Egg and Scorpion
Thank you very much choir and thank you also praise team. What a beautiful gift of music that God gives us to worship. Today’s passage is about prayer and that is the title, actually of the sermon. Life of prayer, I’m thinking that bulletin says egg or Scorpion. The thing is about preparing sermons is sometimes you’re on one track and you think you might have something going. But I didn’t really on Friday. And so our artistic pastor Dave was like, what about egg and Scorpion? But I admit I don’t have that kind of artistic flare. And as I reflected even more. This message came to me about a life of prayer. So that’s what we’re reflecting on today because today’s passage begins with a request from a disciple of Jesus to teach them how to pray. I mean, prayer was a central part of Jesus’s life.
And so I think the disciples wanted to know more about this thing that was very central in his life, and when, when I reflect on this passage carefully, we see that Jesus is talking about something more than just saying words from our mouths. The first part of the passage, the Lord’s prayer are words that many of us have learned from a young age, but the other two portions, they get more into the heart of what prayer really is. Jesus is talking about something much deeper than mere words that we recite. Jesus talking about the kind of life that we live, a life of never giving up, a life of seeking a life, of asking, a life of knocking, and Jesus connected this kind of life with prayer. And so prayer is really the life we live that comes from deep within our hearts. How many of us know what these things deep within our hearts really are?
I mean, if anything, I think what we ask for or what we search for often arises out of difficult situations. You know, if you’re struggling with a health issue then what you seek and desire is better health. If there are financial stresses and struggles, what we seek is more money or greater stability. And if you’re in a difficult relationship, you wish for it to get better or maybe even just to go away. And so as I pondered this further, I realized that what we often seek or ask for is in response to this very ungracious world that we live in. Our theme at the ESM retreat was stories of faith, and Reverend Kim began by asking this question, credit to Paul Jang for this nice slide. All the happenings in our lives, are they indifferent to us or does life reflect graciousness? You know, his life, Just in indifferent and ungracious world where good things and bad things just happen to us randomly.
Or can we find graciousness in the midst of this indifferent and ungracious world? And he defined stories of faith as stories of living out of a gracious God in an ungracious world. You know, that journey of finding God’s graciousness in this ungracious world is the story of faith, but then I realized that we have another story too. You know, the story of trying to escape from or to conquer or to tame this ungracious world that we live in. Or in other words, we allow the indifferent or ungracious world to define how we will live our lives. And so this story, many times conflicts with the story of faith. Living life in this world throws so many things at us and so the question for us is, are you searching for God’s graciousness in this ungracious world or for some control over this ungracious world that you live in? And I realized that a life of prayer is one of searching out for God’s graciousness in this ungracious world. You know, like today it’s a big day for me and the church you are calling in ordaining me to be a minister of this church and preparing for this sermon and for this day it’s been a real emotional experience. I mean, because of the long journey it’s taken for me to come to this place. I’ve wanted to be a minister for as long as I can remember. Not many people can say that, right? But that is true for me but this journey has been long and not easy. And I hope I can get through this sermon too. There is a Kleenex box. I mean, my whole life I’ve been a dreamer. My head has been lost in the clouds ever since I was a little kid. You know, Deb often has wave to me at the kitchen table to get my attention because I’m lost in the clouds. You know, my dream has always been to help create a world of greater harmony, justice and compassion.
But the dreamer in me has often come crashing against the ungracious world we live in. And my whole life as I look back, has been a struggle between keeping my dream alive and allowing it to be taken away by this ungracious world. It’s a tough world to be a dreamer. The ungracious world that my parents lived in shaped me so deeply, I realize. And I know this is very personal for her, and I’m kind of glad she’s not here. My mother, she grew up without her own biological mother, but instead with a stepmother and stepsister, in that period of her life, it’s too painful for her to talk about really even today, her stepmother I think was jealous of my mom’s studiousness and would make her do all this house work instead so that she couldn’t study. Kind of sounds like Cinderella, right? You know, she once kind of said in tears that all she ever wanted was her own desk in her own room, just so that she can study. That’s all she wanted,and then her father passed away when she was only 18 and so she was basically all alone in this world. And then my father was born in North Korea. You know, his father was killed during the Korean War, during an American air raid, so my grandmother was left to fend for four little kids and they managed to get onto the last American boat to leave the shores of North Korea and they began a new life in the south. And I realized, I think I get my dreamer mindset from my dad, he was a dreamer too. He dreamed one day of owning a plot of land and growing animals and crops and he even studied horticulture at university, but he quickly realized that postwar Korea was no place for such a dreamer. And so establishing his own security and stability became the dominant theme of his life and their life in Canada was so difficult. You know, they came with no money. There was no one else to really help them, and I think many of us can understand all these. And I saw growing up the challenges they faced as economic fortunes shifted up and down as they received disrespectful treatment from customers working countless hours at that store. But they still made time for my dad to drive me around three or four times a week to play hockey while my mother would just stay at the store.
