5-21-23 “Another Step to a New Beginning”

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“Another Step to a New Beginning”

I want to start with something funny that I found on an internet site: A 21-year-old is hired by a hardware store. He shows up for his first day of work at 8 AM sharp. The boss welcomes him, then hands him a broom. “First, sweep out the store. Then I’ll show you where the window cleaning equipment is.” “Sir,” the young man protests, “You can’t be serious. I’m a college graduate.” “Oh, sorry,” says the manager, pointing to the broom. “No problem. I can show you how that thing works.”

Today, we celebrate the achievements of our graduates and confirmands. I know all graduates and confirmands are excited to celebrate their achievements and for their adventure of the next chapter of their lives to begin. To such adorable young people, it is time to grow in faith; also, it is time to be ready for disappointment. You may wonder what I mean by that.  Well, when we come to the end of one thing and move forward to another, starting anew, it is time to be ready to grow in faith. In other words, it is a time to be prepared for disappointment, which will test our faith.

Okay, here is a question for all of you. How many times have you experienced a situation that has gone differently from what you had expected? I am sure that has happened countless times for all of us. I’ve experienced it many times myself.  I was disappointed, full of despair, depressed, lost confidence, and was despondent at times. However, every moment I was disappointed, I knew I had grown my faith in God, and then I could abide in God more firmly.

My first huge disappointment was when my mother passed away. Here is my story: After experiencing God’s healing of my broken spine, I had accepted God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as my Savior and my healer. I had been baptized, graduated from seminary, and planted a new church. I was convinced that God was my supporter; my provider; my guide, rock, and helper; so whatever I asked of Him, I trusted God would do for me. Yes, God did provide, somehow, and the church was growing, and preschool went well. Moreover, my back became healthy. My blessings were growing day by day!

But then God took my mother away from me. I was disappointed in God. I didn’t know why God took my mother away from me. I lost my faith in God. I stopped my church ministry because I didn’t trust Him any longer. I decided I would go against God by fasting. I didn’t eat anything for five days first, feeling depressed and hopeless. After fasting for seven days, I started reading the scriptures to find out why God took my mother away and to see if I had done anything wrong to God. The more I fasted, the more energy I gained. And then, I found many biblical people also had experienced the same or something similar. Here is one example:

You may know the prophet, Elijah. Elijah won a victory over the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-19:8). Moreover, God listened to his prayers, and God sent rain to Israel, which they hadn’t had for three years. He was excited about victorious work in destroying all idols in Israel, but he ran away from Queen Jezebel. He went into the desert to avoid her punishment, and he was full of despair, depressed and disappointed in God. What? I was surprised at that point by what God had done to him; how had he wronged God? However, I found that even at the moment of his disappointment in God, God was with him. God sent him an angel, feeding him to make him strong enough to move forward towards a new beginning. We may find in the scripture how much he was disappointed in God and how God cared for him: “While he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he might die, saying, ‘I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. An angel touched him all at once and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.” And the angel came to him a second time and fed him again until he got up and moved for a new beginning, which founded God’s people and new leaders of Israel. You know that Elijah is the one who lifts up to heaven, riding a chariot of fire without death (2 Kings 2:1-18).

I noticed that, yes, the great prophet Elijah also had experienced a moment of disappointment in God, but God was there with him. Whenever we have bad things happen, God may not remove the bad things from happening to us, but God may be there and wait for us to gain the strength to move forward to a new beginning. So, I finished the fast for forty days, and prepared for coming into the United States to study in a Ph.D. program and become a pastor. And here I am today.

Today’s scripture is known as an ascension story of Jesus, but we may view this story from the perspective of his disciples. It would be a graduation story of the disciples: Jesus called the twelve disciples, and taught them for three years. One was dropped among the twelve, and the rest came up here. Sometimes they argued about who would get the higher position; sometimes they didn’t understand Jesus’ teachings; they ran away when Jesus died on the cross, but now, they gathered together with Jesus. And it is, indeed, time to separate from their teacher, Jesus Christ. They were all done after three years, but they feared moving forward without their teacher and Master. They felt like it was the end of the world. See verse 6. They asked Jesus, “Lord, is this when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” They meant was it was the end of the world.  Jesus answered, “It is not for you to know the time or period that the Father has set by his authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It is time for them to leave their teachers in order to have a new beginning. However, as Jesus promised, they received the Holy Spirit, who would be with them forever.

For all graduates and confirmands, it is time to move forward to a new beginning with more responsibilities, taking more risks, and having more opportunities to make your own decisions as you leave your parents’ direct protection. Your parents may not always be there for you, but they will be with you through their prayers so the Holy Spirit may guide, protect, and help you.

Don’t fear your future: That moment will be your growth point. Through that, you may be strengthened, empowered, and grow in your faith and wisdom in God. Be strong and courageous because you will lead the world. The God who is with your parents will also be with you forever. Thanks be to God! Amen!