As Simon said, we have 52 weeks in this year. Let us make 52 great offerings. Our worship is our offering to God. So 52 offerings, whether we do choir music or special music, sermon, prayer, we really put our effort into it. And then every Sunday becomes a very special Sunday, and we create beautiful worship together. Mostly from our heart, not just a performance, but from our heart, we just gather our hearts together and present it to God 52 times this year.
Long time ago, the priests, to find the perfect fragrance, they try all kinds of weeds, all kinds of grasses, and they burn it. And they say, “No, this is not really the sweet fragrance that I want to give to God.” So they try many things and then finally find that grass and offer it, the sweet fragrance to God. In the same way, hopefully we can create that kind of worship service every Sunday, and 52 times. And that this year may be filled with a worshipful kind of year. And, as Simon said, please come 10 minutes before, we’ll put some music on and also prayer topics. And then you can have time for a prayer for the world, a prayer for yourself and a prayer for your family. So, let’s do that. And welcome to the first Sunday worship service of 2020. God gave us this beautiful new year, and we start new. And then our theme is becoming together. That is a very difficult concept, easy to understand conceptually, but becoming together is very hard, especially in modern days. What does that mean, becoming together?
Living in Community
We are living in such a rugged individualistic society. “I am the most important thing, and everybody else, I use them for myself.” That’s the mentality. So it is very much against the culture that we are experiencing every day. Becoming together, we are a community. We don’t have sense of community. What is community? At most, the community that we can think of is our family, our children, our parents. That’s as far as the community goes, we don’t think about community beyond that. Even the church community, it is really hard to say whether this is community, because we are just gathering together physically. So becoming together is not really a physical phenomena alone. It is much more than that, but it is hard to understand what is much more than that. What is really in a community. I believe that we need that. We, human beings, are created to live in community. God intended for us to live in community, being connected with each other, as Brian beautifully prayed, that we are deeply connected with each other, but that is really hard to understand in modern days.
What does that mean? That I’m deeply connected with you, but Africans, I told you several times about Africans. “Because you are, I am.” That is their mentality. “If you’re not there, I’m not here, because you are, I am.” That kind of sense is lost in modern days. In ancient times, maybe there was a stronger understanding of community, but in modern days, this sense of community is very difficult to grasp. And in other words, Christian message is diluted. We just individualistically come to church physically, and then just get something out of the church for myself. Beyond that, “Oh if I have time, I’ll do it”. But beyond that, “I don’t really care”. That is the kind of mentality that we have. So Christian theology, there’s a strong sense of community in Christian theology. We are together here this morning, this afternoon. I believe that it’s because God called us. God called us to be here. That we are here together. Community is formed and created by God, not by human initiative. It was created by God’s spirit. So we are here together this afternoon because God called each and every one of us to be here, to worship together, to be connected with each other. That’s why we are here. That’s what community is all about.
The Israelite’s had a strong sense of this community, this calling. They believed that they are who they are by God’s call. God called us to be together. Israelite’s, they always believed that we are very connected with each other. A few years ago, Chang Sang, the prime minister of Korea, came to Toronto. And she also visited our church and spoke to us. I had time to have a conversation with her, and we were talking, and then she told me that there are a lot of Jewish people in Seoul. So she went to meet them and then asked them, “What is the difference between Jewish people and we, Koreans? Have you noticed some difference?” And then they said, “Oh, Korean people are so smart, very capable. They are excellent in their academic ability and they are very superior people. But one thing that is different is we, Jewish people, if we have information, we share it with each other immediately, to the whole community. But Korean people, somehow, they don’t share anything. Once they know, they only they keep it to themselves. That’s the difference.” In other words, Jewish people have this strong sense of community, being together.
Together by God’s Call
We are together by God’s call. I mean, they’re lucky to have so many prophets. Prophets came and then continuously spoke to them, “You are God’s people called by God.” They continuously reminded them. They were God’s people called by God. Even when they lost everything. When they lost their country, their religion, their temple, their identity, they lost everything. And yet the prophets come and tell them that, “God will gather you up again and God will form the community for you.” I mean, that’s Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet in a very devastated time of Israel. The superpowers around them, Syria, Babylon, Persia. Now all these super powers invaded them, and they took everything from them. They destroyed their temple. They took their identity. They took everything from them. In this devastated time, Jeremiah came out and spoke this message that, “God will bring you back.” Let me give you a little quote from today’s passage. “See, I am going to bring them from the land of the North, and gather them from the farthest parts of the Earth. With weeping, they shall come, and with consolations, I will lead them back. He who scattered Israel will gather him and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.” It is God who called them. It is God who formed the community again. And he gave them this image, “Among them, the blind, the lame, those with child, those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.” Picture this image, as they come together, the cripples, they will limp, and the blind, they will be led by other people. And the people who are pregnant, the people with little children, they’re all gathered together. Even though it is difficult, they come together because God called them to be together.
