Sermon Transcript – Abraham: The Aged Hero

Abraham: The Aged Hero / Genesis 12:1-4; Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19Heroes Series Part 2 St Paul UMC Fremont | Pastor Sun Hee Kim

Genesis 12:1-4
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.

Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19
8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he[a]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

17By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring[b] will be reckoned.”[c] 19Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

Last week, we began a new sermon series entitled, “Heroes: Ordinary Turned Extraordinary”. And in this series, we’re looking at some of the people that God called into heroic and extraordinary acts of faith.  We’re seeing that when God chooses someone for God’s greater purposes, God always chooses the unexpected, the unlikely, the often times less-than-ordinary candidate. When we read scripture, we’ll actually see that this is God’s modus operandi – this is the pattern of the way that God works. God does not work according to the standards and rules of the world or according to what we expect. God always goes beyond that. It’s like what we read in Ephesians 3:20 that God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that God goes beyond what we expect. God exceeds our requests and surpasses even our imaginations. God is in the business of surprising us.

Last Sunday, we learned about God’s surprising choice and use of Rahab as a hero of God’s Kingdom. Being a woman, a Canaanite and a prostitute made her the unlikeliest of heroes, but God chose her nonetheless, and “by faith” the Bible says, she helped save the lives of the Jewish spies. We also learned about Agnes Bojaxiu, better known as Mother Teresa, who was also quite the unlikely hero. By the world’s standards, she probably would not be given a second glance, but she was chosen and used by God to touch thousands and thousands of people. The ordinary turned extraordinary. Hearing such stories over and over again, you cannot help but seriously consider the possibility that God is calling ordinary people like you and me to do some extraordinary things for the Kingdom of God.

Well, today, we’re going to be looking at another unlikely character of the Bible who was called to an extraordinary act of faith. His name is Abraham (formerly Abram) and what made him such an unlikely hero was his age. He was way beyond what, I think, society would consider the likely age bracket for a hero to actually fall into. I mean consider this for example: Peter Parker became Spider Man when he was in High School and Clark Kent became Superman when he blasted into the earth’s atmosphere as a baby. I think that when people consider the picture of what a hero would look like, they tend to imagine someone who is young and robust and at the prime of his or her life – a Peter Parker or a Clark Kent, if you will. Certainly not someone like Abraham.

The Bible tells us in Genesis 12:4 simply that Abraham was seventy-five years old when God called him. The writer of Hebrews is actually not as kind in talking about Abraham’s age. He says in Hebrews 11:11 that Abraham “was past age” and in 11:12 describes him “as good as dead”. That’s not very nice, is it? Now, personally, I don’t think seventy-five is actually that old, but certainly, it needs to be acknowledged that even by today’s standards, that would have put Abraham already 10 years into retirement and receiving Social Security checks and already twenty years into qualifying for the senior discount at Denny’s.

Age wise, Abraham is an unlikely hero. And the interesting thing here is that there is not much more that is said about Abraham when we first meet him in Scripture. In fact, we get very little description of this man – his intellect, his physical stature, his personality. The Bible is pretty silent on this. All we know by the time we get to Genesis 12 is that Abraham (or Abram as he was called originally) was the son of a guy named Terah and was married to a woman by the name of Sarai. We find out some other family info – he had two brothers (one died) and has a nephew by the name of Lot, which ironically is not a lot. That’s it. Nothing more is said about this guy that God would call to eventually become the “Father of All Nations”. For all we know, Abraham is just another ordinary guy.

Actually, when we read about his lineage in chapter 11 of Genesis, we might infer that he is actually less than ordinary because while all the other men mentioned in his family line “had other sons and daughters”, the Bible says that his wife, Sarai “was barren; she had no children.” By the world’s standards today, and especially by Biblical standards and the standards of his day, Abraham would not have been considered the likely hero – he was just some old guy with no children. Maybe the writer of Hebrews is really not that harsh at all. Maybe for the standards of that time, what is said in Hebrews is actually pretty representative about how people felt back then about a seventy-five year old man who had no children – he was past age and as good as dead. And yet, it’s exactly at this point in his life that God called him to something extraordinary.

