Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Son Rise

Easter Sunrise:
Homily to be given on Easter Sunrise 2008 at RUMC in Durham.

We come today still wrapped in the silence of Good Friday, still wrapped in the silence that the words of Jesus left us, still wrapped in the silence of the night. This is the same darkness that the Easter story of John puts us in. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark. The world around Mary is dark. Their expected king and savior is dead. The events that occurred left the followers of Jesus grieving, miserable and hopeless. Their world is in darkness. John’s Easter story fits us today because our world is also in darkness. We are wretched and miserable. We live in a world of grief, sadness and misery. We live in a miserable world of war, killings, hunger and poverty. Even in our community, the shadows of darkness hover above us. We know of horrible stories about a murdered college student in Chapel Hill and a graduate student in Duke. We know of the sad stories of misguided youth committing crimes. or some of you may be at a point in our lives that all we experience is sadness and grief. Dear friends and families are sick, dying or already went ahead of us. We are stressed in work, school and even in our homes. There is pain and suffering all around. Just like Mary Magdalene who was still sorrowful when she came to the tomb in the gloom of the night, our world and our lives are in darkness.

The story of John does not only give us a picture of a dark world. The characters show us that there is no reason to jump for joy in times of grief. When Peter and the “other disciple” heard the tomb was empty, they ran to the tomb to see. But there was no mention of any jump for joy between the two of them. And to emphasize the setting of the story of John, the author tells us that Mary Magdalene stood there weeping. When we are down and troubled, we could not sing Alleluia. We could only weep. In the silence of darkness, all we could hear is crying.We could only weep and cry in our wretched state. But the story of John do not end in darkness. For the gloom of the night is broken by that ray of sunlight. The silence is broken by the good news of Christ’s resurrection.

The story that begins in darkness does not end in darkness. There is a light that shines. As we come to this Easter worship with darkness around us, we will leave with the sun risen and the light scattered throughout. For indeed, the Son of God is risen and he has scattered light throughout the darkness of our lives. That is the good news my brothers and sisters. Jesus Christ is risen and alive and he lives forevermore. Darkness is illumined. The silence is broken. And our weeping is turned into singing alleluia. The risen Jesus Christ is our light. Jesus brings light into our dark world, he brings joy into our sad hearts, he brings hope in our despair and he gives us life after death.

John’s Easter story gives us the proper perspective of Easter. However many times we may encounter darkness in our lives, we do not despair for we know that the sun rises every morning, the Son of God conquered darkness and he will be our light. And because the risen Lord is alive forevermore, Easter do not only need to happen once a year. The risen Christ will always be our light. We no longer fear darkness, we no longer fear silence, we no longer weep because we know that whenever there is darkness in our lives, there will be Easter. We can always sing alleluia for Christ will always be our light. Know that even in darkness, Easter will happen. And the risen Christ will always illumine our world, our homes and our lives. And even in darkness we can sing Alleluia, Alleluia Christ is risen!

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spririt. Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Itinerant Ministry

Traveling ministry is the trademark of the Methodists. Yet many pastors grumble about itinerating.

In Southern Philippines, one of the biggest challenge for Methodists is the lack of ordained elders. This is the same problem that the early Methodists encountered - not enough number of priests to minister the word and the sacrament. Well, there is always the local pastor who preaches every Sunday (and may have the special authority to officiate the Lord's Supper) but this does not really solve the problem.

Yet, this is not really a problem. This is an occasion to exercise the Methodist trademark of a travelling ministry. The local pastor can provide the pastoral duties on the local congregation that they may regularly receive grace through the means of reading the scriptures, prayer and fellowship. Just like in the early Methodist movement, they receive the sacraments when the elders come to their church. And just like the travelling preachers, these elders should bring the fire of God's word to revitalize the people.

The elders should be thankful for being set aside to do God's work. When they travel, they evangelize. They offer God's grace to the many congregations that they go to. They reawaken the souls of those slumping to sleep. They feed the hungry and thirsty souls and they help people grow in their faith.

To be a Methodist pastor is to be in a travelling ministry. A ministry geared for evangelism. A ministry that made Methodism grew then. Isn't that a promise we can see if Methodists pastors embrace whole heartedly the traveling ministry?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What would Jesus do?

