Feb 11 2018

Is Hell Real?

Luke 16:19-31

Today we have the last topic of the sermon series, five big questions that we are asked, and today’s topic is the Hell. I never preached on it and it’s the first time for me to preach about Hell. As you may guess, I am nervous, very nervous. So, I found a joke about heaven and hell to ease my nerves. One night, God talks to a preacher who is preparing a sermon on heaven and hell. The preacher asks God: What is heaven like? God replies, “Heaven is like a city. It has the best of everything. For example, the French are the chefs, the Italians are the lovers, the English are the policeman, the Germans are the mechanics, and the Dutch are the politicians. “What is hell like?” the preacher asks. “Well, God sighs, “The French are the mechanics, the Italians are the politicians, the English are the chefs, the Germans are the policeman, and the Dutch are the lovers.

If the sermon series is Five Big Question I have, I won’t choose hell. I don’t have any question about it. If I go to hell after I die, it’s up to God. My interest or worrying about it now won’t change one bit of that situation. My question for myself is “Am I in peace with God right now here trusting that God is God and I am a child of God?” But when we try to talk others to invite them to church this question is a big one. Even among Christians it is a big question, especially, when we face our loved one’s death. If and when you are asked about heaven and hell what would you answer? Are you ready to give an answer?

We, Methodists, are big on God’s love and grace. John Wesley’s whole theology is based on the Grace of God in Jesus Christ who are patient with us, forgives us, and saves us. It’s natural for us to believe that a loving God could not sent anyone to hell, a place of eternal agony. But many Christians insist that God is also a just God, who cannot overlook evil. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once said, “When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world, then you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross. This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism.” Like him, some Christians are very serious about Hell because they believe there should be judgement and punishment. To be true to our faith in both loving God and just God we need to look at the Bible and see what the Bible says about it in what contexts.

Generally saying, the hell has two names in the Bible: In the Old Testament it is called Sheol. It is the place for the souls of the dead, both the righteous and the wicked. It is a land of darkness – a place where the shadowy souls of humanity dwell. In the New Testament, the Hebrew word, Sheol is translated as Hades. As we see in today’s gospel reading, Hades has two compartments: Hades proper where the rich man is sent, and Abraham’s side where the angels carry Lazarus. Hades proper is a place of torment. Abraham’s side, on the other hand, is separated from it by a great chasm and it is a place of comfort and rest. The righteous who died prior to Jesus dwelt in Sheol with Abraham, and though they were cut off from the land of the living, they were not tormented as the wicked were. Remember today’s gospel lesson is a Jesus’ parable which has a teaching point for his particular audience at that moment based on their religious and cultural knowledge of heaven and hell. That’s the context of this parable.

Who was his audience at that moment? It was Pharisees who were rich religious leaders. In the previous chapter, Jesus was teaching people about up-side-down- nature of the Kingdom of God with his parables of the lost son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep. Pharisees didn’t like any of them because they were up-side-down of their world view. Then, Jesus began to talk to Pharisees directly with the parables of a money manager and this one: a rich man and Lazarus. No name is mentioned for the rich man. But it is obvious that the rich man is a Pharisee. Pharisees were the leaders in both religious world and secular world at that time. They had power and wealth through governing both worlds. The rich man wears purple and fine linen and feasts luxuriously every day. And the beggar, Lazarus, longs for some crumbs from his table but nothing comes to him from this rich man’s table. Both of them die and one goes to Abraham’s side and the other goes to Hades. Now, it is the rich man who longs for a drop of water from Lazarus’ fingertip but he doesn’t get anything. God’s love for Lazarus is fulfilled and God’s justice for the rich man is served. Does it sound fair to you? Do you believe that’s enough for our understanding of both loving and just God?

All these Sheol, Hades, or a tormenting place are the general understandings of hell in the long history of Judaism and Christianity. That doesn’t mean all Jews and all Christians believe in that way. What do we, you and I, believe? We believe that both God’s love and God’s justice are fulfilled and served through Jesus in his life, death and resurrection. I want you to grab a hymnal in your pew box and open page number 881. There is the Apostles’ creed, a traditional version. Let’s read it together.

