(Hong's Family's New Resident)

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 only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.  As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So, he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened  the Scriptures to us?" They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. (Luke 24:13-33a) 

Good morning, Church! My name is Seok-Hwan Francis Hong, your new pastor.  I have been anxiously waiting to meet all of you. It is a great joy to see you and I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Today I must confess one thing. Preparing this sermon, I struggled whether I should preach in Korean or in English but I decided to preach in English because my English is better than your Korean.

Time flies, doesn’t it? I came to the State when I was 28 and now I lived in the State longer than in Korea. You saw my picture, preaching. I’ve lied to you because it was taken when I was 47, 10 years ago. I wanted to be looking younger that I am. Time flies, indeed.  And life is too short, too short to waste worrying something or spending energy in mending broken relationship. Let us learn how to love and share the Gospel each other and beyond.

I have a habit, habit that used to think about my ending in any place when I start new thing. When I came here, I was imaging my leaving, maybe 3 year later or 12 year later.  What legacy I want to leave to this beautiful community of faith? How do I remember in the heart of people here?

Dear friends in Christ! I want to be a successful pastor and faithful servant. I want to be loved by as many as congregation. I want to be memorable and influencing pastor to your life. I want to be remembered in your heart that the pastor loved God and us although he had his weakness. Help me and pray for my ministry.

We, Yun, Tara, and Jonathan come to you today as strangers. You also come in our lives as strangers. The Hebrew people in Deut. 26:5 identified themselves like this: "Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.’" The early Christians regard them as this way in Hebrew 11:13: "All these people (the people of faith like Abraham, Moses, Elias were still living by faith when they died. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth."

Yes, we all are aliens and strangers to each other once. We are sojourners in this world. We are all wanderers on earth. We are the Christian pilgrims to our eternal home. We meet today as strangers.  I am sure you welcome us. A member prepared a hot meal on the day when we moved in. Flowers were set to the parsonage; Welcoming cards were sent to us with gifts. The parsonage was cleaned and meticulously prepared for us. Warm welcome and careful and decent treatment. Many helped for us to settle down. Folks have been so kind. Whenever I met any one of you, I was surprised to hear that most people pronounced my name pretty correctly. You practiced how to pronounce my name. Thank you so much!

You know, Jesus also was a migrant and stranger. Jesus lived two thousand years ago in a completely different situation. Jesus really was a stranger, coming from God and became a refuge and a migrant to Egypt.

The stranger is always ambiguous at first and so people ask: Will the stranger be a friend or foe? Can this unknown person be trusted? Is it safe to open up to this stranger? What happens when we meet strangers? Is he spiritual that I can rely on? Let’s look into the story of two disciples on the road of Emmaus.

The disciples were returning home after the death of Jesus in Jerusalem. They walked away from what they hoped for. On the way home Jesus appeared to two disciples. But they did not recognize him. They thought that he was an intelligent young Jew who knew the scripture well. Jesus was simply a stranger to them because they were preoccupied with their disappointment.  Jesus in the Bible often appeared as a stranger.

Jesus asked them: What are you discussing together as you walk along? They were so sad. "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. Funny thing happens. They talked about Jesus to Jesus the risen Christ.  They did not know whom they were talking to. They just shared their hopes and dreams: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Now hope is gone. Disappointment, frustration, and despair for the future came to them.

Jesus the stranger still did not reveal himself to them. He waited until they recognized him. The critical moment came when they turned to the stranger and said: “Stay with us. It is almost evening and the day is already far spent.” The two disciples offered the hospitality to the stranger.  The moment they invited the stranger and shared their meal together was the moment the transformation happened. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they finally recognized him as the risen Christ.” Then they returned to Jerusalem and hoped again.

Christian task on earth is so simple: to turn the stranger who is perceived as an enemy, a hostis, into a hospes, which is for "guest." (Hostility-enemy/ Hospitality-guest) Henri Nouwen said: “Hospitality requires the willingness and capacity to create an open, empty space into which strangers can come, and find themselves at home. Therefore, hospitality begins with a letting go of suspicion, a suspension of judgments, and the cultivation of a genuinely open, spacious, welcoming heart and space.”

Henri Nouwen made this a little clearer: “Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyles of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his [or her] own.” Genuine hospitality to the stranger requires suspending judgments, and also withdrawing our harmful projections from us to them. Prejudices, fixed ideas, prejudgment, preconception and personal bias and projection game keep us from seeing people we meet as they are and their gifts and grace, keeping us from being hospitable to hostility.

Two disciples did not recognize Jesus and Mary Magdalene regarded the risen Christ as a gardener. The question comes from the scene of today’s text: They were the disciples of Jesus. How come they don’t recognize their teacher Jesus who had spent for three years?

That is the key that we are dealing with today: To recognize the risen Christ among us needs a special grace, a God-given gift. (Lovely in Eyes by Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., p.48) The response to the gift is to receive stranger as an angel or agents from God. Let us think about this short story.

 “One day a young Jewish fugitive under German occupation, was trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill everyone unless the young man were handed over to them before dawn. The people went to the minister and asked him what to do. The minister, torn between handing over the boy to the enemy or having his people killed. He struggled to find the answer, prayed all night and finally saw the passage of John 18:14:” It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.” It was a saying of high priest when he handed Jesus over Pilate the Roman governors.

