Detectives of the Kingdom
| Ephesians 1:15-23
||Sun, November 21, 1999
Rev. Ed Searcy
|'Annyong haseyo'. What a privilege and pleasure it is to be here with you this afternoon! To Pastor Lee and to all of you let me say 'kamsa hamnida'. Now you know the extent of my knowledge of Korean. Fortunately I know much more about Korean food and Korean hospitality than I do about the Korean language. So, in spite of the language barrier, I am looking forward to the opportunity to serve along with Rev. Bayani Baybay as the two representatives from
Vancouver-Burrard Presbytery on the Joint Search Committee as we seek to call a new pastor for
Korean United Church. I am looking forward to it because I know already that I will enjoy a very
warm welcome and some delicious food in the process of participating in this important work on
behalf of Christ's church.
Today is an important day in the life of the church. It is an important day in the life of this congregation because this afternoon, following the service, the Joint Search Committee begins to undertake the task of discerning who God would call to be your new pastor. But it is an even more important day in the life of the whole church because it is the last Sunday of the year. That's right. Forget about December 31st. Don't think about Y2K. Today is the end of the Christian Year. Next Sunday marks the beginning of a whole new year on the Christian calendar. In my home congregation of University Hill we're holding a congregational New Year's Party next Saturday night. It's called a 'J2K' Party. A 'Jesus Kingdom' Party. That is why this is an especially important day ... important enough for even the children to be here in the sanctuary now ... here because when Jesus' ways are followed children are given special place and special honour. And today ... on the last day of the Christian Year we imagine together what it will be like when Jesus' kingdom comes and when God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Next Sunday we will begin Advent, the season when we remember the way in which God in Jesus 'snuck' into the world ... hardly noticed by anyone but a few lowly shepherds and some mysterious foreigners from the Orient. Today we celebrate the future time when God in Jesus creates a safe haven ... the kingdom come for shepherds and foreigners and children. This is because as Christians we not only tell stories about how God has acted in the past. As Christians we also look forward in hope to the ways in which God has promised to act in the future. We live between our memory and our hope.
But this is not always easy to do ... because we live in the present. We live in the present world
that is so filled with trouble and pain. We are tempted to look to the future more with dread than
with hope. Our young people and our children rightly worry about the impact of pollution and of
global warming, about food shortages and population explosions. They wonder if all of this talk of God's kingdom come, God's will being done is the truth. That is why the children in my
congregation at University Hill have spent the past several weeks as detectives. That's right.
They were officially appointed as 'Kingdom Detectives' and given a badge like this to carry as they undertook their sleuthing. Their duty was to detect the kingdom at work ... to look for 'Kingdom clues' ... to keep their eyes open for signs of God's Kingdom come already. We live, you see, in between the 'advent' of God's new world and its final establishment. Jesus reminded us that the Kingdom is already near ... that it is 'at hand' ... for people who have eyes to see it.
I was also appointed a 'Kingdom Detective' and, along with my daughter Anneke, have been keeping my eyes open for clues that Jesus' Kingdom is coming. But we haven't been looking here. We have been doing our detective work in Korea instead! Yes, in Korea. My wife Wendy and I adopted our fourth child, Anneke, eleven years ago. She came to us as a four month old baby who was born in Taejon, Korea. On November 1st we travelled together back to her homeland. For two weeks we were detectives, travelling from Seoul to Kyongju, from Namdaemun market to Everland in search of signs of God's kingdom come.
It did not take us long to find Jesus' ways being followed. Along with our detective badges we
had received some clues to look for ... things like "when the hungry are fed" or "small acts of
kindness that God makes big". Well, you can imagine that we were hungry, lost souls when we
got off the plane in Seoul. Three Vancouverites in a city of twelve million who could not even
say a polite 'annyong hasseyo'. But we did know somebody. We had met Pastor Jung, Ju-Chai
and his wife Young Wha and their three daughters when they had attended University Hill a few
years ago. No sooner had we arrived in Seoul than we found ourselves swept into the care of
their congregation - the Chamsil Presbyterian Church. Nothing we have ever experienced in
Canada could match the warmth and hospitality that we were shown. We were given shelter with
one of the families in the church ... and fed many meals ... and taken on outings ... even driven south to Kyongju on a three day trip. We sensed that Koreans, as a people, are very hospitable ... and that Korean Christians are especially welcoming. It would not surprise me in the least if, in God's Kingdom come, it is Koreans who are assigned by God to welcome strangers who arrive at the gates looking for shelter and food! More than that ... surely God will hire Korean architects to design the floors as well ...heated floors that allow even those without a bed to stay warm on a cold night.
Another of the clues that we were sent to search for was "when enemies are loved". While we
were in Korea we remembered that back home in Canada you were marking Remembrance Day.