What does it mean, “He descended into hell?” It was a part of Christian beliefs but we, the Western Christians, lost it when the Western and the Eastern churches were divided. However, the Eastern orthodox Christians still keep it. It is based on the Bible in the first Peter chapter 3 verses 18 through 20. It says, “Christ himself suffered on account of sins once for all the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human but made alive by the Spirit. And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison.”That means he descended to Hades to preach to them and to save them. In a church in Cappadocia there is a fresco, a picture, showing Jesus visiting Hades. In that picture, Jesus broke the gate and the bars of it and put the custodian of Hades under his shepherd staff and takes all of them who are there with him to go up with him. Do all Christians believe that? If you ask Western Christians, like Roman Catholics and Protestants, they may say “Ahee….” And if you ask Eastern Christians, like Greek Orthodox, Coptic and Armenian Christians they may say, “Sure Jesus died for all and saves all. There is no place Jesus wouldn’t go and no one he wouldn’t save.”

What do I believe about heaven and hell? Based on the gospel of John chapter 1 verse 4 saying, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” I believe that when we die we will be united with the light of God and our darkness and our sins which deserve God’s wrath and punishment will be melted away by the light because darkness doesn’t overcome the light. That’s what I believe. I want you to ponder on what you believe based on the Bible, the teachings of the church, human reasons and your personal experiences of God in Jesus Christ. I hope that we talk about it freely and deeply in our fellowship or small group meetings without worrying about offending others or making them uncomfortable because some believes hell and some believes don’t. At the end, anyway it’s totally up to God. God is the judge. Let us pray…

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Aug 21 2016

How Do God’s Works of Salvation Work?

Scripture: Romans 5:1-11

At my first church as a part of my job I was supposed to supervise their youth pastor and his work. One evening I was at their youth gathering. That night’s topic was “how Jesus saves us?” The youth pastor asked two students to come out to participate in a small skit. One of them was assigned to be father and the other son. The son got into a problem and made a big mistake. And he deserved a punishment. The son got on the position to be spanked with a big stick by the father. At the moment when the father tried to hit his son with a scary looking stick the youth pastor pushed out the son and he took his position. Then, he yelled at the student who was supposed to be the father, “You hit me instead of him. I am taking his place.” The student pretended to hit him, but the youth pastor atonement bridgeyelled loudly, “Hit me harder! Harder!” The student was almost crying, and I was horrified.  After that the youth pastor drew a diagram on the blackboard on the wall. He explained to them that we, the children of God, made mistakes and sinned and deserved a big punishment by the father. But his son, Jesus, took our place on the cross and died for our sins. Through his suffering and death we are saved. Doesn’t it sound so familiar? We say it in our prayers, sermons, and Bible studies. We believe that’s how we are saved from hell and go to heaven. There’s nothing “wrong” with this tradition, but my question is, “Does God really demand a violent punishment to save us?”  The other important question is, “Did God have to be manipulated, or bribed with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross as an offering to change his mind from punishment to salvation?”

anselmWe call God’s works of salvation, “atonement” and it means becoming at one or making reconciliation with God. The dominant atonement theory in Christian churches where you and I grow up is “Penal substitution” or “Satisfaction” theory which is “Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He paid a debt or satisfied a debt caused by our sins offending God’s righteousness or God’s honor.” This understanding is originated from St. Augustine and St. Anselm.  And later one of reformed theologians, Calvin, developed it further saying, “on that cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied.” Even outside of Calvinistic churches Christians sing and pray the theology of God’s wrath.

Many people say that Anselm is the most important Christian theologian in the West between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Though he was a brilliant scholar and an archbishop, in his heart he was a spiritual seeker: seeking for the understanding of God’s existence and God’s works of salvation. Whenever I ask my son, Tim, to pray with me he always says, “how do I know that God exists and even if God exist how do I know him?” It is an unavoidable Christian struggle for all of us and Anselm never gave up on the search for answers on those questions.

Now I want you to take a little moment and think about your own understanding of God’s works of salvation. If you need to explain “how Jesus saves us” to your children or friends what would you say to them? How would you explain it? What kind of diagram would you draw for them? With what kind of teachings of atonement did you grow up? Do know that your understanding of God’s salvation affect you not only your faith but also your worldview, your characters and your parenting style?

An evangelical Christian pastor taught his congregation that there is no hell and God’s love, not God’s wrath, wins. “Love wins” is the title of his book. He was kicked out from the church that he started because of that teaching. I believe the people of that church are not bad people kicking out their pastor just because. I believe they grew up with the theology of God’s wrath and hell as the consequences of human sins. That belief formed their world view and the way they practice their faith in church and family. Our Christian beliefs, especially our belief on how God saves through Jesus, form the way how we engage with the spouse and children at home and the way we interact with people in church and in the world. That’s why knowing and understanding our own atonement theory is so important.

