Something to believe in

Sermon for Sunday December 23, 2018
Passages: Isaiah 40.18-31; Hebrews 4.16-5.10; Luke 18.9-14

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Whether you celebrate in December or January majority of us these days are preparing for Christmas. Of course, outside of the Church, we would have to say we are preparing for the holidays. Every year it seems more and more things regarding Christmas are being diluted and commercialized. We’ve all heard about the Christmas trees being removed from public offices, parades being cancelled, songs being twisted and perverted. Gingerbread men are now gingerbread persons. Recently, this year the gender of Santa Claus (a fictional character) is now being questioned. I remember when I was a kid, the arguments started from Xmas vs. Christmas.

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And for those who are trying to fight back, if you aren’t called old fashioned, bigoted, sexists, etc. we hear all these anti slogans like it’s Christmas not X-mas or keep Christ in Christmas. In fact, Fr. Garabed beautifully gave a sermon on keeping Christ in Christmas, about decorated trees and decorating the lives of others with our love and example of Christian faith. Yet, truth be told, it seems like a losing battle. However, with all the commercialism there is one thing I do enjoy. Once in a while during this season, I will see or hear an ad on TV or the radio about what Christmas is really about. However, a few weeks ago, I heard an ad on the radio by ebates which shook me to my core.

It began by people expressing their skepticism regarding popular Christmas beliefs. Someone said Santa Claus, another said white Christmas or flying reindeer. Finally the third person said, that I don’t believe that ebates offers cash back on purchases made. And it went on to prove how ebates delivers on what it promises. The Ad ended with, “ebates, something to believe in this season.”

And when I heard that sentence, I was truly disturbed. Whether you celebrate in January or December, how many of us are searching for something to believe in? And has our search today truly been limited to the materialistic world? What are we celebrating? Jolly old Saint Nick, delivering toys to all the good little girls and good little boys? Perhaps we are celebrating time off work and school, catching up on much needed sleep? Or maybe it’s just time with family? These are all wonderful traditions and practices to have during not only in this time of the year but throughout the year. Yet, what do we believe in?

If our belief is merely in the commercialism then yes, I would argue ebates is correct, we are in need of something to believe in this season. However, my dear brothers and sisters, if this is the case, then we are guilty of scriptures words by the prophet Isaiah, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” How much longer will we be guilty of creating a god, creating something for us to according to our liking to believe in? For majority of us here, we have faith in God. Naturally we are all on different walks with our faith, yet, by examining our hearts, how many of us can admit that the God we believe in is not a fabrication of our own personal beliefs? And I am not speaking about white beards or angel wings. I am not speaking even about teachings that we might agree with or disagree when the Church speak about certain social and political issues. Rather, what in our lives has taken the top spot for us above all others, on which we base our life’s decisions and beliefs on?

Perhaps its family, perhaps it works. For the Pharisee in the parable today, His “god” was his justification of himself through his actions compared to those he had decided are less than him. He believed that he was better, not because of who God had made him. Rather he believe he was better because he made a god out of himself. I do all the good things and I am not like those others as he points to the tax collector. Yet, the tax collector, humbles himself and have mercy on me for I am a sinner. The actions of what the tax collector of course are sinful but his belief that he can become better through God is what raised him above the Pharisee. So in this Christmas season what do we believe in?

The story of Christmas is not about what we believe in. The reason for the season is not to put Christ back in Christmas. It is not about putting lights on a tree and being with family. What we believe in Christmas is for us to be Christ born in the lives of others. For us to be Christ in Christmas. Not according to our standards or our actions. But through our love and humility. Christ the king of kings is born in a manger. How much did he humble himself by become human in order to raise us up to divinity? So if you want something to believe in, believe in Christ in humanity, in your neighbor, in your enemy, in the beggars in the street and the politicians in office.

And when we do this we will truly see a return on our investments. When we see the person beside us is equal to us, regardless how much of sinful life they live. If we show love and forgiveness, we will also bring healing. It reminds me of a story I once read about a children’s oncology unit. At the children’s hospital Santa would come visit and bring gifts to all those kids and their families in the hospital. However, there was one child that had a very several form of bone cancer I believe and wasn’t able to get out of bed. Then all of a sudden, you saw another child who was equally as sick but was mobile, placing his friend in a wagon and pulling him with him to see Santa Claus.