A Sermon preached to my fellow seminarians at Duke Divinity School last March 4, 2008
Text: 1 Peter 2: 19-25

For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’
23When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

It is the season of Lent, a time for us to journey with Jesus, a time to follow the steps of Christ. This is a time for us to reflect on ourselves, and allow God to transform us, to right our wrongs, to correct our mistakes and to restore our broken relationship with God, that we may be shaped more closely into Christ likeness.
As good and faithful Christians, we want to be like Jesus. We want to think like him, we want to act like him and we want to be like him. And so, in everyday of our lives, when we have decisions to make, when we are caught up in tight situations, when we do not know what to do, we pause for a moment, look at our wrist and ask, “What would Jesus do?”
Today’s passage from the scriptures is a letter to the early Christians telling them what Jesus would do if he were in their situation. The early Christians at that time were being persecuted, maligned and criticized. They were being accused of being disobedient to the civil authorities and disrespectful of the social order. Our letter sender, Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ instructs the early Christians to look up to Jesus as their example and that they may do what Jesus would do.
Our letter sender tells the early Christians to endure their sufferings because Christ also suffered, setting this as an example for Christians to follow. But the letter sender is also careful to remind them that they can endure their suffering because they are doing what is right, they are doing what is good and pleasing in the eyes of God.
Our letter sender tells the early Christians that they are doing what is right if they obey those who are in authority. They commit no sin if they respect their masters. The premise here is that God ordained the structures of order and authority in the world. Although they submit to the authority, they are slaves only of God, for they are subject to earthly masters only in account to God. Christians must therefore conduct themselves in a way that they won’t be criticized as disobeying authority. But our letter sender reminds them that even if they are good and faithful Christians they may still be subjected to hostilities from unrighteous people. And if that happens they must always look to Jesus as their example, and endure the sufferings as Jesus endured them.
For us Christians today, we may not face the same hostilities and persecutions the early Christians did. But that does not mean we are exempt from the difficulties and challenges of life. We still face difficulties and problems. And our letter sender reminds us to look up to Jesus as our example. And so we look at our wrist and ask, “What would Jesus do?”
As Christians of today, we face difficulties and challenges from this world. We are always tempted to the dark ways of the world. We are tempted not to love our neighbors, not to forgive our enemies, to threaten to those who hurt us and to retaliate to those who abuse us. These temptations are the difficulties and challenges that we suffer. As seminary students, we face the challenges of school. No, I’m not talking about the midterm exams on Thursday or the ethics paper deadline. For most of us here, we face the bigger challenge of juggling schoolwork and family, the challenge of meeting our financial needs, and even the vocational challenge of where we are headed after graduation. And so in the face of these challenges we ask, “what would Jesus do?”
What Jesus did was to endure the sufferings that he faced. What Jesus did when he suffered was not to retaliate, not to threaten but to continue trusting in God. Therefore, with Christ as our example, we can also endure the challenges that we face. If Jesus endured cruelties to him, then we can also endure the difficulties that confront us, the problems that we encounter and the trials that come our way. Because we know Jesus endured in his passion the trials, pain and suffering we know through his example that we can also endure our difficulties.
But why do we need to know what Jesus would do? What does the example of Christ mean for us any way? The word “example” in Greek is hupogrammos. It means an underwriting or copy for imitation. The more literal interpretation for this Greek word is a pattern that one can trace. This would be similar to a figure traced by a dotted line in a children’s workbook; the trace forms a figure if connected. Jesus is like the dotted line and we follow his example by connecting the dots together. The example provided by Christ involves an outline of behavior or moral guidelines. Christ’s example includes innocent behavior, suffering without retaliation, and commitment to God’s will in the passion and obedience. The example of Christ is an assurance for us Christians that we are able to do things in the name of Christ Jesus.
The French theologian, Peter Abelard, explains to us the moral example theory of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Abelard explains that Christ’s suffering shows us how much God loves us and therefore inspires us to be more loving and lead better lives. But our letter sender does not only present the suffering of Christ as just an example. He is telling us that Christ is more than just our example and model.
The danger of wanting only to know of what Jesus would do – of just looking at the life and suffering of Jesus as a model, is that it makes Jesus merely a model rather than emphasize what the work of Christ accomplishes for our salvation. This is the reason why our letter sender emphasizes both the example of Christ and the saving work of his suffering. Our letter sender tells us that the suffering of Christ is not just a model but also a work that transforms us.
Models can only influence our behaviors. The media feeds us with different models that influences and shapes our character. As kids growing up, our role models are Superman, Batman, Spiderman or Barbie. When we grew wiser and became teenagers, our role model became Michael Jordan, Dan Marino or Tiger Woods. Thus, we ask ourselves, “What would Batman do? Or what would Barbie do? Or what would Jordan do?” we look up to these people as our models and they influence and shape our character. So we cannot just ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” and look up to his example because Jesus is not simply a model that influences us. Jesus transforms us.
How does Jesus transform us? Irenaeus describes our transformation as the recapitulation of our sins. Christ undoes the sin of Adam and humanity. For Gregory of Nyssa, our humanity is transformed “because Jesus, who is divine, became human and so humanity was united to God.” Humanity is now “deified.” For Karl Barth, Jesus transforms us by making our utter “no” into a resounding “yes.” This is what our letter sender is telling us, that Christ is not just our example but also our Lord and Savior. That is the good news, that in the suffering of Christ, in his example, he transforms us into better Christians.
Our letter sender wants to remind the Christians of his times and us today, that in the suffering of Christ we are transformed. Once we were straying sheep, but now have returned to our Shepherd. When we experience difficulties and challenges we remember how Jesus transformed us. In our suffering and difficulties, we are given the opportunity to be transformed. We are given the chance to move closer to Christian perfection. In our suffering, pain and misery, do not just think of what Jesus would do but rather be reminded that this is a moment Jesus Christ transforms us into his likeness. That Christ is shaping us into Christian perfection. So, my brothers and sisters, in this time of Lent, let us allow the example of Christ to transform us. For Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might live for righteousness. For by his wounds we have been healed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Go, wash in the pool of Siloam!'

