When something is new, there is usually passion and excitement. When I first started dating Deb, our relationship was passionate and exciting. I would pick her up late from Robarts Library at 1am after she was done studying, or I would buy food and take it to the library just to see her. When many of you first came to faith in a real way, there was passion and excitement. The tears you cried when experiencing God were real. There was a passion and excitement. But as time goes on, that initial passion often wanes. The reality of everyday life often seeps in, and that excitement, vision and sense of possibilities seems to fade.
In our own church, and many other Korean immigrant churches, the first generation of immigrants built this church. They poured in their time, energy, prayer and money into building up this church. That founding generation is now in their 70’s and 80’s. They have slowed down now in their twilight years. We recently celebrated the life of Mihyang’s father, Mr. Lee Bong-Kyu. The passage at his funeral is immediately after today’s passage: “As for me… the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day…” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)These final words of St. Paul represented Mr. Lee’s life very well. They also represent the lives of the first generation quite well. They have fought the good fight, they have finished the race. They have kept the faith.They are still the majority of the Korean-Speaking Ministry (or KSM). In about 5-10 years, many of them will have passed, and the KSM will likely be much smaller. Since immigration in Korea has slowed to a crawl, and isn’t expected to increase in the near future, the future of St. Timothy depends on the direction and growth of the English-Speaking Ministry. But the context of us here in the ESM is much different than that of the first generation. The church was the central place in the lives of many first generation members. It was their primary community. That is no longer the case with ESM members. You have many demands of everyday life, with work, family and other commitments. You have full lives outside of church. Even if church is an important part of your life, it is just one among other important things in your life.
For the first generation, life was more simple: work hard and make money, make sure the kids are fed, and come to church. Survival for the second generation in this world is more complex. Church and faith often seems to have little to offer to help us survive and thrive in the real world. So we often turn to many other voices that offer wisdom. It’s a real question as to whether English-Speaking Ministries begun in Korean churches will continue. Even now, in the GTA, there are perhaps less than 10 self-sustaining English-speaking ministries in churches founded by Korean immigrants. Will we just see these ministries die? This was the question and situation in today’s passage. This is a letter from St. Paul to his protege Timothy near the end of his life. St. Paul, along with Peter, was the leading figure among the first generation of Christians. He built churches and communities with passion, sweat and tears. They experienced the radical newness and passion of the faith. Timothy represented the second generation of Christians. He had come fervently into the faith from Paul’s leadership.
By the end of Paul’s life, Christian faith was losing its appeal. The first generation believed that Jesus would come back again during their lifetime. So they were willing to endure suffering that came from being a follower of Christ. But Jesus didn’t come back. They questioned why they should suffer and be different from those around them. This is what St. Paul says: “people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) People left the faith, and turned to voices that would make survival in their world easier. The second generation of Christians lost the vision of new life that the first generation had. Timothy was getting discouraged by this situation. He saw that at the end of St. Paul’s ministry, he just ended up in prison, on his way to death. He was losing his passion. He was questioning whether all the hardship and suffering of being a Christian was worth it. But St. Paul is encouraging Timothy to press on. He urges Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed,” to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable;” and to “endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” In other words, don’t give up, carry on, keep moving forward.
I believe that the ministry of this church is worth continuing. This church is and has been such a great blessing for many of us under Rev. Kim’s tireless leadership for the past 30 years almost. Whether you’ve been here for a long time or just recently, this is a community worth keeping, continuing, and carrying on. I want this community to be a place where we can learn what it is to be human beings in this world as God intended. I think that this world can really distort life and what it means to be human. I want this to be a place where we learn to live with other human beings, those who are so different from us, to learn the skills of being in relation to one another. A place where we collide as we learn more about one another, including our flaws, but where forgiveness is practiced and flourishes. I want this to be a place of healing, where we can learn more about our own brokenness, and find grace. I want this to be a place where our children and youth grow up knowing what it is to be loved and affirmed for who they are. A place from which they can go out into the world as confident and assured people ready to make a difference. I want our community to be a church that stands with those who suffer, as those who feel the suffering of others. I believe that all these things are what God has called us to do as individuals and as a church together. What is the church but a community of people who recognize their own brokenness and have committed to live life in the way that God intended? The church is meant to be a place of beauty in the messiness of the real world. I believe we can carry this mission and ministry on.
Fear Of Suffering
Even though our lives our busy and demanding, I don’t think that’s what causes us to lose our passion and vision for life. I think it’s our fear. Our fear of suffering. The reason we work so hard and worry about our children so much, I think, is because we want to avoid suffering. For the second generation, I think an underlying current in our lives has been the fear of going through the same suffering that our parents did. Our experiences in the competitive and difficult world often confirms these fears. When this fear dominates our lives, it kills our vision for life. Our drive to avoid suffering comes at a cost. A German theologian, Dorothee Soelle, says it well: “We can avoid much suffering and the bitterness of suffering, but only for a price that is too high – ceasing to love.” Our whole lives have been centered around, and structured around avoiding this suffering, but we have paid the price of ceasing to love. When there is no love, there is no passion, there is no vision. Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him: “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” Rekindle the gift of God that is within you. What is the gift in you that needs to be rekindled? What vision for life do you have that needs to be rekindled?
Vision of Life
The church has been gifted with the blessing of God’s Word in the Scriptures. Paul is reminding Timothy of this in today’s passage. Study of the Scriptures is at the forefront of our church’s mission because we believe in its power to reveal who we are, and that it speaks truth to our lives. It has the power to shape our vision for life based on the truth of God’s will. That’s what it means to be a prophetic community – to see clearly in our own context the truth of our existence and the purpose for our lives here and now. I believe so much in this and the power of Scripture. My own return to faith and coming to grips with who I really am took place and continues to through study of the Scriptures. That’s why so much of our ministry is not glamorous but takes place in the small, consistent gatherings of people to critically study the Bible and what it says to us about ourselves and life. Critical, reflective, life-changing study of Scripture is one of the greatest legacies of Rev. Kim, and this is something I hope to continue carrying on and build on for a new generation of people. We need prophetic truth and vision to overcome our fear and apathy.
My vision for this church is that we can be strong and confident people in the power of God’s love. People who have a vision for life; people who are passionate about life. Through critical study of Scriptures, through sharing life, through standing with those who suffer, I believe that we can carry on the ministry that God has entrusted to us. There is a world around us crying for the ministry we have to offer. Immigrants. The poor. Those who suffer and are marginalized. Let us be confident in God’s calling for us. Be confident in God’s calling for your life. Rekindle the gift of God that is within you. St. Paul wrote this too to Timothy: “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Our fight is not to overcome suffering in the way that the first generation did. Our fight is against the fear of suffering. Our fight is against living with a spirit of cowardice that stems from fear. God has given us a spirit of power and love. Our fight is to live lives of vision, passion and purpose. Our fight is to rekindle the gift that God has given within us. Let us build our lives with this spirit that God has given us, with love and vision driving us. And let us carry on the ministry that has been given to us. I am confident that God will carry us through.