This is what we read in Genesis 12:1-3:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Can you imagine this scene? Now, if I was Abraham, and I was seventy five years old, living in a particular land all my life, minding my own business, doing my thing (whatever that thing may be), and all of a sudden God appears out of nowhere and tells me to move somewhere – to leave everything I have ever known – to go to a place that I have no clue where that might be, I think, maybe, just maybe, my response would be (at minimum), “Huh….?! Say that again, God? You want me to do what?” This is quite the surprising call that is recorded in Scripture, but what’s more surprising is Abraham’s response. The Bible simply says in verse 4, “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him….”

Perhaps age wise, Abram might not be considered the likely hero, but faith wise, he demonstrated one of the most heroic acts possible. Letting go. It reminds me of this story that I heard about a tourist who had traveled out to see the Grand Canyon, and in his amazement at the grandeur of the sight, moved too close to the edge of a particular cliff, accidentally losing his footing and plunging over the side. As he began to fall, he started clawing and scratching for everything and anything he could so as to save himself. And finally, after descending almost out of sight, he was able to desperately grab hold of a scrubby bush that was growing off the side.

At this point, filled with terror and hanging on with both hands for dear life, he called out toward heaven, asking, “Help! Is there anyone up there?!” To his relief and surprise, a calm, powerful voice came out of the sky responding, “Why yes. Yes there is.” The tourist then began to plead, “Well, can you help me? I desperately need some help here!” The calm voice replied, “Yes. Yes, I probably can. What seems to be the problem?”

And the man cried out, “I fell over the cliff and I’m dangling in space holding on to a bush that is about to give. Please, please help me!” And the voice from above said, “Well, I’ll try. But, do you believe?” “Yes, yes! I believe!” said the man. “Well, do you have faith?” “Yes, yes! I have faith. I have very strong faith. Please hurry!” the man cried. The calm voice, then finally replied, “Well, in that case, simply let go of the bush and everything will turn out fine.”

After a very tense and silent pause, the tourist yelled out, “Is there anyone else up there?”

For most of us, we’re just like this man on the cliff. We have a very difficult time letting go. We are holding on to everything and anything, gripping onto what we know and what we want with tight, white-knuckled fists. And the irony, of course, is that the tighter we grip, the less our hands can actually hold. I can totally imagine that when God called Abraham, Abraham saying yes as he looks towards heaven, opening up his hands in an extraordinary act of faith. Abraham lets go, and lets God start doing God’s work in him. And especially at the age of seventy-five, friends, to let go is no small affair. But that’s exactly what Abraham did, and that’s exactly what made him a hero.

I find it quite amazing that this once less-than-ordinary seventy-five year old man is referenced so often in Scripture. First of all, nearly one fourth of Genesis is devoted to this man’s life, and over 40 Old Testament references in all are made to Abraham. And it is interesting to note that even Islam holds Abraham second in importance only to Mohammed, with the Koran referring to Abraham 188 times. But back to our own Bibles, if we look in the New Testament, we will see that the New Testament in no way diminishes the significance of the life and character of Abraham containing within it nearly 75 references to him in all. And perhaps the most important reference coming from that section of Hebrews that we read today, a section that I referred to last week as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” This is what we read:

11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he[a]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Because Abraham said yes to God, because Abraham opened his hands and let go, because Abraham was willing to leave behind his ordinary life for what in faith he knew would be an extraordinary journey, he became the Father of All Nations and became a hero in the Kingdom of God.

I love this story of Abraham because, frankly, I think it speaks volumes to us here at St Paul. Let’s face it, we’re not necessarily a young congregation. And I won’t go as far as the writer of Hebrews to say that we’re “past age” or “as good as dead”, which I’m sure you all appreciate very much. But the truth of the matter is that I think many of us have succumbed to the current society’s not so high view of the older generation. We live in a world and culture that prizes the potential and power of the youth. Women go out and pay big money on things like  “Age Defying Skin Creams” and “Wrinkle Removers”, while men consider finally calling that 1-800 number to join the “Hair Club for Men.” Bottom line, we all not only want to look younger. We want to be younger.

But here’s the thing.  The Bible in essence is telling us today, that if God can take seventy-five year old Abraham and make him into the Father of Nations, God can certainly take any of us at any age and cause us to do some extraordinary things in the name of God. And the truth is that God is calling us today, like he called Abram many, many years ago. As people of God, God is calling us to rise up above the ordinariness of our lives to experience something beyond what we can possibly ask or imagine – immeasurable things – things that go beyond age and things that go beyond the limits of this world. God is calling us to be heroes and make a difference while we still can. And friends, we… still… can. Amen?

