Today is not only Thanksgiving but also “Hangul Day,” a day that celebrates the invention and the proclamation of the Korean language. I actually had completely forgotten about this day until I saw an article about how the Cia-Cians in Indonesia were learning Korean. There were numerous articles that were about “Hangul” and one of the articles said that North and South Korea were working to create a dictionary together. The dictionary has words like ‘Ggot-mi-nam,’ meaning a guy as handsome as a flower, and “Ak-peul,’ meaning malicious comments online. The dictionary will also contain words that are used more in North Korea, such as “Bbal-lae-jib,’ meaning the Laundromat, “Bok-eum-muh-ri,’ meaning a perm, and “Sa-teut-ha-da’ meaning orderly and tidy. Furthermore, it will have words from other nations such as “Sul-sa-rob-da” from Kazakhstan, meaning, to be poor.
When we look at these expressions, they are quite amusing. Since we are on this track, if we examine “Hangul” further. “An-ta-ggab-da” meaning irritated, came from “An-e-dda-gab-da” meaning itchy on the inside. “Ul-gan-ee” meaning a fool, came from an expression that means that the flavouring in the food is not yet correct. Thus, it would mean that the person is also ‘incomplete.’ The word that means the body, “mom” means everything is together and the expression that means a talented person actually means that the person has enough skills to pull the antlers out of the deer. Interesting, right?
As you can see, when you think about the origins of words and expressions, they become clearer in meaning. If we apply this to thinking about Thanksgiving, Thanks in Korean implies respect to God. Thus, when we say thank you in Korean, “Go mab da,” we are actually saying that I think of you as a God and thus think that you are noble and that I respect you. Thus, before we go on, we should say thank you to God and to those around us.
I hope that during today’s sermon, we will think about those around us whom we are thankful for and for things that have happened to us to be thankful for and to our gracious God. The scripture we read today in Philippians, is a part of a letter from Paul when he was in prison. He is saying that when he thinks about the people in the Philippians church, he is thankful and overjoyed. Thus, I’d like for us to think about this ‘rejoice’ and ‘thanksgiving’ Paul is talking about.
First, let’s we look at verse 4, where it says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” If we look at the Greek original, the verse starts and ends with the word Χαίρετε and also in the English version the verse is bookended by the word ‘rejoice’. 9 Paul starts with rejoice and ends with rejoice. Furthermore, in verse 10 he “rejoice[s] greatly” and in chapter 4 he repeats the word rejoice 16 times in total. Through this he is testifying that he is joyous from the beginning to the end and that this happiness is not a small joy, but something great and a joy that is with him in every moment continuously.
This then begs the question, ‘what is he so happy about?’ Did something happen in his family that was worth celebrating? But, when we remember when this book was written we realize that Paul is not in a situation to be happy about. He is in jail. He should be depressed, not happy. Strangely, however, Paul talks of joy in Philippians to an extent which is not discussed in any other letters. 11 Happiness is not mentioned as a passing remark, but rather he talks of joy every chance he gets. If he were not truly happy, would this have been possible? Remember, he didn’t say he was just happy enough. He says over and over again how greatly happy he was.
Someone once said that life in prison is not much different from a life in a monastery. The poor meals, harsh living conditions and limited way of life are all the same. But, there is one key difference: Is there happiness in that life? So, one may be in a jail, but live a life of someone in a monastery. On the other hand, there are those in a monastery who live like prisoners.
In this way, Paul is not in prison right now. He is in a monastery in reflection and prayer. So, he doesn’t think of himself as trapped. Instead, he thinks that he has escaped from the busy and complicated world and is taking time to rest. He believes that he is in communication with God which is the most important thing. Also, he is not disappointed that he cannot see more people, but rather he is spending his time trying to reach out to and encourage those that he loves through prayer and letters. This is why Paul couldn’t help but confess of his happiness so often.
When I was reflecting upon today’s scripture I thought about how we are living our lives. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but how are we? Don’t we think that it feels like prison? Separated, isolated and perhaps trapped? If that were true, we may be living in the most beautiful prison in the world. If our lives are drying up of the happiness God has given us, then it doesn’t matter if we live in such a wonderful place. It will still feel like hell. What I hope is that our lives will recover the happiness that God wishes to give us.
Look at verse 10: “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” Here Paul says that he is happy to see that they have ‘renewed their concerns’ for him. This shows that his happiness doesn’t just come from the Lord, but that it can also come from other Christians, especially when he sees that they are growing.