In two thousand years of Christian history there are many other understandings, teachings, or theology on atonement, on how God’s works of salvation work in addition to Satisfaction atonement theory. There is Incarnational Atonement theory. It is the dominant theology of salvation in Eastern Orthodox Church that God’s incarnation, becoming human flesh, saves us because God reconciles with us at his birth. Jesus came to the earth not to die on the cross but to be with us. For them salvation doesn’t mean going to heaven but uniting with God. That’s why in the Orthodox Church the Advent and Christmas, not Lent, is six-week-long season to prepare themselves for new life in God. This was one of the prominent teachings of the church until the church divided between West and East in 1054. In the church of West, the teachings of Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas became the main theology and all Protestant churches are from the church of West. That’s why we didn’t learn much about Incarnational Atonement theory of Eastern Church. For us most Christmas hymns and carols we sing are about little baby Jesus, how gentle and lovely rather than God is here in this vulnerable human flesh and God makes himself known to us, now we know God and we are saved!

There are other atonement theories focusing on Jesus life and teachings on the earth rather than his cross and death.  Jesus is our moral example showing us how to live and die. His love and care for the poor, the sick and the marginalized let him to his death not as a sacrifice but as the result of his life and teachings of love. Or Jesus is our healer and by his healing power we are saved from sin and brokenness. Also, there is “Christ, the victor” or “Ransom” theory of atonement emphasizing Jesus’ resurrection as that’s when the Devil was tricked and he didn’t have any control over Christ at all. According to this theory Jesus’ death paid a ransom to Satan, allowing God to rescue people who were under Satan’s bondage.

When I need to explain how God’s works of salvation work I like to use this diagram. No one atonement theory satisfies me to understand God’s works of salvation but when I see them together from God’s incarnation to resurrection, including the works of the Holy Spirit, my heart is filled with joy and gratitude knowing and believing that we are saved not only for heaven after we die but here in this life. We are saved by God’s works of incarnation, teaching, death on the cross, and resurrection. On top of that God, the Holy Spirit, sustains our salvation through his guidance and his constant prayers on behalf us. At our baptism we are saved by God the Father, the Creator, the Son, the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer.

Though St. Anselm was a profound philosopher he was not just a heady scholar and theologian. As I said earlier he was a spiritual seeker seeking for the wisdom and knowledge of God and he was way beyond the boxes and categories of theology in his time. His prayer you have in the insert shows his eventual understanding of God. Please take out the insert and let us pray together.

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Aug 14 2016

St. John Chrysostom and His Prayers

Scripture: Romans 8:18-27

Last week I read a facebook post saying, “Some people say the problem with our nation is Christianity isn’t taught in schools. I think the real problem is that Christianity isn’t being taught in church.” I was going hmm … if it is true that Christianity isn’t being taught in church, why is that? What happened? Many scholars say that Christian churches are now at a very critical moment when the paradigm of doing church is radically changing. Even ordinary people like you and I know that the way we did church 10 or 20 years ago is not working any more as it did and the Christian message we taught in the past as the universal truth are questioned, doubted, or denied by postmodern generations. What’s the context of these changes?

Nowadays more and more people are marrying outside their childhood faith, that those couples find meaning in other spiritual expressions. If I am not a Methodist I might become an Eastern Orthodox Christian because I find so much meaning in their practice of theology and spirituality. We take our confirmation students to a Jewish synagogue, Islam mosque, Orthodox Church, Buddhist temple, and Hindu temple to prepare them living in a diverse religious society. Also, the acceptance of scientific advancements has significantly altered Christianity and its message. It is no longer possible for people to reject the scientific evidence of evolution. Add to this we know that the Internet, technology, and social media changed everything. They changed the way we think and the way we relate to each other even in family and church. That’s what happened recent several decades. We are living in a really unsettled world. In this rapidly changing and seeking instant gratification culture and society, in my opinion, we do not teach, ponder and struggle long enough with “why church, why Christianity and what’s the calling of the church in this unsettled world?”

At the end of his career a German theologian, Karl Rahner, said this: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” By mysticism Rahner explained, he does not mean some extra ordinary or esoteric phenomenon but “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.” A genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence doesn’t happen instantly. It takes long time of teaching, pondering, reflecting, practicing and praying. What is your genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of your existence? Is it mercy, hope, comfort, or grace? Is it fear, confusion or just unknown? For me my genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of my existence is gratitude. Life can bring us anything and everything between extreme joy and extreme suffering and I believe all we have is God when we suffer. Because of God I can be grateful for everything and that’s my genuine experience of God.