There’s this familiar line in the Spider Man series, and you may know this, but it goes like this:  “With great power comes great responsibility.” And that’s a good line, but I think in the Kingdom of God, it would actually be more accurate to say this:  “With great responsibility, comes great power.” You see, God has placed before each and every one of us great responsibility, but the promise is that if we say yes to that responsibility, it will be followed by the promise of the great power of God that will be at work within us.

Each and every week, I am just blown away by the amazing faithful and heroic acts of some of the members in our congregation, here at St Paul. I see the Abraham’s and the Sarah’s rise to the occasion and continue to serve and continue to say yes to God and continue to let go with open hands and experience God’s power at work within them. And so I know and I am absolutely confident that though we might not be a completely young congregation, we are certainly not past age and we are certainly not as good as dead. We are yet alive. And we are yet available for God to use us. And the good news is that we worship and serve an amazingly powerful God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. And of course, the bad news is that God ain’t done with you yet. God is calling you and expecting you to rise up and do something – live with extraordinary power and faithfully respond to that extraordinary responsibility. Young or old, I hope you believe this, and today, that you open up your hands and your hearts and say yes to God. Amen?

For Heroes…
The month of May was good. Busy, but good. I had an amazing opportunity to preach with my colleague Debbie Weatherspoon at the OpenCircle Young Adult worship called SHE. It was an amazing time of honoring and celebrating the women in our lives who have touched us and affected us. And now, we are already in the month of June, and my mind and my heart shifts from SHE to HE. Like many of you, I am in the process of picking out a card for my dad, and all of a sudden a flood of fond memories fill my mind.
When I was real little, I was called a “hand baby” because I absolutely LOVED to hold my father’s hand. In fact, I used to fall asleep putting my face against on one of his hands. I remember then that his hand was warm, thick and big. And then, I remember the time when I was first aware of his hand actually being average in size, and how that realization made me feel a bit sad. But mostly, I felt safe and sound within his presence.
I remember him coming home from work everyday at 5:00 pm on the dot. I didn’t realize fully then, but he made and unfailingly kept this commitment to come home after work right away from his teaching job. Unlike many men of his age at the time, he made sure he spent dinner time with us. Although his job made this more doable, the culture and business standards for men at that time in Korea would require him to hang out with friends. Many times, a man’s success would depend on this kind of socializing. However, having dinner and spending time with family was top priority for him, and it was rooted in his commitment to God. I know my father’s faith motivated him to do the best he could – to be a faithful, supportive and caring father.
It could have been that I might not actually know the full extent about his commitment and his sacrifice much later in life, but I know how it felt to me then. I remember my dad being around us a lot, and those precious memories I still cherish. And everyday, when he would come home, my father always brought us a little snack, such as a carton of vanilla ice cream. Not surprisingly, my brother, sister and I were always looking forward to 5:00 pm!
We didn’t have much growing up but I never felt that we “lacked” much of anything. His presence, his faith, and his loving effort to provide helped us to be well in many ways. My father may not have been the most vocal person either, but he always spoke the most supportive and wise things when it counted. I am so grateful that when I call God “Father”, I have all of these amazing and loving images given to me from my earthly father. What a blessing that is, indeed!
It might be cliché to say this but I want to say to my dad, “Thank you! You are my hero.”
My dad might be an ordinary man, but he is a true hero who has lived his life in an extraordinary way, making an extraordinary impact to my brother, my sister and me. It is even more meaningful to me that his life and everything that he did was truly motivated by his faith. Without him and his encouragement, I know I wouldn’t be standing here today.
The Bible is full of stories that tell of God’s amazing ways in which the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary. In this meaningful month of June, while we are remembering the heroes in our lives, it is going to be my joy and honor to start a new preaching series entitled, “Heroes: The Ordinary Turned Extraordinary”. This sermon series will begin on June 24th and in it, we will be exploring some characters of the Bible who for all practical purposes would have fit the expected bill for God’s chosen servant. But as the saying goes, “God does not choose the qualified, but qualifies the chosen.” This series will be about the ordinary people whom God chooses to become the heroes who end up doing extraordinary things.
I hope you join us in this journey of remembering heroes, heroes of the Bible as well as some of the faith heroes in our very own lives. We will all be inspired and encouraged to live the extraordinary life and to make an extraordinary impact for someone else.
Expecting A Heroic Month of Ministry Together,
Pastor Sun Hee

