Sermon Series: The Way of the Disciple
1. It is All About Relationship
I would like to start my sermon by asking a question. You do not have to answer my question. Rather, take it as an invitation to think about your life.
Except for God, what would be the most important thing in our lives?
I believe there would be various answers to this question depending on your value, situation, philosophy, and theology. Although there is no definite and absolute answer to this question, this question would be helpful for us to live our lives because we tend to forget why we live, even why we are here today due to our busy lives.
If you ask this question to me, I would like to say this word. This word is the main theme of today’s sermon and also one of the most important aspects to be disciples of Jesus Christ. This word is “fellowship.” In my favorite word version, it is “relationship.”
Our God, our father, could be understood as the relational God. God’s main attribute is relationship. That is why the Bible says that God is love.
“7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8
We, Christians, confess that we believe in the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons are deeply related to each other with the loving relationship and become one. That is Trinity. They are three persons, but one God. This doctrine shows the important attribute of our God, relationship.
The most important standard for our lives in Old Testament, preferably, Hebrew Bible, is Ten Commandment. This Ten Commandments, form the origin, could be summarized into two things: love God and love your neighbors. Later, Jesus confirmed this understanding, saying:
“The most important one is this: ‘Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment more important than these two.” – Mark 12:29-31
Based on this understanding of God and the commandments, I said in the previous sermon that the purpose of our life is to love God and to be loved by God. In other words, the purpose of our life is to build up the loving relationship with God and with each other. Life is all about relationship. Life is all about learning how to love God and love one another.
Even many scientific researches found the importance of our relationship in a various ways.
One of the longest researches in Harvard University is about human happiness. They have tracked the lives of 724 men and their 2000 children for over seventy-five years. Every two years, this study team interviewed them, videotaped them, got their medical records from their doctors, drew their blood, scanned their brain, and talk to their wives and children. Through all these extensive researches over 75 years, they have generated tons of papers to find out what would be the important factors for human beings’ happy and healthy life.
A few years ago, 4th director of this study and a clinical professor of Psychiatry in Harvard University, Robert Waldinger, presents their findings to the public. Contrary to their long-study, their conclusion is very short and simple I just quote his saying in his presentation. “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
The renowned psychologist, Susan Pinker, also study about human longevity, researching the Italian Island of Sardinia, in which has more than six times as many centenarians as the mainland and ten times as many as North America. What she found from her research and study is also simple, but significant. Social, face-to-face interactions are critical not only for our happiness but also for our survival. Both researches show how the relationship is important for our healthy and happy life.
I believe you already know the importance of the relationship in our lives before I bring out these theological and scientific arguments. In fact, all human beings instinctively know the importance of the relationship. I have officiated the funeral more than twenty times in my five-year pastoral ministry. In many cases, I had privilege to see them before they die. Do you know what usually people want to see before they die? Trophies? Their accomplishment? Money? Maybe some great sports game they enjoyed before? No. They want to see their loving ones.
All of these things show how the relationship is important and even, I could say, critical for human life. Also, they show how human beings are created for the relationship. Do you agree with that the relationship is one of the important things in our lives? If so, I would like to ask this question. How much time and resources do you invest for your relationship?
2. The Value of Relationship in Our lives
Unfortunately, relationship is often ignored and disregarded in our lives. On the personal level, relationship is messy and complicated. It takes a lot of time and efforts, at the same time, there is no quick fix or result. It is a lifelong process. That is why many people do not commit themselves to the relationship.
Also, our society leads people to disregard the relationship and even makes them believe that relationship is the waste of their time. What the world has emphasized nowadays is productivity, money, accomplishment, fame, and popularity.
We can see all superficial and shallow relationship in almost everywhere. In a lot of working places, co-workers just remain co-workers. They hardly become friends. Some church members said to me that they even communicate with each other only through text or email although they share the same office.
Many people do not care for their neighbors anymore, even people who live next to their houses. In many cases, people do not know their neighbors names. A lot of families are broken. It is not uncommon to find some family members who haven’t talked with each other for decades.
Many people are connected to each other through social medias, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so on. However, do you believe that these relationships are deep, meaningful and authentic relationship? Probably not.
We are surrounded by constant commercials which take our attentions to things or products we need, not relationship. The popular books in the world are more about effectiveness, and efficiency for the better productivity and accomplishment, not about our relationship.
At the same time, role models and heroes in our society are not those who devote themselves to the relationship but those who devote themselves to their work and job, and gain wealth and fame.
In many cases, relationship has considered as tool for their success in the society. Other than that, people tend to considered relationship as a waste of time and money consciously and unconsciously.
This tendency in society has affected the church nowadays. I have been in the United States for nine years now. During these years as an intern, seminarian, and pastor, what surprises me most is the shallow and superficial relationship in the church. Although some church members have been in the same church for more than decades, they do not know each other very well, except for their first name.
In previous churches, I tried to meet almost all church members one-on-one to get to know that. At these meetings, I always ask this question. “If you get in trouble or are in difficulties in your life, is there any person you can contact and talk with in the church?” Surprisingly, many church members answer are ‘no one.’
I tried to build up the relationship in the church through potluck, coffee fellowship, small group, and so on. Whenever I tried to do those things in the church, I usually get a lot of resistance with countless excuses. One of the big excuses is surprisingly the same message I get from the world. Those stuffs are the waste of time and money.
They are generous and passionate for doing something nice and great, but not for building up the relationship. In other words, many Christians nowadays are interested in working and accomplishing something, not in building up the relationship.
I would like to let you know that church is not the institution. Church is not the building. Church is the gathering of believers, the Christian community. Church is people who deeply commit to each other, building up the one body beyond their differences.
According to the Bible, the relationship in the church should be like this. One person in the church suffer, they suffer together. One person in the church is honored, they rejoice together. They weep together, rejoice together. Their relationship should deep and authentic to the point that they can confess their sins to each other. That is why Apostle Paul calls the church the Body of Christ.
The main reason why Apostle Paul committed his life to building up the church, risking his life, is that he believes the church is the alternative society, which would transform the world. Church is supposed to be different from the world, especially relationship-wise. We should remember what Jesus said about the relationship in the church.
“34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
From this Bible passage, Jesus emphasizes the relationship among believers. The way to attract people is not by our accomplishment, but by our love for each other. The way to transform the world is not by our work, but our loving relationship.
Church could be understood as relational lab or training place for the relationship. Church is the place to learn how to love each other beyond our differences. Certainly there are some difficult people in the church to get along with.
Also, from time to time, there are divisions and conflicts happening in the church. This is because church is not only gathering of saints, but also gathering of sinners. However, through even all these difficulties and divisions, we learn how to love each other beyond our limitation as sinful persons. That is the major way to learn how to love our God.
If we cannot love our sisters and brothers in Christ before us, we cannot love our invisible God. That is why we are called not only individually, but also collectively. Fellowship, relationship, is the one of the most important way to be disciple of Jesus Christ. I firmly believe that the remedy for our divisions and hatred in our society is to building up the church where loving relationship are prevalent.
If so, what should we do for building up this church? As you know, all relationship is not free. For building up the healthy and loving relationship, you need to invest your time and resources. How about start investing your time and resources to your family, friend, neighbors, and church members?
The best time for building up the relationship is now. Do not delay your
effort for the relationship. Please remember that relationship is the most
important thing in our lives and church is the place to learn and practice how
to love each other. How about standing up now and greet to each other,
especially those you are not familiar with, saying “I will do my best to love