Like some of you or many of you, emotions ran high last week after I made the announcement this past Sunday about changing my pastoral relationship with West Point Grey United. It was not an easy decision to make. It was not about the church; it was about how best to use my time and energy for God’s ministry before retirement. If the announcement was difficult for you to hear, I was sorry to have made it.
I came across the posting about the position of Professor of United Church Formation and Studies at Vancouver School of Theology (VST) in early March. My initial reaction to the posting was that it was too good to let pass since I can fulfil all the requirements. However, I had not anticipated it being open until three years later, I thought I would be interested in applying for it then, that it was a little early to change pastoral relations and I still felt called. So, I decided not to apply. At the same time, many people reminded me of the posting and my fit for the position. To those who encouraged me to apply, including my students at VST, I said that I was not intending to do so; And I put it out of my mind for about three weeks. However, one week before the deadline I received an email from the search committee gently reminding me of the posting. That email helped change my mind and I applied. The process was long and rigorous. It took almost three months for the appointment to be made.
I have been here at West Point Grey for about four years. We have been doing ministry together. As the hymn says, “the world is about to turn” (MV 120), We have been turning our church around. I sense that we are becoming a more lively church. We are living out a clear vision of becoming an intercultural church and we are also becoming an affirming church. We are paddling together through the rough waves of COVID-19. We will move through whatever waves lie ahead. It has been my pure honour and joy to journey and paddle together with you. However, our situation may change, one thing will not change; this church, God’s church, is in God’s hands and you are in my heart. I am so proud of you for how you have built this faith community in God’s kin-dom.
Last Sunday I’ve promised that our Sunday services during the summer months will be shorter and more informal. So I will share two stories with you to reflect on today’s scripture reading.
One of the things my wife Junghee and I found hard was raising children in a different culture from the one in which we grew up. Since we had not experienced childhood here in Canada, we knew little about children’s lyrics, common games and social expectations and rules in this country. When our daughter Saepom was three years old, she was invited to the birthday party of a friend who was turning two and lived next door in the student apartments in Toronto where we were living. Our neighbouring child’s parents too were both students of Emmauel Collage. I bought a small gift for Saepom to give her friend and I packed a few clothes that Saepom had grown out of but were still good. The room was crowded with many friends and their parents. I became more and more embarrassed as the gifts began to be unwrapped. The gifts others had brought were so big and looked expensive and Saepom’s looked so little and inexpensive (cheap). At that moment, I myself felt so little and unworthy, like the gift Saepom and I had brought. I wished that I could disappear and flee from the room right away. Later I asked Saepom why children wanted to take expensive gifts for a birthday. Saepom said she thought because if the gift was better than others, the friend who had the birthday would like the giver more. I could see that there was a competition going on here, among the children; what they brought as a present was a means of gaining power.
In today’s Gospel Jesus sends out seventy followers in pairs to other towns ahead of him, and tells them how to behave as they spread the gospel. Unlike the birthday parties my children often were invited to or wanted to have, Jesus’ followers are not expected to take anything but their new learning. The gospel writer records Jesus saying, “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals… Whatever house you enter, first say, peace to this house.” These followers of Jesus are to travel without baggage or supplies. They are defenseless “lambs” in a potentially threatening environment of “wolves.” They are to depend on the hospitality of the people to whose homes they go. They cure the sick and tell them the message that the Kingdom of God is near, within them.
What did it mean for them to go out on their mission journey without any supplies? What would it mean for us today to go on our faith journey without stuff?
A scene I used to see in Korea might help us to understand what this might mean to us. It is the custom and discipline for Buddhist monks to come down from their temples deep in the mountains to the villages and go door to door with only a bowl in their hand, begging for food. They depend on what they receive. They may not choose which house to visit but have to go to each by turn. And whether they get enough food for one day or not, they may not go to more than seven houses a day. When welcomed to a home, they listen to people’s concerns and worries and they offer prayers for the family. They are religious leaders, but as they practise their faith, they experience vulnerability. The practice of the ministry of Buddhist monks is to visit people in a discipline of emptying and humbling themselves. I wonder if the abundance of what we have, the costly gifts we bring, keeps us from the ability to form right relationships with others. Might faithful living out of our vulnerability open us to the gifts of others?
What supplies do we need for our journey in ministry? Perhaps all we need are empty hands to receive God’s love and grace through those whom we meet on the way. May the freedom of empty hands and loving arms embrace us as we enjoy life this summer. May empty hands and embracing arms enlighten us as we are seeking our new ministry together.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn. (MV 120)
So be it.