RokWon Presbyterian Church ( 록원교회)
Translator: Dr. Young-Chol Choe
Text: Luke 24:13-18 (NRSV)
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They are talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not known the things that have happened there in these days?”
Greetings brothers and sisters in the name of Jesus Christ; I believe it was Paul in his letter to the Romans who began by saying, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.” (Rm. 1:8)/ And I would like to express the same sentiment as Paul. My 10 weeks in Korea have come and gone faster than I could have possibly imagined. I would like to express my thanks to Rev. Jang for opening RockWon Presbyterian Church to Princeton Theological Seminary and for overseeing my field education experience… I would also like to thank all the associate pastors for their support and guidance during my stay… In addition I would like to thank everyone else who made my time in Korea a memorable experience. And of course I would like to express my sincere thanks to Dr. Choe for translating for me today.
Field education is important for any seminary student who is discerning their call to pastoral ministry. And I have been blessed to have the opportunity to come and complete my placement at RockWon Presbyterian Church. Over the course of my stay I have had the pleasure of giving various sermons to the young people of this church. In addition, I have had the opportunity to help and support this church in its mission to spread the gospel in its evangelism program.
But more importantly, I have had the great honor of being able to see and learn from the pastors of this congregation and what it means to be a servant of Jesus Christ. Their countless hours of work and dedication is something that ceases to amaze me. Which is something that I will forever carry with me through the rest of my time at seminary and beyond.Another thing that will continue to stay with me is the people who make up this church. Your dedication and your passion for Jesus Christ has been at times breath taking. And when I consider my future ministry it makes me think about what I can do to pass this passion on to other people.
Looking towards the future, it is hard to say where I will end up. Because experiences like this tend to open the door to possibilities never imagined. And so maybe one day I will come back to Korea to do English ministry, but if not I will continue to work in the U.S. proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. God owns all the roads, and so the possibilities are endless. And so I would like to thank you all for the allowing me to learn and grow with you this summer. And I am especially thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and God’s holy Word with you this afternoon.
Sitting next to me on a train from Seoul to Pohang was an elderly woman. About halfway into our journey she began to talk to me after having glanced at me on several different occasions. Not really wanting a conversation I told her I didn’t speak Korean well… to which she looked me in the eyes and said, “So?”
Seeing the determination in her eyes, I realized there was no way to avoid a conversation with this elderly woman. And not seemingly deterred by the language barrier she simply nodded her head when I told her I might not respond because of my lack of vocabulary. It was then that this elderly woman began to open a small window into her world. She told me about how the night before she had gotten into a major argument with her son, so she was on her way to visit her daughter so that she and her son could “cool down.”
I was surprised at how much of her personal life she was willing to share with a stranger she had met only a short time before. But nothing could have prepared me for what she said next. She said, “You know I’m a Christian… I try go to as many of the worship services as I can at my church, but these days it seems that whenever I go to church I just can’t seem to see Jesus.”
Would you please pray with me… Holy God, send your Spirit among us. Open our eyes to see your holy presence. Open our ears to hear your holy word. Grant us your peace… Grant us your grace… Grant us your love that knows no end. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
At some point we will all walk on the road to Emmaus.
We find ourselves walking on the road to Emmaus when we feel discouraged, uncertain, or just to tired to go on with our daily routine… We find ourselves walking on the road to Emmaus when we intentionally avert our gaze from the hurt or pain in the eyes of our brothers and sisters who were created in the very same image of God… We find ourselves walking on the road to Emmaus when systems that are oppressive and destructive seem to overcome the forces of justice and peace… We find ourselves walking on the road to Emmaus when in our daily lives we are unable to identity the stranger who has been walking alongside us as Jesus Christ…
Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus came across many who were walking on their own road to Emmaus. And while it sometimes seems that we are often far removed from their culture, space, and time their experiences of faith and life still resonate with us today.
Maybe we are like the rich man who came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16) But when Jesus told us that eternal life requires a selfless heart we turned away, not wanting to give more of our time or resources than what was necessary.
Or maybe we can relate more to the Samaritan woman and her encounter with Jesus. We met Jesus at the well in our heart and Christ offered us the gift of water that gives eternal life. Yet we misunderstood the gift that Jesus offered. We thought that Jesus offered us a gift that lets us live an easy life. A gift that tempts us to focus only on our own needs. And so we ended up like the Samaritan woman who said,”Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (Jn 4:15)
Our journey on the road to Emmaus is one that requires selflessness and a heart that is open to God’s continually evolving call. Yet we live in a world that is often difficult. And we can live a selfless life with a heart that is open to God and still find it difficult to see Jesus. We can fully dedicate ourselves to all the wonderful missions and works of the church, but at the end of the day when we are most vulnerable; we can find ourselves questioning whether we really believe in the work Christ calls us to do. And when we question ourselves, we can relate to Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ, who said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (Jn. 21:25)
Knowing that we can be a disciple of Christ and still have trouble seeing Jesus can be quite disturbing. But in these moments of chaos we can look back to where our journey began. And as we look back we can remember why our journey on the road to Emmaus began.
