Thursday, February 21, 2019

We Glorify God by Loving One Another

We Glorify God by Loving One Another
JN 15:1-8 (February 17, 2019)

When I was a little boy, I attended a rural church. The church was small because of its location surrounded by mountains everywhere. In those days, about 80-90 were in Sunday worships.
When I was an elementary school student, the church purchased a new site, and the whole congregation worked together to lay the foundation with the rocks from the streams. After that, the adult members made cement blocks by themselves and built up the wall with those blocks.
By the time I was a high school student, however, the church had grown so much that the sanctuary had to be expanded. The new worship place should be at least for 300 worshippers. Of course, the whole congregants carried the rocks from the streams by their hands once again and set the foundation. However, unlike the first sanctuary construction, the wall of the new temple was raised up with red bricks purchased from the factory.
This church is a mother church to me. It is like my mother's womb. Whenever I visit there, I can feel so much warmth and love.
13 years after my departure for the US to study, I had a chance to visit the church. I was extremely happy to be there. I was well treated by the people there. Having me with them after so many years, they were so excited, and some were actually crying and crying. Some told me, "You must have gone through a lot of hardships over the years." And some elderly members grabbed my hands and said, "Pastor Yi, I am still praying for you in the morning service every day."
It was really sad for me to say goodbye to them after the Sunday morning and afternoon worship services were over. There was no guarantee when I could come again and meet them because of my position as a pastor. It’s never easy for me to be absent in the Sunday worships where I am in charge.
I have worked as a landscape engineer in Gwangju, South Korea, just before my academic career in the US began. There was a plant nursery in Sapyeong, where was about 45 minutes away from Gwangju by the bus.
I was happy to work in Sapyeong than to work in Gwangju. It is because I was allowed to go to church in Sapyeong on Sundays. But in Gwangju, I could not attend church because I was in charge of the workers. Actually attending church on Sundays was not permitted to me. So on Saturdays I prayed to God for rain the next day. Sometimes I told the president of the landscaping company in advance, "I am not feeling well. Can I go to Sapyeong and work there tomorrow?" Of course, it was a lie to attend church the next day.
The peace and rest that I’d felt in the church under such hardships were much better than the taste of honey. Even though it was a short period of time, I had built an intimate relationship with the Sapyeong Church folks. So when leaving the landscaping company for my study in the United States, it was terribly bad for me to leave the church members there. We shed a lot of tears at farewell.
I arrived in Hawaii on September 24, 1990. On the first day of my arrival on that island, I worshiped with the members of the Hickam Korean Church. The church was organized for the Korean women living with the US Air Force-men.
We had shared deep spiritual fellowship with one another. It was a truly amazing community that helped each other in love and faith. In fact, the concept of the church I want to achieve even today has sprung up there. And two years later, when leaving the church for my theological study in LA, We were so saddened. We hug each other and cried a lot.
The church to attend after my enrollment in the Claremont Theological Seminary was located in Placentia nearby Yorba Linda. I served as a student pastor. Even though I was hired, I considered myself as a mere member of the church, rather than a hired worker, and I deeply fell in love with the church members there.
I understand God’s Church as my spiritual family. I believe that God has called me to be part of his people. I believe that God has called me to mature spiritually and spiritually together with other believers. I believe that I am called to pray with other Christians, praise with them, cry and rejoice with them. I believe that I am called to expand God’s Kingdom with other Christians in His Church.
The Bible tells that we inseparable from other believers. “Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others” (Rom 12:4, 5, LB). That's right. We are called to belong to a spiritual family in His Church, not only this life but also in eternity.
When we decided to believe in Jesus, we never meant for the salvation of our soul only. We meant to be part of his holy body which is His Church. That's right. We believers belong to His Church, that is Christ’s body.
We need to think more deeply about our membership in God’s Church, the body of Christ. “We who believe are carefully joined together with Christ as parts of a beautiful, constantly growing temple for God” (Eph 2:21. LB). In His body, His Church, we must strive to grow in faith with other Christians.
Of course, to grow in love and faith with other members, we need to stay in the church. We must remain in Christ’s body. Can we imagine a hand that has fallen off the body because it gets upset? A church is Christ’s body, and we are the members of that holy community. Therefore, no matter how painful it is, we should stay together in the body of Christ always.
What if a branch is cut off from the stem? Did not Jesus say like this? “Yes, I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit. For apart from me you can’t do a thing. If anyone separates from me, he is thrown away like a useless branch, withers, and is gathered into a pile with all the others and burned” (JN 15:5, 6. LB). That's right. The branch that is cut off from the stem slowly fades and dies. Likewise, if our soul is cut off from the Christ’s body, it gradually fades away and eventually die.
Brothers and sisters, do you want your faith to mature? Do you want a happy life in faith? If so, be patient with the people in that body. Even though we are tired and in pain, even though our business is too slow, the church is where we should stay.
There is an important fact to never forget. Christian maturity is formed only in relationships with other Christians. In other words, we sometimes get angry with other believers in the church. We are misunderstood and we misunderstand others. But through those relationships, we can learn how to love each other. Patience and love grow among us. Ultimately, we are grown in faith.
We can grow as we struggle in God’s House. We can think this way. Conflicts with others in Christ’s body can be a process of taking off dead skins from our body. Just like taking off dead skins with a bath towel.
Why don’t you say to the person next you as follows: "Thank you for irritating me from time to time so that I can grow into Christian faith."
In the book The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren says:
In heaven we will enjoy God’s family forever, but first we have some tough work to do here on earth to prepare ourselves an eternity of loving. God trains us by giving us “family responsibilities,” and the foremost of these is to practice loving each other. (The Purpose Driven Life, p.124)
Love cannot be learned in isolation. You have to be around people-irritating, imperfect, frustrating people.  (The Purpose Driven Life, p.124)
We can spend a lifetime searching for the perfect church, but no one will ever find it. We are called to love imperfect sinners in the church, just as God does. (The Purpose Driven Life, p.137)
If we want only praise, love, and understanding from others, our faith is still for a child. We must move on to the step to give instead to receive. We must try to understand, love and forgive others, instead to be understood, loved, and forgiven by others.
Let us listen to the Apostle Paul's exhortation: “And you also are joined with him and with each other by the Spirit and are part of this dwelling place of God” (Eph 2:22). LB). We must work with other believers in God’s House. By staying with them, we can grow into a holy sanctuary where the Holy Spirit of God could be dwelling.
Of course, in order to grow in faith in God’s House, each member must fulfill his responsibilities and duties. Each has a responsibility and a role to bear for other members in the church. Of course, the foremost important responsibility for a member in the church is to gather together and worship in love. The most important purpose of a church is to stay together in love and worship God.
Brothers and sisters, please let us stand firm in one place. If you are misunderstood, argue and fight in the church, please try to endure there. If you hear only good words from others, your faith does not grow. Faith doesn’t grow because of good education. Healthy faith is a product of patience after patience in complex and subtle relationships with other believers in the church.
God called us to His Church, Christ’s body. He called us to his people and we can learn the purpose of our being. We are called to his church to live the life he created. We are called to his church and we can become the true self that he designed for us. We are called into his church and we can learn his love. We are called to his church and we can share his love with one another.
The Lord Jesus says to us: “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Live within my love” (JN 15:9. LB). “Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (JN 13:35. LB).
God called us all to a church in Woodland Hills. It means that in this very church, we can find our true self that is designed by God.
In this sense, why don’t we tell the persons sitting next to us, “You are so important to me. During the pilgrimage, we are inseparable. You’re the best friend for my journey to eternity.”  
We can glorify God by loving each other and growing together in faith in Christ’s body. Amen?

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