I worship at a central Austin Methodist church that is almost 100% Caucasian. A few years ago, a new pastor, Daesub, joined the church staff. He is South Korean and traveled to the United States to attend university. He later attended a Methodist seminary and became an elder in the UMC. Before being appointed to our Austin congregation, Daesub was the solo pastor in Woodsboro, a small south Texas town located 36 miles from Portland, the city where I went to High School, and 5 miles from Refugio, the small town where I lived during my elementary years. Having lived in this farming region, I was mildly shocked that the UMC Bishop would send a Korean into this community. That was before I met Daesub.
Daesub’s humility is evident from the moment you meet him. He speaks softly in a slow cadence since English is his second language. Each word is carefully selected and properly pronounced. His face beams with joy that exhibits the light of Christ within him. Daesub is so authentic that it is difficult not to quickly like him. Last Sunday, he preached the fifth sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Daesub systematically recounted his long journey towards gaining US citizenship last year: applications for visa/green card/permanent residency, testing, interview, and oath. It took him over twenty years and significant financial resources to finally gain what I automatically gained at birth.
Daesub paralleled his marathon citizenship journey with Christianity. He stated that being a Christian was more difficult than obtaining his US citizenship. The sermon text was from Luke 6:27-36:
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” (versus 27-29, NRSV)
Most Christians have heard these words before, many likely numerous times. To do as Christ taught his disciples and the people who attended his sermon was a monumental task. Jesus’ journey led to a cross and many of his disciples faced similar suffering. A South Korean moving into a small homogeneous farming community might be rejected and find Jesus’ teachings difficult to follow. If I lived in South Korea, I might encounter the same difficulties.
Dr. Gilbert Meilaender, Senior Research Professor of Theology at Valparaiso University, authored The Freedom of a Christian: Grace, Vocation, and the Meaning of our Humanity (Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI, 2006, pages 101-115). He writes in Chapter 6 about the “Divine Summons” within vocation. “Look up the word ‘vocation’ in a dictionary, and you will find that the first two meanings given will be something like the following: (1) ‘a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action: esp: a divine call to the religious life’; and (2) ‘the work in which a person is regularly employed: occupation.” Most people associate vocation with the second definition. Meilaender concentrated on the first definition and expanded it: “life faithfully committed to the responsibilities of our vocation is not itself ‘the good life.’ God calls us not just to that but to himself – beyond every earthly joy or responsibility, beyond any settled worldliness which places its hope for meaning in those we love or the work we do.”
If vocation is a summons, then there must be a summoner. “For it is only by hearing and answering the divine summons, by participating in my calling, that I can come to know who I am. We are not who we think we are; we are who God calls us to be.” As Daesub meticulously preached, God’s call is a difficult vocational journey within a sinful world, but one rewarded with the joy of the new creation.
“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.” (verse 35a, NRSV)