For many of us the journey on the road to Emmaus began at the moment of our baptism. It was then that the Holy Spirit propped our hearts open to accept God’s love. In one of the Western baptism liturgies we have we profess this truth by saying, “And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled: ‘We love because God loved us first.’” (Church of Scotland, Book of Common Order)
In our baptism we allowed the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to God’s love. But having an open heart means that we can be hurt. And so maybe some of you are here because you have experienced some hurt throughout the week. Anyone who has had a relationship fall apart, a broken marriage, an experience of neglect, or was mistreated by friends, family, or even strangers for their faith knows that by having an open heart there is a chance that it will at some point be broken.
And it is when our hearts get broken we can feel discouraged. But it is then that we experience God’s abounding grace. And so we continue to offer what faith and talents we have.
In the Gospel According to John, Jesus had just finished giving some hard teachings. Many of those who had been following Jesus complained to him and went away. When Christ turned and asked the Twelve if they would leave him as well Simon Peter answered him by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (Jn. 6:68) This is not exactly a compelling statement of faith compared to the faith expressed by those who studied in the 1 to 1 discipleship program. But Jesus accepts it nonetheless. Jesus accepts their meager confession of faith because Christ knows what it is like to walk in our footsteps.
In the beginning I mentioned the encounter I had with the elderly woman who sat next to me on the train. However, I failed to mention the second half of what she told me. She said, “Yet, even though these days I can’t seem to see Jesus, I still go to church. Because even if I can’t see Jesus, I know that he is there.”
One of the things I did during my stay in Korea was visiting some of the surrounding churches in Byeollae-Dong. And after visiting these churches, I realized there was something missing in their approach to missions. Because many times these other churches targeted specific groups (i.e. young people, adults, or children). But as a Church of Jesus Christ, we are called to witness to all people. And worship in faith together with one another. Because, as a unified body of Christ, we are able to overcome the hardships we often face in life.
As we see in the Gospel of Luke, Cleopas and those who were traveling with him did not recognize Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus continued to walk with them and teach them about Holy Scripture. And after Jesus had left them, we are told that they had their eyes opened and they exclaimed, “‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Lk. 24:32) This may not seem like good news. But it is the hope and grace that God continually gives us. The good news even if we doubt Jesus is there walking alongside with us. Because Jesus knows what it is like to live in the world we live in.
When I arrive back at Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the questions that I will surely be asked is, “How would you describe the Korean Church?” After spending countless hours reflecting on this question I think I would refer to Dr. Kim, President of Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary, who said, “The Korean Church is a praying Church… The Korean Church believes that prayer changes history.” However in addition to Dr. Kim I would include that, “The Korean Church is a Church that prays together. Because by praying together they travel together on the path God call them.”
Our reading from the Gospel According to Luke reveals the important truth that our journey on the road to Emmaus is not a solo enterprise. Instead, what we find is that the journey on the road to Emmaus is quite the opposite, and is in fact a journey done together; as we see Cleopas traveling with others who are wrestling and struggling with the same difficult realities of pain and suffering.
Over the course of my time at RockWon Presbyterian Church I have seen amazing things such as: seeing your church literally grow each and every week, your dedication to spreading the gospel to people in the communities around you, and preparing individuals to be disciples of Jesus Christ in their daily lives. There are many things that the Western Church can learn from its Korean brothers and sisters, and the same is true vice versa.
Brothers and sisters in Christ… as you continue the wonderful work of training disciples and spreading the good news of the gospel, I ask that you remember Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.” (I Cor. 12:27) Whether you are a new Christian or a seasoned veteran… Whether you are younger or a little on the older side… Whether you have led 100 people to Christ or only 1… None of these things are as important as the fact that our journey of faith is done together, and without one another to rely on our journey on the road to Emmaus is for naught. And so our purpose and mission as disciples of Jesus Christ is to embody the teachings of Christ. So that we may continually uphold and support one another on our journey of life and faith.
Before I end, I want to thank you all again. And I am very thankful for the opportunity to come and witness your walk with God. And I will continue to pray that this community of faith will forever grow into the plans God has for it.
Let us pray… Eternal God, you create us by your power and redeem us by your love. You continue to walk alongside with us as we journey through life and faith together. Guide us and strengthen us by your Holy Spirit, that we may give ourselves in love and service to one another and to you. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.