Coming together despite differences
Every Sunday morning, I don’t do that in ESM, but in KSM, I stand at the back. We have a lot of elderly people. They can’t walk very well with their canes and all that, yet they all come together. Just seeing them is an inspiration to me. Even though it was so hard for them to even walk, they come because God called them to come and worship God. That is what community is, community is not where all the perfect, healthy, and strong people gather together. Community’s where all kinds of people, blind, crippled, lame, whoever, they all come because God called them to be here. And the Christian community continued this tradition of Israelite’s.
But this time, God called them, not just from one race, from all the regions of the world. God called them together to be my people, to form the community. People came from all of the world. Luke portrayed this image very clearly. Let me read it for you. It is from Acts, “Parthians, Medes Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” This is when the Holy spirit came. They all spoke different languages, but somehow there was a miracle. They were able to understand each other. They were very connected, even though they came from all different regions of the world, they were able to understand, they were deeply connected. Then the church was born. When the spirit came, the first thing the spirit did was form the Christian community. The spirit formed the Christian community.
Blessing One Another
As a community, we may go through difficult times, but let us not forget that it is God who started this community. And it will be God who’ll keep this community safe and together. That was the message Jeremiah received. “With weeping, they shall come and with constellations, I will lead them back. I will let them walk by brooks of water in a straight path in which they shall not stumble.” God will lead them. God will keep them. Why did God form this community? Simple, to bless you, to bless each and every one of you. Not for himself alone to bless you because that’s the best way to live. Living in a community is the best way to live, because it is hard for you by yourself to go through all the challenges of life. God called you to form a community so that you can help each other. You can take care of each other. You can care for each other. That’s why God called this community, to bless you. And he taught faith. The foundation of life. Faith is the foundation of life. Through this community.
God taught faith, and God taught you how to serve. That is the essence of life, serving other people. That is the essence of living, the backbone of living. He taught us to love one another. That is the beauty of life. Without loving each other, where is the beauty? And God called you to teach each and every one of these things to all of you, not only spiritually, but also God called you to bless you abundantly. Jeremiah said, “They shall come and sing a loud on the height of Zion. And they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish sorrow again.” To bless you abundantly so that you can live an abundant life, God called you. I mean, this community is so important in that sense. And to give us joy. Each one of you to give you joy, as we worshiped together, there is joy. “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” God will take away mourning, and give us joy. God will take away sorrow and give us gladness. I pray that this community is a source of your blessings. As they see you, “Oh, God is alive.” God is living in their lives. I hope that people could say that because as they see your abundance, they may be able to see the hands of God working in your lives.
January 1st, this year, we had a family gathering together. I have a sister who doesn’t go to church. Her children come to our church, but my sister doesn’t come to church. And then, my brother-in-law, he’s an atheist. And so whenever I go to his house and pray before the meal, he always kind of teases me. “I gave you food. Who do you pray to?” So he was joking and all that. This January 1st we gathered together, then my sister said, “In Kee, I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful. I’m so blessed. I have so much. And I’m so blessed. I’m so thankful.” And then she said, “I think it’s because of you and Edward, that I am blessed.” She recognized she doesn’t even go to church. She recognized where the blessing came from. I hope that God blesses you so much that other people see you and think, “God must have blessed you.” And that was Jesus’ prayer. Jesus said, “I pray that they may be one so that the world may know that I sent them.” That was Jesus’ prayer.
Truth of Life
To generous people, right now, I’m telling you a life principle, or what life is like; life truth. To generous people, God will bring abundance. That’s what I saw. Generous people will never be in want. Generous people are always blessed with more abundance. To thankful people, God will give more reasons to be thankful. To forgiving people, God will let them taste the joy of forgiveness. They’ll be forgiven. To loving people, God will embrace them with His love. Be generous people, be forgiving people, be loving people, and be thankful people. Happy new year! And may this year be the blessed year.