Normally I write a brief summary of the week's sermon, but Susan Tang gave me a beautiful letter about the sermon I preached on 10/4 and I asked her permission to print it here (edited): On Sunday 10/4/15, I attended service at the San Francisco Evangelical Free Church. Service was conducted by Rev. Chris Otani. The sermon was entitled "You Are Not Alone" about 1 Peter 2:5-10. There were so many things covered in the sermon but the key things I want to write about are similar to some things that I've been journaling and asking God and maybe you are too, because as titled, "you are not alone."
Sometimes as a believer in God, I feel very alone; however from the sermon and in scripture we are told that we are not alone as God, the personhood of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit continually watch over us. In claiming faith we are comforted, warned, and reminded of our responsibilities and duties to the faith we adhere to.
It's so easy to recommend books, movies, or television shows to watch; or suggest a restaurant, coffee shop or store to explore and check out. And especially during the holidays, the day after Thanksgiving or for a premier of a new toy, tennis show, book or movie, people are quite willing to stand in line for hours to get "it," whatever "it" is. But in asking friends and family to attend religious service I hear comments like, "Oh, not my cup of tea," or "I don't believe," or no comment. Rejection and loneliness - everyone has experienced it, but in or among family, groups, or at a party, it seems like no one else is lonely. Are others simply pretending or acting confident and secure?
The sermon referenced the story of Martin Pistorius from a recent TED talk online, who in 1988 at the age of 12 suffered brain damage and as a result was mentally aware, but physically unresponsive. However in this state of being, he somehow became instinctively aware of God, yet unable to intellectually communicate his understanding.
Personally for me, I wonder if we've also felt this kind of brain damage - trapped in our bodies but unable to speak out. Whatever the circumstances, I'm glad to know that our Father in Heaven knows and understands how we feel, and empowers us with wisdom to be discerning. I wonder even more about our aging, bed-ridden, loved ones. What do they think or feel about us when we visit or don't visit them while they are alive or dying? What do they instinctively know about us or God? What final points would they want to make sure we know and understand about them and God?
So many dreadful and sad things are happening in the world. In my heart and mind, I wonder if this is the beginning of the end times. It's not our job to question the date of the end but to proclaim and share faith to the end. Some religions or families might make us feel like we're not deserving or worthy enough to worship or be a part of important conversations. But with Christ, we are pursued, reminded and wooed that in any problem we face, he calls us to meet him, talk to him, ask him and consider the goodness of his blessings and sacrifice. Regardless of what path we choose to serve God and others, God's plans will not be defeated or thwarted.
In the second part of the sermon, I am challenged to learn that the Bible is also a warning - an either/or proposition in how God honors our choice to believe in Him or not. It's so hard to convey this concept because it requires each person to really examine their lives and consider personal introspection of who they are and how they might be perceived. How often do we practice being honest and self-aware, open to criticism and rebuke?
I can see how I can be labelled as a hypocrite. How can we talk about God's great love for each of us, when people wrongly blame Him and cut themselves off from understanding the nature of their own flaws and faults? It's so important to recognize our own shortcomings, admit them, confess them, repent of them and find forgiveness in God.
Bottom line and challenge - by God's grace we are empowered to see the truth and forgive. We do have responsibilities for our faith. In the most desperate and despairing times of my life when I know I have received undeserved mercy and grace, I so want to share it with others who might feel the same hurts.
I'm grateful to be reminded that it's not my job or anyone else's to convince others. Life is so uncertain but by faith we can be certain that God loves us, wants to spend time with us, wants to share and help us understand our struggles. Maybe the questions we need to ask of ourselves is do we see the need to spend time with God, ask for help in understanding our struggles, are we willing to honestly explain our thoughts to the Creator of the universe, and in return trust and obey the opinions He renders in His Word or His people?
On a personal note, with all the senseless crime that's happening, I would carry a sign reading: No Jesus, No peace; Know Jesus, know peace. Or stated more elegantly and eloquently: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish by have eternal life." (John 3:16)
I'm not very good at chit chat, so after service I quietly leave, remaining prayerfully thankful and grateful to leaders/shepherds who are dedicated to directing, equipping, re-igniting and challenging the hearts and minds of questioning "sheeple" (sheep/people) like me. To conclude, I simply wish to reflect upon a love and encouragement that is far greater than yours or mine: "And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)