August 5, 2018 Reflection
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16/ 2 Samuel 12:1-13a
Courage to Live Out Our Calling
I don’t know about you, but I love beautiful things. Recently I have been watching videos of ballet performances and documentaries about ballet dancers. Ballet movements are full of grace and beauty, but have you seen the feet of ballet dancers the? They are least beautiful feet you can imagine; their joints are big and sometimes their toe nails fall off. Apart from this gruesome image, can you imagine the pain? They take pain killers, and when the pain gets worse, they apply a numbing agent to their toes before dancing. But the abuse on their feet is not the only hardship ballet dancers go through. They have to practice, which is a hard workout, from 10 am to late in the evening while “watching what they eat” for weight control. One actress who played a ballet dancer in a movie said, after finishing the project, for several months, she ate all day and didn’t exercise to recover from the physical and mental damage. Are you hearing this? After playing a ballet dancer in a movie, an actress had to recover for several months by eating all day and not exercising; we can imagine what a real-life ballet dancer goes through every day. As painful as it sounds, I have only mentioned their physical difficulties. Now, about their mental suffering; crazy competitions, sense of failure, training for 15 years and surviving all the competitions and getting a job at a ballet company just to dance chorus in the background – now that’s another story! In a lot of ways, I’m glad I’m not a ballet dancer; I’m just happy watching the fruit of their painful labour. I have been trained in several different fields, but none of them involves physical pain and deformation of any part of my body. Being a ballet dancer is not for the fainthearted. Even after a long period of training, one can choose whether to pursue a career as a dancer or not. Being a professional ballet dancer requires serious commitment because it’s a life full of sacrifice and hardship, including constant physical pain. But those who choose to make all these sacrifices for the art believe it’s worth it, and what they produce is stunningly beautiful.
Reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians also makes us realize that being a Christian is not for the fainthearted. It requires a lot of sacrifice to follow Jesus. Here, Paul exhorts his church members to willingly accept their calling, aware of the sacrifice that it entails. “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called”, he says in verse 1. “Bearing with one another in love”, in verse 2. Christian love, which comes from the Greek word agape surpasses the emotional love; it is a thing of will. Why do we love? Because God wants us to. We Christians must love all God’s people, although it doesn’t mean we have to like them; because liking something or someone is an emotional thing.
We Christians are called by God, but for what? Paul mentions in verse 4, “one body, one spirit, and one hope of your calling.” This “one hope” he mentions is God’s kingdom for which we are called. God’s kingdom, which starts from this mortal world and not after our deaths (remember in the Lord’s Prayer, we say “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”), reverses the social hierarchy; in God’s community, we are all called to the ministry of Jesus Christ, and we are equally important. Each of us have been called and received different gifts to play different roles, but together we work to build the body of Christ.
The tools for this body of Christ, the qualities required of its members are humility, gentleness, and patience. Humility, which interestingly was not considered a virtue before the time of Jesus and Paul, is considered the first and foremost quality in God’s community. It is thanks to humility that we can lower ourselves and put others first, be gentle and patient with one another. It is thanks to humility that we can love one another with the agape love; turn the other cheek when struck and love even our enemies (although as I mentioned, we don’t have to like them). One little footnote before I move on; the word gentleness on Paul’s list, if we look at the original Greek word from which it is translated, it doesn’t mean Christians have to be like little lambs all the time. Rather, it is about being angry at the right time and never being angry at the wrong time. It means, Christians should feel righteous anger at evil deeds and injustice but bear personal wrongs and insults with gentleness. Again, because of humility and putting others before us, we can fight injustice, which is the right thing to do because we follow the God of love and justice.
Speaking of righteous anger and not condoning evil, in our Old Testament reading, we met Nathan, the prophet sent to King David to call him out on his evil deed. David lusted after someone else’s wife, sent her husband to the front of the battle to be killed, and took her as his wife. As you can imagine, it is difficult for anyone who is not the king to confront the king; in history, a lot of people have been executed for less. Nathan was risking the king’s wrath, imprisonment, and possibly death by confronting him. No doubt, he was scared. But since the king has done evil, as God’s prophet, it was the right thing to do; ignoring injustice and condoning evil is never the right thing for God’s people. But surprisingly, it was not only Nathan who showed courage to do the right thing in this story; upon listening to Nathan’s parable and accusation, David also took courage to acknowledge his sin and repented. It takes a lot of courage for an all-powerful monarch to humble himself and acknowledge his guilt. I think it’s a happy ending because both men were courageous enough to make themselves vulnerable and did the right thing. Of course, the poor baby that was born from this evil deed died as the punishment, but let’s not go there and just call this a happy ending thanks to these two courageous men who did the right thing.
We have all received different gifts from God for the sake of God’s kingdom. We are members of God’s egalitarian community. We are all important; we are called to work together. First, let us discern our gifts. If you’re not sure about your gifts and God’s calling for you, take time and ask what they are in prayers. “God, what is my gift and calling? What are you calling me for? What is my role in your kingdom/ community of faith/ in the society?” And ask God the courage to live according to your calling. We are members of God’s kingdom. We are called to love and take care of each other. Today we welcome another member of God’s community by baptizing her. As the body of Christ, we welcome Naomi as a new member and make a promise before God that we will pray for her and care for her. Let us also vow that we will show her with our actions how to live as God’s people. God sends us out to bear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Bearing witness to the Gospel is not limited to our words; we have to do so with our attitudes and actions. As God sends us out to build the body of Christ together and goes with us, empowering and enabling us, let us all prayerfully and courageously live out our calling; living by God’s kingdom values of humble love and service, and speaking out against the evil and injustice of our world.
Rev. Sunny Kim