Nice is Not Enough

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Mark 6:14-29

Psalm 24

Ephesians 1:3-14

I am honored to stand before you today. For many years this pulpit has consistently proclaimed the Good News of God’s redeeming love for all people!

I appreciate the introduction I’ve been given! There are a few things I’d like to add. First, I not only look and sound Korean, I am Korean-American! That said, I need to say I deeply love America and rejoiced in being able to be in ministry in your midst!

If you have a stereotype of Korean Christians – allow me to define myself. I’m neither a fundamentalist nor a supporter of the religious right. As a Korean. I love tea and a good tea ceremony, but the “tea party” is not my thing!

I am a follower of the Christ. My faith is shaped by the faith Jesus himself professed.

But many proclaim a faith that is primarily “about Jesus.” Faith “about Jesus” speaks of the metaphysical meaning of his death and resurrection, with scant regard for his teachings. A faith “about “Jesus asks you, “Do you believe Jesus died for you?” If you believe “these right things” about Jesus, you get a free pass to paradise. Otherwise you go to hell.

Faith modeled upon the faith “of Jesus” places his life and teachings at its center. The faith of Jesus emphasizes love of God and neighbor and responds to Jesus call to “Follow Me!” The difference is between being some sort of “believer in Jesus,” and becoming a “follower of Jesus.”

The faith of Jesus can’t ignore the repeated emphasis of Jesus on “the love of God and the love of others.”

Those who claim the faith “of Jesus” see him accepting and affirming every human as already a member of God’s family and feel compelled to do the same. His life and ministry was one of accepting and affirming all those that his religious peers were excluding. For Jesus, there was no question as to “who was in” and “who was out” with God. All were in!

I come to Christianity from a Buddhist background. It prepared me well for following Jesus. I honor and respect that background. However, that was not so for me in my teen years, when I rejected everything that was Buddhist. I refused to see that the Buddha shared a great deal with the Christ who I had come to serve, that the Buddha was a friend of Jesus.

Our Gospel reading for today was not pleasant to hear! Mark tells the gory details of what happened to John the Baptist following his arrest. If you’ve ever seen Straus’s “Salome,” you’ve experienced the terror of this story!

King Herod torn by guilt. Salome driven to insanity.

I draw your attention to an earlier section of Mark’s gospel – chapter 1, verses 14-15, where Mark makes a crucial reference to John’s arrest and it’s impact upon Jesus:

After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” (Mk. 1:14-15, Peterson) Prior to John’s arrest, Jesus was a little known carpenter’s son in Nazareth.

Being “nice,” apparently had been sufficient. But now, “being nice was not enough.” Jesus saw that sources of evil were clearly at work in the world, and “being nice” would never be sufficient to confront those forces. Then in Mark 6, the plot thickens! Mark tells the story of John the Baptist’s execution by Herod.

And why does he tell that story at this point? The story needs telling because Herod has learned of Jesus and his work that seemed all-to-similar to that of John the Baptist.

Now Herod is not all that sane himself. He’s overwhelmed by guilt for being seduced by Salome’s dancing and having granted her request for John’s decapitation. Now, upon hearing reports of Jesus actions, Herod is convinced that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life! (Mk. 6:14b) Can you imagine a worse nightmare!

Christian churches throughout the world encourage their members “to be nice,” to live honorable, upstanding lives, to do no harm, to do good when possible.

Who could argue with that?

Yet evil exists – evils that are not fazed by our “being nice,” evils that depend on our “being nice” for them to survive

Sometimes things happen in our lives that “radicalize” us to leave our comfort zone and address the evils the plague us. For Jesus, it was the arrest of John. I’ve heard the stories of so many. “This is what happened,” they’ve said. Then they told their story.

In a recent visit to my home country, Korea, I met Jin Sook Kim, a labor leader. Kim Jin-Sook, a 50-year-old activist ended her record-breaking 309-day protest on top of a shipyard crane in Busan during my visit. Eariler last year when she learned that Hanjin Heavy Industries’ laid off 94 workers without any justice she knew “nice was not enough”.

Kim’s sit-in protest began on Jan. 6, 2011, on the 35-meter-high (115.8-foot-high) crane, drawing nationwide attention and inspiring large demonstrations through “Hope Bus Movement.” Her risk taking and sacrificial leadership brought amazing attention and reconciliation to the whole society of Korea.

I visited her in Busan hospital And was inspired by her bold and faithful life!

She was tired, yet her face was radiant! We were surprise to discover that she was from the same village I grew up in, and had attended the same high school I had, several years after me.

The minimum to which God calls us is “to be nice,” to do no harm. But from time to time, God will say to you, “Nice is not enough! It’s time for you to act, to take a stand, to risk your life in welcoming God’s realm in our midst.

We to live in that in-between moment. Between the fading days of prosperity, the growing divide between rich and poor with little in the middle.

We stand between good and evil, light and dark – the fading of many dreams, the decline of Christian community.

We sometimes fear to utter a prophetic word because it might cost us. It might shatter the status quo, we might lose church members, struggle financially or decline as a denomination.

Yet holding back - trying to straddle the kingdom of faith and the realm of politeness does cost.

Speaking the truth will cost. Staying safe, playing it nice - also cost. “Nice is Not Enough.”

John the Baptist did not calculate the danger of his words, he engaged in a prophetic ministry and paved the way for Jesus preaching. Today Christ disciples are called to be prophetic messengers, to extend words and actions of hospitality to the immigrant, the poor, those alienated for their sexuality. We can no longer simply nod at those on the street who have been left behind, “Nice is Not Enough”.

We must open our doors, our hearts, our boarders, our wallets to those on the margins. We must be willing to risk contradicting the status quo.

The cost may be steep, the price uncomfortable, but our world can no longer wait. There is violence, brokenness, devastated lives in all corners of the world. We as Christ disciples are called to defend these innocent victims. May God bless you and give you courage! Courage for active Discipleship! Amen