But I mean they had done decently until my first year of university when the family business really took a hit. You know, they were on the verge of losing everything, property house assets, because they weren’t making enough money to pay off all the expenses. And so after my first year of university, I ran a window cleaning business, gave all the income to my parents, but they had to open a second store just to try to stay afloat, so I would go there at night and then I hired a manager for the window cleaning business so I can get another job at revenue Canada going after people who owe taxes. I mean that was a hard summer. I would eat breakfast at the kitchen table while watching tears roll from my mother’s eyes, from the stress and anxiety of having to come up with money that didn’t exist to pay off expenses. She had already lost everything in life before and the thought that she might lose everything she had worked for in Canada just ate me up inside and made me think that maybe I should just forgo my own idealism for reality. And that was why I went to business school, worked at corporate jobs, and eventually chose law school over seminary. Even though I knew deep in my heart that ministry in seminary was what I really wanted to do,
But I can never repress my dreams for good, who of us really can. So I became earnestly involved in community building efforts, I started organizations that would empower students and young people. Does that sound familiar Hi-C guys? You know, creating events that would build a sense of community, but I even paid the cost of prioritizing community. You know, after law school, the rules of this world dictate that in articling year that’s what it’s called. You need to dedicate your life to the firm. Your life belongs to the man. But I resisted those rules and instead I focused a lot of my energy towards creating a talent show for young Korean Canadians and building a community around these efforts. I mean, it was a wonderful, marvelous experience where we built community until I became the only articling student in my class, not to get hired back as an associate. So while the rest of my class, these people I spend so much time with, they started making lots of money in their gleaming office tower. I mean the salary jumps high when you’re an associate. I was collecting EI checks at home in my boxers. A 30 year old dude just hanging at home and his boxers think how that made my parents feel. So the stress and added pressure from my parents, it just really became so unbearable. At one point I literally took a sleeping bag and I camped out at the apartment, my brother was staying and I didn’t even ask or tell him. I just showed up and I was there. There was an empty spare bedroom, no bed or nothing. I just put my sleeping bag on the ground and that’s where I was for two weeks. Binging on the TV show, Lost, no streaming back then. Just DVDs.
How ironic. Cause I was truly, truly lost. You know, it became confirmation for me that this world is no place for a dreamer. And life didn’t really get easier, you know, after I eventually found a job at a small law firm where I literally got yelled at and screamed at by my boss on the regular, I was trapped there from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM because that’s what he expected. And eventually, I mean I started all over again after a year of that to begin a criminal law practice. I mean I was just grinding and focused on other goals. You know, like in 2009 I wrote down one of my yearly goals as ‘find the wifey’. And you know what I mean? Well maybe there’s something that Jesus saying, ask and you shall receive. Cause that is the year that I met Deb. You know, and just to prove that prayer is not just about the words we utter, I met her on the softball field at Jack Good latte Park. When my team lined up to start the game, in the Korean Christian Softball League, teams line up and it begins with a prayer. Well, I wasn’t being a pious prayer because my eyes were wide open, looking at her. God was listening to my heart, not the words. I mean, I was trying my best in life, living life according to the rules of this ungracious world, just trying to carve out whatever space I could within it.
But looking back, I mean, I was angry at the world that was killing my dreams. I was angry and resentful at my parents for making me so fearful of my dreams. I was bitter towards society that had made me feel second-class for so long. I was angry at being a visible minority. Seeing how the people making decisions never looked like me. Always feeling like somehow I don’t really fit in or belong. Feeling like I always have to just be better than others. Just to have a chance. Always looking over my shoulder to see how people might be looking at me. I know that I felt despair, anger, and hopelessness, but for some reason I never fully gave up and I can’t explain exactly what that was. I mean, yes, there were many times I just kind of went along with the flow, trying to enjoy life, trying to make money, enjoying community work on the side, trying to be the man hanging out on weekends, going to karaoke, but still, there was a quiet, nagging voice persisting in me that all was not right, that this wasn’t all there was to life. There had to be more. I don’t know how actually but somehow I reconnected with Reverend Kim after many years. I went to see him and talked about various thoughts going on in my life, and he suggested that we start a Bible study for people like me who had left the church, where through the Bible we could examine and reflect on life. I mean, I, and I hadn’t read the Bible in years, so I was like, oh, okay, that’s interesting, but that was the beginning of a new journey. It began a journey of rediscovering my dreams and finally answering my calling to live out those dreams.