“Go, wash in the pool Siloam”
A Sermon Preached at Reconciliation UMC, a multicultural church, last March 2, 2008

This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Lent. The Lenten season is a way for us to get ready, it is a time for us to reflect on ourselves, to reflect on our sins, our mistakes and shortcomings and allow God to transforms us. But my question for you this morning is, have we allowed God to transform us? Are we open to God’s transforming power? Are we willing to participate in our healing? Have we allowed Jesus to restore our sight?
Today’s reading challenges us to answer these questions. (Read from John 9:1-41).
Let us pray. (Oremos) May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our rock and our redeemer.
We live in a world of darkness. Just like the blind man in the story where everything he sees is dark, everything around us is dark too. The dark world that we live in is full hatred, anger, indifference, discrimination, oppression and injustice. We are blinded by this darkness of the world. In our blindness, we conform our lives to the darkness of this world. Our actions and lifestyles are works that belong to darkness. When we talk about darkness in the world, we think of war, corruption, hunger and poverty. But what about apathy, not sharing with the poor, not forgiving enemies, not caring for the homeless and the sick, not standing up for what is right, not praying for others, not responsive to the sick, ungratefulness for blessings, not giving offerings, not praying devotions, not consistent in attending worship? Aren’t these things belong to darkness?
The good news, my brothers and sisters, it is in this darkness that God’s love is shown. It is in blindness that God’s glory is revealed. It is in our broken lives that God’s power is bared. God offers a new life by sending Jesus Christ. Jesus says in verse 5, “I am the light of the world.” God brings light to a world of darkness and offers to transform and change our ways. The healing of the blind man is Gods transforming grace. Just as Jesus heals the blind man, so can Jesus heal our blindness. Just as Jesus transformed his blindness into sight, so can Jesus transform our wrongdoings and sinful ways. God reveals his glory through Jesus Christ who transform us through the healing that Jesus brings.
Let us look closer at the miraculous healing that happened to the blind man. The healing involves two things: first, Jesus anointing the blind man’s eye with mud and second, the blind man’s obedience to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” If we think about this, the blind man could have refused to go to the pool, he could have refused to open up to this transforming and healing power of God. He could have chosen to remain blind. Isn’t that intriguing?
What does these two components of healing mean? It means we are called to participate. John Wesley always emphasizes that humans must respond to God’s grace. After all, faith and good works always go together. If we read closely, Jesus took the first step in the healing. Jesus spat on the ground, made mud and spread it on the blind man’s eye. It was Jesus who took the first move. Even more interesting, the blind man never asked to be healed. He never called out to Jesus to heal him. He was unlike the other people that Jesus cured and healed, sick people usually came to Jesus, they work their way through large crowds just to get near him, people even cried to Jesus for healing, or they would grab his cloak just like that woman with the issue of blood. No! This blind man was just there sitting outside the synagogue and Jesus took the first step to heal him. Although Jesus did not ask the blind man if he wanted healing, he did ask the blind man to participate.
In my experience as a medical doctor, patients always participate in their healing. The doctor can only do so much anyway. The patients needs to participate willingly starting from the medical exams up to the rehabilitation. The blind man did that. The blind man participated in his healing. Although Jesus took the first step, the healing was never forced to the blind man. After Jesus made mud with his saliva and anointed it to the blind man’s eyes, he said to the man, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” and he obeyed.
Why did Jesus instructed the blind man to go wash his eyes into the river Siloam? The pool Siloam is supplied from mount Zion, so the waters of Siloam are the waters of the sanctuary. The water is holy, Jesus was sending the man to go to a holy place. More than that, Siloam means sent. In other chapters in John, Jesus refers to himself as the sent of God. Jesus is the one Sent by God. So when Jesus was instructing the blind man to go to the pool Siloam, Jesus was instructing him to come to Jesus himself. When the blind man went to wash his eyes, he was going to Jesus for healing. All throughout, it was only Jesus at work in the healing of the blind man. But it is important to note that the blind man opened himself and allowed the healing. The blind man received sight in his obedience to God. The blind man opened himself to God’s transforming power. He accepted God’s offer for healing and transformation.