But for a while I was discouraged with a feeling that I was not equipped or qualified to stay in ministry any more in this changing and confusing time of the church. Then, I began to look into the ancient church, early church’s history, the giants of Christian faith, the saints, and their teachings, spirituality and prayers. In the early church Christians were under severe persecutions by Roman Empire because Christianity was regarded as a new and dangerous religion. But one day all of sudden they found their religion, Christianity, became the national religion of Roman Empire because of the emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Suddenly, the church and its leaders became so powerful. It was a huge wave of changes to the church from persecution to prosperity. At that time many great fathers and mother of the church left the church and started monasteries in the desert or mountains escaping the powers of the church and the world.

ChrysostomSt. John Chrysostom was living around that time when the church was changing rapidly. He was a lawyer originally. Under his mother’s influence he received a baptism at age 24 and became a monk. He converted his home to a monastery and stayed there until his mother’s death. Then, he sold the house and moved to a monastery in a desert. He was there for seven years focusing on prayer, study and writing. But his friend brought him back to his hometown, Antioch, as the local bishop. He was a brilliant scholar, writer, and preacher but what made him so unique and one of giants in Christianity was his integrity between his teachings and his real life. Against his will one day he was kidnapped to be the bishop of Constantinople which was an extremely rich place at that time. He was expected to wed the gospel with the luxuries and comfort of the town. And he was expected to dispense material blessings and prosperity gospels and to endorse their corrupted lifestyle.

But the first thing he did in Constantinople was emptying the bishop’s palace of its costly plate and furniture and sold them for the benefit of the poor and the sick. He introduced a very strict simple life. His main teaching was this: “Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.” That was his experience of God emerged from the very heart of his existence. His preaching and teaching was the verbal expression of his entire life, and a sincere calling that eventually led him to exile and to death itself because the people in the power didn’t like his teachings.

For him the experience of God emerging from the very heart of his existence came from his prayer life. All prayers we pray this morning are his prayers. The conviction of his prayer life was from the teaching of Paul. In today’s bible lesson Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” For Chrysostom prayer is a precious way of communicating with God, through the Spirit, and prayer gladdened his soul. He said, “You should not think of prayer as being a matter of words. It is a desire for God, a genuine devotion, not of human origin, but the gift of God’s grace.”

I believe the calling of the church in this rapidly changing and unsettled world is showing and reminding people of the ancient Christian way of faith and life and learn to seek happiness by looking inward for the transformation of our hearts. The church’s teaching should be the verbal expression of our entire life, not just a church talk. There is an insert for you. There is Chrysostom’s picture and prayer. His prayers are about 1,600 years old but still they guide us to a genuine experience of God. I want you to keep it somewhere you can see often and use it as a reminder of your prayer life. Please take it out and let’s pray his prayer together.

Permanent link to this article: http://eunhyeandchris.com/st-john-chrysostom-and-his-prayers/

Jul 19 2015

Switzerland 2015

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Dec 24 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

cancun christmas 2013 600px

Dear Family and Friends,

As the year 2013 draws to a close, our family has much for which to be thankful. Tim is in a 3rd grade gifted class at Lincoln Elementary, studying several subjects at the 4th grade level. He is an avid reader, and has read several novels, such as C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. We are thrilled he enjoys reading so much. Tim still loves building custom creations with LEGOs, playing various video games, chess club, and swimming at the YMCA. Church life is also something Tim enjoys. So far, so good. Thank you, Lord.

Eun-Hye is in her 16th year of pastoral ministry, her 3rd year as lead pastor of Plainfield United Methodist Church. Chris is in his 5th year of pastoral ministry, his 3rd year as associate pastor of PUMC. In June Chris completed his multi-year ordination process and is now, like Eun-Hye, an ordained elder in the UMC. After the ordination service, the extended Walters family celebrated Chris’s ordination and his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in Galena, IL.

Pastoring together a church of nearly 900 members brings amazing joys and trying challenges. The blessing of living the church life so intensely, as we do, is that we’re intimately involved with the lives of so many people who freely give themselves and their abundance to each other and the sacred social space known as “church.” There are few other such sacred social spaces left in our society in this age of information overload.

In November we finally used our last “free” week to visit Cancun (held over from our honeymoon there in 2000!). Many years had gone by since we were there last; we had a great time. As always, the hundreds of staff at the all-inclusive resort were overwhelmingly generous in their service to us and all guests. The employees work unbelievably hard, and we’re grateful that we have an opportunity every once in a while to experience a bountifully joyous vacation because of their hard work.

Wishing you peace and joy this Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Eun-Hye, Chris, and Tim

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