My dear brothers and sisters, we are all sick with the cancer of sin. Each person beside you in this Church and each person out there. Do we see Christ in them or have we made Christ in our image, blind to the spirit of hope and love we are called to bring. Therefore the question is wrong to say “What do we believe in?” In true question is “who do we believe we are in this season?” Who do we celebrate? Our egos, our achievements? Or do we humble ourselves and allow God’s love to lift us up ? My prayer is that we find Christ, not in the manger scene that has long been taken down from public places, not in the Christmas songs or even in the person of Santa Claus.

May we find Christ in our hearts and in the hearts of those around us. Instead of worrying about traditions of carols and tables, let us make it a tradition, a daily practice to show love for each other. For God so loved the world, he gave his only son. What will we give out of our love?

It’s the little things

Sermon for Sunday December 16, 2018

Passages: Isaiah 38:1-8; Hebrews 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

If you’ve ever worked with watches, you know the tiny little gears that it takes to make everything move. Majority of people now a days wear smartwatches. Though complex by fitting a computer into something so small, I would argue it does not in anyway come close to a classic watch. Every morning you would put it on you had to turn the dial and wined it up. Yet, the gears and all the intricate moving parts were invisible to the naked eye. A true master watchmaker would understand this. I once read that if you were an apprentice and were learning watches, you had to take apart a watch and put it back together. In fact this image of how a watch works is even brought into our creation understanding of creation. In the argument of creation vs. evolution, there is a story about how two men, a creationist and an evolutionist, walking along the beach found a watch that watch-parts-clock-mechanism-with-image_csp48734577.jpgworked perfectly. Each component was there with a specific reason. One of them, an evolutionist, would argue that all those parts randomly over a long period of time came together to make this watch, whereas the other man, the creationist, would argue there had to be a intelligent designer. It is an interesting argument and one we can look at later.

But the reason I bring this image of watches to our attention is because of today’s parable. Christ speaks “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “ (v.6) This is a parable many of us have heard repeatedly. It is a story that even Sunday School children know and perhaps as a project have planted mustard seeds, to see what will happen. But Christ is not giving us this example as a Sunday School project. What Christ speaks about here is faith. A faith so strong it can move trees and mountains. I do not know of anyone in history to have moved real mountains. Not even sure what good it would do.  Living here in the Midwest I definitely miss mountains but I won’t be moving any of them here. So why is Christ comparing faith to a mustard seed?

At the time a mustard seed one the smallest seeds known. However, it was a seed that when fully matured grew to almost 12 feet high. Perhaps Christ is showing us what we can do with a mature faith? What is faith? Unfortunately, a Sunday Sermon is far too short to examine what faith is. But perhaps we can examine the significance of the mustard seed. The Gospel account began with Christ teaching about forgiveness. “if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (v. 3-4) Therefore, faith requires forgiveness.

This topic of forgiveness is repeated over and over again throughout scripture. In fact Christ says that if you are at the Altar, leave your sacrifice and go and reconcile with your brother. Forgiveness not just for us but by us to those around us. As the Lord’s prayer teaches, “forgive us…as we forgive…” And someone might say but Diratsoo, I have been hurt over and over again or a something horrible was done to me how could I forgive them? “I can be a good Christian without forgiving that one person.” We often forget that faith does not mean freedom from pain or suffering, rather an understanding through it. My dear brothers and sisters, though it may be small, but every act, every thought, every relationship is a like a mustard seed that can either grow and strengthen our faith, or hold us back.

Christ’s teaching of the mustard seed is very much like the watch. No matter how small every gear and bolt, all of it is necessary to make the watch work perfectly. No matter how small we may think our faith is, no matter how battered and bruised we are, each act, each prayer, each moment even as small as a mustard seed can do great things in our faith. Yes this is not easy. It takes time. In fact if you have ever seen a mustard seed grow, it needs to take years to take root then it starts going up. Likewise for each one of us, every time we forgive those who hurt us, every time we show love in the face of hate, every time we give hope to the hopeless through our actions and our relationships, it is giving nutrition to our seed. A seed of faith that has been planted and washed with the blood of Christ for us through his sacrifice. A tiny seed that can grow to move mountains and trees. A faith, even tiny in size, that can change this world.

Therefore, my dear brother and sisters, keep watering your seed of faith. Forgive each other, love each other, not in words but in actions. And this Christmas season that is upon us will bring forth blessings unseen. Let us pray for our faith and forgiveness, and the faith and forgiveness of those around us. Amen!!