And really I can attribute all of this. It’s nothing other than God’s grace. God’s grace saved me, so I realized a life of prayer is the search for God’s graciousness, and God’s grace in this ungracious world. It is the resistance to the indifferent and ungracious world that surrounds us. It is a declaration that this is not all there is and that I will find grace in it, even if it takes a lifetime. A life of prayer is the constant yearning, seeking and knocking for that grace in this world, and that’s what I realized I was doing all along without me even knowing it. I was yearning, searching, and knocking on the door for grace in my life and to rest in that grace. Prayer is not what we say with our mouths. Prayer is what is deepest in our hearts. Prayer is the struggle that has been driving our lives. Well most of the time we don’t know what that struggle really is. Jesus says at the end of our passage today, how much more will the heavenly father give the holy spirit to those who ask him? How much more will the heavenly father give the holy spirit to those who ask him? I believe that Jesus said this because we need God’s help to know what is in our hearts or even more for God himself to pray for what’s in our hearts even before we’re aware of what’s in it. The Holy Spirit that Jesus mentions here is the same spirit that Paul so eloquently articulates enrollments. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words and God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the spirit because the spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. I was seeking all along to find rest in God’s grace. I didn’t even know this, but yet I was yearning for that and God was faithful and interceded on my behalf even before I knew it. To find God’s grace in this ungracious world, to rest in God’s grace, that was what I was searching for and as I did, I started to see the false illusions in my life. How much I was just trying to fake it till I made it. I began to find assurance of God’s love and acceptance for me. I began to discover the true joy and to find clarity in my identity and who I really was, and it was in God’s grace that I began to discern and finally answer my calling in life for ministry.
God gives us the spirit to search our hearts. That is prayer. The cry of our hearts. We may not have the words, we may not even know that it’s there, but the spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. The past three years in ministry and seminary have been wonderful years. I will always thank God and remember these years fondly. It’s been a time of healing for me. I never really believed in angels before, but I do believe that all the kids in Hi-C and college group truly are angels that have been sent in my life. The students know how much I get emotional in front of them. I mean, seriously, I don’t think I’ve cried as much in my whole life as I have the past three years and I couldn’t really say why. I didn’t know why, but when I think about it now, I believe all those tears are tears of recognition and gratitude for God’s enormous grace in my life. How God has carried me through all the years. They are tears of joy and gratitude because God really has made my dreams come true. In these moments of joy, I realized that this is what I’ve always wanted and had been asking for. My dream my whole life has been to create what Martin Luther King Jr called the beloved community, a community where everyone feels loved, respected, and esteemed, and where that community could reach out into the world that needs grace, compassion, and justice to show the world that grace does exist and that it is possible to live by a different set of rules than those of the ungracious worlds we live in.
In moments of grace in our community, I become overwhelmed with God’s abundant grace in my life. This community of Saint Timothy, you know, while far from perfect and with many flaws, it’s really the answer to my life long prayers. This is the beloved community I have always dreamed of. So I stand here. I’m just overwhelmed by God’s abundant grace, gratitude for this community that has so openly embraced me and healed me, for the pastoral staff and Reverend Kim, who have mentored me and taught me so much. For my wife, who has really supported me and our family so faithfully over the last few years and really given all of her body and spirit to support the family and kids. For my family who has supported us and for all the wonderful people in my life, past and present. St Paul said, I am who I am by God’s grace, and that is indeed so true with me.
I mean my life, my life is far from perfect. There are still things in my life today that deeply ache my heart and cause great anguish. I still feel lack of control over things that cause pain. But even as I feel those things, I remember the words proclaimed by St Paul. The passage starts with therefore to keep me from being too elated. A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated, and we don’t know what this thorn really is, but there was something that was really causing great anguish in St Paul. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, and three as a symbolic number, as in like many, many times that I prayed to the Lord that he would leave me, but he said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ. For whenever I am weak, then I am strong. God’s grace is sufficient for me and God’s power is made perfect in my weakness. This world needs God’s graciousness and this will happen when the lives we live are a prayer. God will grant us the Holy Spirit when this becomes our life. Prayer. Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts, search me, Oh God and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts. When we earnestly ask God to come in and search us, to know our hearts, to test us and know our thoughts, we will find God’s grace and in God’s grace we will find what we are looking for. My prayer for all of us as we begin this new chapter together is that our lives be a prayer of seeking, searching, and yearning for God’s grace in this ungracious world.