July 21, 2019 – A Message of Reconciliation


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A Message of Reconciliation
Young Tae Choi
Isa. 59:2; Matt. 10:22; 2 Cor. 5:11-20

 Big idea: A ministry of reconciliation comes from the fear of and the love of the Lord.
Purpose: To examine our motivation for kingdom ministries in times of hardship.

Intro

I’ve been involved in diverse Canadian ministries since 2012, serving as a church planting intern at Origin Church on the UBC campus, a youth pastor at Vancouver Korean Presbyterian Church, a leader of the Korean Student Community at Regent College, a guest minister at several local churches in the PCC, a pastor at Dunwood Place Seniors Complex, the chairperson of the Missions Fest Vancouver Film Festival, and the founder of an arts-based ministry.

Through this seven-year period of service in these various ministries, I’ve naturally met many people who are involved in ministries, such as pastors, theologians, missionaries, seminary students, etc. As a result, I’ve recently come to focus on the importance of motivation for ministry. I’ve found that one’s motivation for any good ministry, both in one’s church and in one’s workplace, can easily be corrupted, even for those who realize that motivation deeply affects the life of kingdom ministry.

So, I chose the apostle Paul’s motivation for Christ’s ministry as the theme of today’s sermon in order to give us an opportunity to re-examine our attitudes toward God. Let us pray before I begin:

Prayer of Illumination

Lord, by your Spirit, Plant your truth deep within us and shape us in your likeness, So that the light of Christ will be seen in our actions and decisions.Amen.

 

Sermon

In the early twentieth century, lepers were regarded as cursed in Korea. They were treated with disgrace, as beings of lower value than pets. They had to live on mountains or small islands, completely isolated from non-lepers. However, there was one young pastor caring for a group of around a thousand lepers in Suncheon, South Korea, even though he did not have leprosy himself. The pastor ate meals with them, talked with them, and sometimes slept in the leper house as well. As a result of his genuine love, the lepers experienced a new sense of human dignity. He became the senior minister of Yaeyangwon Church, where the lepers gathered to worship the Lord. The name of the pastor was Yang-won Son.

One day, a unit of the Korean army in the area arose in revolt to promote communism. They seized major organizations in Suncheon such as police stations, train stations, schools, municipal offices, etc. The rebel army hunted down anyone who opposed their communist ideals and shot dissenters with their rifles. Anyone who provided shelter to the dissenters was also shot. Soon after this, neighbors, relatives and friends began to report one another to the army in order to save their own lives. This matter caused complete chaos in the region.

During that time of unrest, two teenagers in a secondary school were shot to death by their friends, who had been influenced by communism, because the communist students knew that the two boys had evangelized as many classmates as possible with the Christian faith. Four days after the shooting, news of the death of these two boys reached their father, Pastor Yang-won Son of the leprosy ministry. He laid the poor corpses in repose at the front of the church and the Yaeyangwon congregation mourned for the sons. Why God? Why me? Why my two sons on the same day? Why is so much evil still present in this world? These are the questions that might have arisen in Pastor Son’s mind as a natural human response to suffering. If you were in his situation, how would you feel about this? How would you react in the tragic moment when your heart is painfully torn; your long sacrifice to the ministry seems futile, and you feel completely powerless to defeat the reality of sin?

We might think of a few means of resolving such a tragedy: exacting revenge on the murderers with a rifle, just like the Mosaic law of “an eye for eye” (Ex. 21:24)? Initiating a criminal lawsuit in accordance with BC law? Asking for an apology to lessen the anger a bit? Or more passively, simply leaving church ministry quietly? What other options would there be?

As we know, the apostle Paul also had severe difficulties during his ministry. The church in Corinth that Paul had planted was itself a huge problem. Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians that we have today directly address diverse issues including sacrifice to idols, sexual immorality, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, elevation of charismatic gifts above love, the honor and shame system, and so on. The immature Christians at Corinth were struggling with the allure of the surrounding pagan culture, and so, had disregard for Paul who challenged their sinful lifestyle. In fact, Paul was disappointingly unimpressive to them, especially to those who were arrogant and power mongering. Paul looked like “a shabby figure” in their eyes. He was beaten, arrested, imprisoned, financially poor and discouraged by the thorn in his flesh. Moreover, the simple persuasion Paul used to defend his ministry in Christ looked unattractive to them. They emphasized the rhetoric of gifted speakers who were admired and followed like Hollywood movie stars are today. They were slightly contemptuous of Paul’s commitment to preach Christ crucified rather than impress people with eloquence. So, Paul must have been frustrated with all the challenges and the unreasonable treatment. He even mentions in this letter that his previous visit was so painful and tearful that he decided not to make another visit to them (v. 2:1). Can you imagine how painful Paul’s pastoring to the Corinthian church must have been?

Nevertheless, Paul did not fight against the congregation, abandon the Christians at Corinth, sue them for libel, or ask them for an apology. What Paul basically did was embrace them with all his heart, mind, and strength. Like a good father, he tried to reconcile the stubborn congregation to himself and, ultimately, with God the Father through his letters. But, how? How could he be so patient, representing Christ’s reconciliation with his own life like that?

According to today’s passage, Paul was able to do so because of two factors: the fear of God and the love of Christ. When it comes to the fear of the Lord, Paul’s “fear (?????),” refers to a religious consciousness, a reverential awe of God which recognizes that God remains the holy and righteous Judge. He was convinced that everyone, including himself, would stand before the judgment seat of God and give account for what he or she had done (v. 10). As a result, unlike many other teachers in the city of Corinth, He neither peddled the word of God for profit, used deception, nor distorted the word of God. On the contrary, he plainly spoke the truth to them in the sight of God with sincerity (vv. 2:17; 4:2). In verse 11, he says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others [relying on the power of the Spirit, not on the power of the human eloquence that persuades]. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” Paul’s religious consciousness before the Lord enabled him to firmly preserve the standard of a God of holiness and righteousness, rather than compromise the message of the Gospel of Christ with that of the congregation who rejected him.

