. As Jesus mentions in John 17:13, the purpose of this divine union is so that we can be filled with the divine joy. Although the way of the disciples and the love that God demands of us is challenging, the joy we can receive from completely belonging to God and living the kin-dom lifestyle is not comparable to any joy that we can receive from this world.
Therefore, this week while we count down to the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of our Christian Church, let us prepare ourselves for the new family of God. Let us surrender to God’s love anew, learn to trust God more, and be each other’s family.
Rev. Sunny Kim