I’m not sure if you can remember, but our church’s motto in 2010 was ‘The church that makes God happy. Life of faith full of happiness.’ Unfortunately, I become sad sometimes when I think that this kind of happiness is fading from our church.
Paul does not talk about just happiness. In verse 6, it is written: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
To whom should we say this? Saying this to someone who does not worry is no use. This verse implies that the situation at that time was full of anxiety. Paul must have been very worried when he was writing this. But he still says not to be anxious about anything. How can you stop worrying in this kind of situation?
There is no special secret to this. The Bible says “By prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In other words, instead of worrying, one should present whatever problems he has to God. Then, “and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”
Is it too simple? That’s it? If you give your prayer and thanksgiving, God will guard your hearts and your minds. Shouldn’t all problems be resolved automatically after the prayer?
In verse 5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” People who know that the Lord will come soon will show tolerance and thus live with gentleness in life. And by living like that, they will give prayers of thanks rather than worrying. And that is how God will watch over those people’s hearts.
Last week, the death of Apple’s cofounder and former CEO Steve Jobs made headlines all around the world. Lots of articles have appeared regarding his life, especially the words he had left behind which are becoming a hot topic today. During the commencement speech at Stanford University, Jobs reminded the students that “Death is very likely the single best invention of life.” To why life’s best invention is death, Jobs states “time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” 22. Death reminds us of this truth. So from his own experience of almost facing death with pancreatic cancer, he came to realize “what [he] loved to do most,” and “what was most important to [him].” These words were so touching to me, Jobs was always able to ask himself if what he was doing at the moment was what he would be doing before his death, whether it was what he really wanted to do, whether it was worthy enough to him for him to be doing.
Jobs, who had no faith, faced death and thus was able to distinguish what was truly important to him. Then how about those who have faith, especially those who believe that God’s Kingdom is near? They will forgive anyone with generosity. When we think about the light of Jesus’ return, we will sufficiently understand everything and forgive everyone. Also, instead of wasting time with worries and anxieties, we should live life with a grateful heart. And God will guard the hearts of those who live in this way.
Beloved fellow church members, I hope that God will continue to guard our hearts like this. Proverbs 4:23 reads “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The bible is telling us that guarding our heart leads to life. I hope that, as those who know that the time for Jesus’ return is near, we can all become someone who can pray in thanks.
The last thing to think about is that these kind of rejoice and joys only come from within Jesus. Line 4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord” line 7 says, “Will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” and line 13 says, “I can do everything through him, who gives me strength.” All these lines emphasize the idea of being ‘in’ Jesus. Then we must wonder, what does it mean to be within Christ Jesus?
I am sure that all of you at one point have heard of Dasan Jeong Yak Yong, a famous philosopher of his time. Yong lived in exile for 20 years in Gang-Jin and met a 15 year old boy named Sang Hwang. Yong took Hwang in as his apprentice but Hwang told Yong “Sir, I have three problems. One, I am slow-witted. Second I don’t’ think outside the box and third, I am obtuse. Do I still have hope?” Yong replied “People who learn have three problems, but you don’t seem to have any of those qualities. One is that they memorize too quickly. The problem with this is that they trust their heads and are careless. Second is that they write well. The issue with this is that they figure out the intention of a question much too quickly and try to outdo one another to the extent that their writing becomes rubbish. Third, they are too fast in understanding. Thus, they all are impatient. Thus, only people like you, Hwang, should study. You said that you were slow-witted, uncreative and obtuse, but it is when people like you persevere, that the world becomes a better place since you add much more value than all the other students.”
After this little speech, Yong wrote a set of commandments called “Sam geun gae” that talked about the importance of diligence and perseverance.
Sixty years later, Hwang wrote a book entitled “Lim sul gi” in which Hwang confessed that the teachings of Yong on that fateful day never left him.
Beloved church members, what does it mean to be within Jesus? I thought about this story between Yong and Hwang and how Hwang had kept the “Sam geun gae” for all his life. I thought that Paul also lived with Jesus’ teachings all his life and hoped to live within them. Thus, Paul is able to tell us to rejoice in Jesus; that he will guard us, our thoughts and minds; and that with him, everything is possible.
(translated by Soyeon Song, Chayeon Song, Mika Choi, Jiye Chun)
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