However, Paul did not live in unhealthy dread of God’s judgment because he knew the love of Christ who gave himself both for Paul and for his church of Corinth. In verses 14-15, Paul claims, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Paul understood that agape love was clearly seen in the death of Christ and that Jesus died not only for Paul himself but also his immoral congregation, to atone for their sins, and he trusted that the love of Christ would lead them to live for Christ eventually. Paul did not give up on the immature congregation because he was utterly compelled (??????) by the self-giving love of Christ. He saw that Christ loved the church actively in the same way that Jesus first came to love Paul himself (v. 18). For those reasons, Paul could not help but preach Christ plainly without relying on cleverness in his speeches, praising the crucified Jesus who brings reconciliation to the world, and he was able to live a life of selfless suffering to serve even this problematic church tirelessly (v. 4:5). Obviously, we see that it was not the paralyzed love nor the paralyzed fear of the Lord, but rather the living love of Christ with the living fear of the Lord that controlled Paul’s whole being, which led to a ministry of reconciliation.

Likewise, Pastor Son demonstrated a life of reconciliation in the midst of his lament for the death of his children. One day after the tragedy, the Yaeyangwon congregation and Pastor Son held a simple and solemn funeral service. At the end of the service, Pastor Son went up to the front. Instead of the traditional last greeting, he shared a word of thanksgiving with them. He said:

I give thanks to God that He allows me to have two martyrs in my family. My first son was  about to go study abroad in America but now he is in a better place, in heaven with God,  for which I am thankful. In addition, God has given me a good mind to overcome my painful sorrow. I forgive the murderer and will adopt him as my son.[1]

 

A few days later, the political situation turned around. The government suppressed the communist rebels. Everyone who had joined the communist army was arrested and killed in a similar way as the army had done to civilians. The young murderer who killed Pastor Son’s children was also apprehended. Having heard of this, Pastor Son ran to a commander to ask for his release. His plea was accepted, and the murderer was adopted as the son of Pastor Son. The adopted son followed his adoptive father’s way as he grew up. He became a pastor to serve the marginalized in the countryside of South Korea. By God’s grace, Pastor Son reconciled the murderer to God and himself in Christ by embodying the cross of Christ in his life, without compromising with any human point of view.  Both the victim and the perpetrator were eventually reconciled through the cross. His life reminds us of Christ’s message of reconciliation, which Paul focused on until his death.

             Today, just like the church at Corinth, some churches may be a mass of problems in themselves. Congregations and pastors are considerably fractured by misunderstandings, dehumanizing expectations, bad theology, distrust, the fear of people, secularism, sexual abuse, spiritual-bankruptcy, apathy toward holiness, and more. Also, many church leaders feel depressed in dealing with the issues they face. In the worst case, some pastors who are burnt out commit suicide. We all know that contemporary churches are in trouble for a variety of reasons. In these environments, seminary students and new church members often become disillusioned. Perhaps, some of us may cynically see Paul and Pastor Son as ideal models that no one could successfully imitate.

However, we should ask ourselves two important questions in the light of the passage we have dealt with: first, what suffering are we bearing for Christ’s sake here and now? Second, as I am an ambassador of Christ’s reconciliation, what is my real motivation for serving Christ’s church and His world? I am discovering, more and more, that without fearing God, I could easily be caught up in corruption, exchanging the holiness of God for the sinful patterns of this culture; not loving my Lord or forgetting that I am being loved by the crucified Christ, I could run church ministries in a similar way to profit-centered businesses or power-mongering politics, overlooking Spirit-led hearts. The more church ministries I engage in, the more clearly, I realize that without having Paul’s pure motivation, I can neither lead even a single sheep to rightful relationship with the eternal Shepherd, nor take any risks for my flock of sheep in moments of unexpected hardship. I believe that being controlled by Christ’s love and in awe of God make it possible to serve in whatever kind of kingdom ministry we are called to, in a way that is honoring and pleasing to the Lord who calls us to serve His church and His world.

This very day, telling the story of the motivation for Paul’s ministry brings us, too, to the threshold of holy love and holy fear of the sovereign God who sustains us, allowing us to endure all things to the end. Remember: our suffering and risks for the sake of the reconciling ministry of Christ is a glorious mark (??????) of being in Christ.   Amen.

 

 Prayer of Application

Lord,

Across the barriers that divide race from race:

Reconcile us, O Christ, by your cross.

Across the barriers that divide rich from poor:

Reconcile us, O Christ, by your cross.

Across the barriers that divide people of different cultures:

Reconcile us, O Christ, by your cross.

Across the barriers that divide Christians:

Reconcile us, O Christ, by your cross.

Across the barriers that divide men and women, young and old:

Reconcile us, O Christ, by your cross.

Confront us, O Christ, with the hidden prejudices and fears

That deny and betray our prayers.

Enable us to see the causes of strife, remove from us all senses of superiority.

Teach us to grow in suffering, endurance, and unity.

We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(adapted from Nolan Palsma, Pitcher Hill Community Church, North Syracuse, NY)

 

 

Sermon written by Young Tae Choi
Preached on 21 July 2019
at Richmond Presbyterian Church.

 

[1] http://www.aeyangwon.org/ accessed on September 1, 2018.