As the veterans of the two World Wars diminish in numbers we see an increasing presence of
soldiers from the Korean War. Because of that many Canadians think of South and North
Koreans as enemies still. But we arrived in Korea just a week after the Chamisl Presbyterian
Church had sent a shipment to P'yongyang that included ploughs and seeds and food to help those
suffering through famine in the north. We were surprised. We thought that perhaps it was
something new. But no, the congregation has been sending shipments like this to North Korea via
China for ten years. Lately Pastor Jung was even invited to visit North Korea. This all came as a
surprise to us. So did the maps in Korea. We soon realized that we could not find any map
produced in 'South Korea' that called the country anything but Korea ... or that had any lines
showing a border or even the demilitarized zone separating the north from the south. Our visit to
the Independence Hall of Korea near Chonan helped us to detect some of the reasons for this.
The memory of March 1, 1919 and of the Independence Movement remains very strong. In light of the long history of the Korean people and of this century's struggle for independence, the current tragic separation into north and south Korea's is only temporary. North Koreans are not enemies but neighbours, even family members. It reminded us of the laws in Jesus' kingdom: love your neighbour as yourself ... love your enemy. It reminded us also that in the Kingdom of God there will be no need for demilitarized zones ... of for soldiers ... or for weapons of war. The map of Korea is a clue that on the map of the Kingdom of God there are no borders separating 'us' from 'them'.
Driving away from the Independence Hall we commented on the one picture of a foreigner we
had seen there. It was a photograph of a Canadian missionary. Our host spoke of the support given to the independence movement by many Christians, including foreign missionaries. We thought, too, of the graves we had visited in the Foreign Missionary Cemetery in Seoul. There among the tombstones we had stumbled upon the graves of Doctors Sherwood and Marion Hall who, after a lifetime of medical work in Korea had retired to Richmond, not many miles from here. When I presided at their funerals I realized by the outpouring of respect from the Korean community that their lives of service had made a significant impact. Standing beside the impressive grave marker that has been erected by their Korean friends we saw another sign of the
kingdom that we had been sent to look for: "when the poor are helped" . This gave us a clue into
the reasons for so many neon crosses on the top of so many church spires in Seoul. Christianity
has grown rapidly in Korea. Perhaps it is, in part, because of the ways in which Christians have
been signs of the kingdom of God ... and have invited others to join with them in living with Jesus as the one who rules life.
It turned out that we were not the only ones doing detective work in Korea. Wherever we went
on the subway or into the market people were doing detective work on us. You can imagine how
unusual we were. Two white-skinned Canadians walking hand in hand with a Korean girl. Often
people would try to speak to Anneke in Korean, only to discover that she speaks English. Then
through a variety of hand-signals and simple English they would realize that she is a Korean child adopted by a Canadian family. This would result much conversation in Korean about us. It also brought Anneke many hugs and smiles (especially from the 'harmonies' - the grandmothers) often along with little treats or gifts of food. We began to realize that we were also one of the clues of God's Kingdom. Because in God's Kingdom the colour of ones skin is not a sign of whether one belongs or does not belong to the family. In the place where Jesus is King every child has a mother and a father to hold their hand and to tuck them in.
In the scripture reading from Ephesians today we find Paul praying for us. He says: "I pray that
the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and
revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may
know what is the hope to which has called you ..." (Ephesians 1:17-18). Kingdom Detectives
need the eyes of their heart enlightened if they are to see the signs of hope in this world. Arriving in Seoul with its millions of people and crowded freeways the eyes of one's head see only the haze of pollution and the problems of overcrowding. But the eyes of an enlightened heart see something else ... they see signs of the Kingdom of God where the love of Jesus rules.
When I returned from Seoul my desk was covered with mail and messages. On top of it all I
found this picture. It was one of many painted before his death by Dr. Bill Taylor, a beloved
member of our church. There is no title to the painting. It appears to be a picture of a storm at sea. But if you look very, very closely you will make out two small figures in the middle of the waves. Do you see them? It looks like one is in a boat ... and the other is out on the water. Yes ... it is Peter in the boat watching Jesus on the waves. Do you see what Bill was saying to us when he painted this? He was reminding us that the miracles of Jesus ... like the birth of Jesus ... are not always easy to see. You have to keep the eyes of your heart open and watch carefully or you might miss seeing the signs of Christ's power and of God's kingdom coming. This will be good advice for those of us serving on the Joint Search Committee in the months ahead. We will need the prayers of the congregation and of the presbytery so that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened as we discern who God is calling to this pulpit. But it is not only the Joint Search Committee who desire eyes that can see Jesus' Kingdom coming. It is also children and youth, women and men of all ages ... asian and caucasian ... Korean and Canadian. All of us pray that we might see Christ in the midst of this stormy world and that, seeing him, we might have hope.
May it be so. Amen.