God calls us to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” and God is waiting for us to respond. It is not an accident that in most part of the narrative, from verses 8 to 35, Jesus is not mentioned in the narrative. This is because the author of John highlights for us the different human responses to God’s healing, restoring and transforming power. The neighbors could not believe the miraculous healing. The blind man’s parents were in fear and did not want to be associated or even be asked about the healing. And the Pharisees, yes, those Pharisees, bless their hearts, remember that they doubted the blind man’s healing. When the Pharisees heard about this healing, they called the blind man to question him. In verse 18, it says that the Pharisees would not believe that he was healed. More than that they were appalled that it was done during Sabbath. Who in their right mind would cure a blind man when everybody knows that no one is allowed to work during Sabbath. Definitely, someone who breaks this law of God is not a man from God, and so the Pharisees judged that Jesus who healed the blind man on a Sabbath is not a man from God. The Pharisees would not acknowledge God’s healing and transforming power. They would not acknowledge and accept that Jesus could heal a blind man and transform blindness into sight. They would not accept the transformation of the blind man, and they would not allow this miraculous event to change their attitude towards Christ. They rejected that Jesus is a man from God. In verse 27 and 28, the Pharisees did not want even to be called disciples of Jesus and instead reviled the blind man for asking them that.
Sometimes we are like the Pharisees. The Pharisees are supposedly the good, the righteous, the educated, the church going, mission oriented, gift giving, and religious people. They are somebody like us. they think like we think. We think that we are already church-going people and so we are already good. We think that we no longer need to be transformed. We are already Christians and so that’s it. We think we no longer need God’s grace to continue to move on to a Christ-like perfection. We think we no longer need to change our ways. We think we no longer need to improve our prayer habits. We think we no longer need to read the Bible daily. We think we do not need to fast at least once a week. We think we no longer need to go to Bible study. We think we no longer need to go to Sunday school. We think we no longer need God’s sanctifying grace. Because we think we are already good and that we don’t need to be transformed by God’s grace. We are like the Pharisees.
Why can’t we be like the blind man? The blind man is just that, blind. He has no pretensions. He is disabled, he needs help, he is not learned like the Pharisees, he is not educated, he do not know anything, he do not know the law and that he do not even know Jesus. But he knows he is blind and he knows he needs help. Unlike the Pharisee, the blind man knows his weakness. And when Jesus came up to him to offer him healing by anointing his eyes with mud and told him to wash his eyes, he readily accepted and went to wash his eyes that he may see. Now notice this, he did not know Christ before but when he experienced the healing power of Christ he recognized that Jesus was a man from God. When Jesus asked him if he believed in the Son of Man he said in verse 38, “Lord, I believe” and he worshipped Jesus.
God is waiting for our response. What is our response? For we are judged by our response, God judges us if we sin or not according to our rejection or acceptance – if we recognize or not the work of God. Jesus came to judge. In verse 39, Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Jesus judges our sin. But sin here for the author of John, is not a moral category about behavior. Sin is not disobedience to the law, as the Pharisees suggest. Jesus even disregards the common Jewish understanding of the relationship between sin and physical illness as implied by the disciples question to him. Jesus judges according to our response, if we are open to receiving God’s grace or not. Sin according to John is committed if one rejects the revelation of God in Christ, sin is committed in refusing to open oneself to God’s grace, sin is committed in rejecting the transformation of our lives, sin is rejecting the restoration of our broken relationship with Christ.
In this season of Lent, Jesus is transforming us and changing us. Are we like the blind man or the Pharisee? Do we recognize our blindness? Do we acknowledge God’s transforming power? Do we accept the restoration of our relationship with Christ? Later, we will be invited to dine in God’s table. There will also be an opportunity for us to restore our brokenness through the anointing of oil. The Good News is God has already taken the first step of transforming us, restoring our sight and healing our blindness. Respond to Christ’s instruction to “Go, wash in the pool Siloam!”