Then the minister closed the Bible, called the soldiers and handed the boy to the soldier. And the soldiers killed the fugitive and the minister had saved the lives of the people. But the minister did not celebrate. That night an angel came to him and asked, “what have you done to the young boy? Don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I know?” the minister replied anxiously. Then the angel said: “If, instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.” (The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen)

Treating strangers is a way of welcoming Jesus too. Jesus said: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” (Mt 25:35) For Christians, the primary issue is that of hospitality. Cain after killing his brother Abel, God said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yes, he was. He was a brother’s keeper. Hospitality to strangers is the very nature of Christianity. We meet God not as someone safe and familiar but as a stranger who can change our perspective on life, world and God. That is a gift that strangers bring to us.

Strangers in the Bible are messengers from God. Strangers are not only messengers of God but also agents of God’s work. Messengers as strangers appear to comfort, guide and teach us about the God. Strangers also point out that there is another way to live and to be faithful to God. Strangers can change us by showing us different perspectives, experiences and insights. Strangers are excellent teachers of God by challenging us in many ways and ours enrich the life of the strangers, too.

Today I come to you as a stranger and messenger of God. I experienced God in different ways from you. My experience of God might force you to reexamine things you thought were self-evident. My witness might deepen your faith and call you into renewed, refreshed relationship with God. You are strangers to me. Your testimony will also enrich my life which can be renewed, refreshed and deepened. Both you and I invite each other to knock down the barriers that separates us and see that there is a whole new world of Christian experience: new ways of understanding the gospel and our call.

Between us there is a potential for teaching and learning and therefore growing and experiencing transformation together in Christ. I come to you as a stranger to bring many different gifts given by God, a nuanced way of understanding the scripture and a new lens on the gospel. Differences between you and I might be biological, cultural, or experiential but we are called to see differences as opportunities for richer ministry, rather than barriers.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the story of crossing boundaries and barriers in search of a better relationship to God. This is the core of the Good News. However, in the Bible strangers are not always recognized as the angel, the messenger of God or an agent of transformation. The differences that God intends to be a source of new wisdom can be barriers due to our ignorance and prejudices. It will be our tasks to overcome those barriers by the love of God.

By affirming the worth and dignity of strangers, we could enrich our lives with a diverse fellowship. I would like to share with you a living story of a Methodist missionary to Korea.

It was on April 5, 1885, Easter morning 132 years ago. Rev Henry Appenzeller, a 26 year old young Methodist pastor and his newly married wife Mrs. Ella landed on Incheon Port, Korea as a missionary sent by Lancaster UMC in Pennsylvania. He began his mission to Calm Morning Land, Korea which was totally foreign and strange for them. His family was strangers to the Korean people. Korean people called them as Western Devils. He was a stranger who brought the most precious gift, the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Korean people although Korean people thought them as Western Devils. Appenzeller found a boy school, spread the Gospel, found hospital, trained the students in the Methodist faith and found the first Korean Methodist Church in Seoul, Chong Dong and was on the Board of Bible Translators. He gave himself to Korean people and died at the sea to go leading Bible study. His son continued his mission to share the Gospel and I am the one of recipients. Now I come to you to serve as he did for the Korean people.

You can taste how he felt in a foreign land with many strangers through the following missionary prayer:  Missionary Prayer in Korea in 1885 (Underwood): “Lord, nothing is visible at this moment. Lord, you have planted us on this barren and poor land.  It is such a miracle that we could come to this land across the wide, wide Pacific Ocean. Nothing is visible, though, in this land on which we seem to have been dropped off by your hand. Only stubbornly stained darkness can be seen. Only Korean people chained with poverty and superstition can be seen…. And we do not see what to do. Yet, Lord! We will obey. We believe that you begin your work as we humbly obey, and that the day will come when our spiritual eyes will see your work… We believe that we will see the future of the faith of Korea. Although we are as if standing on a desert with bare hands, although we are condemned to be Western devils, we believe that the day will come when they will rejoice with tears realizing that they are one with our spirit in Christ, and that we all have one Kingdom and one Father in Heaven. Although there is no church to worship you, no school to study, although this land is filled with doubt of suspicion, contempt, and disdain, we believe that in the near future this land will become a land of blessing.”

Conclusion; I come to you as stranger bearing many gifts given by God. God sent me here with glad tidings from God. I am sure you come to me in the same way. I am ready to embrace you, strangers to stay with you. You come to me with glad tidings and many unique gifts. For what? Why? Kingdom of God comes in the midst of us. When we do accept each other as Christ did and as we accept and treat each other as we do to Christ, then our eyes will be open to recognize the risen Christ in the midst of us. That is the blessing and privilege. We already shared Lord’s meal together and celebrate the communion.  Come Lord Jesus as strangers and we will willingly invite you to stay with us and share the meal. Come Lord to us in this place and right now.  We want to see you now. Amen.

* I was helped to make this sermon from the report of GCORR: Learning from Strangers: Joys and Challenges of Cross-Racial and Cross-Cultural Ministry in the United Methodist Church by G. Derrick Hodge, First Edition for Pastors and Laity, General Commission on Religion and Race.