“Heroes: The Ordinary Turned Extraordinary” Sermon Series
June 24: Rahab, July 1: Abraham, July 8: Esther, July 15: Ruth, July 22: Joseph, July 29: Caleb

Sermon Transcript – Rehab: The Unlikely Hero

Rahab: The Unlikely Hero / Joshua 2:1-24Heroes Series Part 1
St Paul UMC Fremont
Pastor Sun Hee Kim

Joshua 2:1-24
1 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute [a] named Rahab and stayed there.
2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea [b] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. [c] 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.”
14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land.”
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 Now she had said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”
17 The men said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”
21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.” So she sent them away and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. 23 Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”

Today, I am so excited to be starting this new sermon series, a series entitled, “Heroes: The Ordinary Turned Extraordinary”.  What we’re going to be doing in this series is taking a close look at some characters of the Bible that God used in just amazing ways. And what we’ll find, over and over again, is that these characters – these individuals named and talked about in Scripture – for all practical purposes are not those that we would have expected to fit the bill as God’s chosen servants.  But as the saying goes, “God does not choose the qualified; He qualifies the chosen.” Indeed, we will hear some amazing stories of how God took ordinary men and women like you and me and did some amazing and extraordinary things through them. These individuals ultimately become heroes in the story of God.

And today, to kick off this series, I want to talk about  Rahab, an individual who I would consider to be one of the most unlikely of heroes in the Bible. But before we get into the details of the story of Rahab that we just read in Joshua chapter 2, let me quickly share with you the story of another individual who has come to be known as quite the hero in her own right.

 Now, it is my guess that not too many people here has ever heard of the name Agnes Bojaxhiu (pronounced, “bo-ya-choo”). And rightly so. It was not a name that was intended for fame and glory. In fact, the name belonged to an individual for whom I think the word “humble” was really created. Now, for the many of us who live in this dog-eat-dog world where individuals have become conditioned to be driven by the “me-first” mentality, I think it would be rather difficult for us to really understand what it means to be humble and have a disposition of humility rather than that of pride. But for Agnes Bojaxhiu, it was just the opposite; apart from humility, I don’t think she really knew anything else.

It was at age twelve that she received her calling to her particular way of life – to serve rather than be served, to seek glory for God and not for herself, and to give more than she would ever receive. And so, several years later, she left her home in Yugoslavia to go to Darjeeling, India where she joined the Loreto Sisters. This was the beginning of what would lead to a lifetime of selfless and humble service not only to God but also to those she would eventually come to call the “poorest of the poor”.

Now, I don’t think that she had ever expected that her efforts to love the unloved would ultimately impact so many people around the world. I don’t even think that her plans ever went very far beyond just trying to help those who were immediately in front of her. But the truth of the matter is that her compassion yielded much fruit and her love extended beyond the boundaries of her own imagination. And the amazing thing about all this is that none of this was ever for herself. Whatever she did and whenever she did it, it was always an extension of her total selfless disposition. She never sought praise nor credit for what she did, but in the very humble manner that she was accustomed to, she tried to make herself as invisible to the world as possible.

And herein lies the irony. As much as she sought humility and as much as she was driven by selfless compassion, the more the world praised her for her good works. In 1979, she was the honored recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and even then, she did not accept this honor in her own name, but rather in the name of “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” It is clear that such acclaim only drew out of her even more humility.

 “I am only the pencil,” she would say, “with which God is writing a love letter to His children.” Such humbleness is hard not to recognize and honor. And all of such that she received, she deserved every bit of it. But the thing is she never wanted it.

And I’m sure that most of you have figured out by now who this Agnes Bojaxhiu really is.  She is none other than the deeply loved and highly honored Mother Teresa of Calcutta whose death in 1997 stirred the hearts of many around the world. News coverage of her death and subsequent tributes to her life of service and ministry were indeed quite expanse. All the networks covered it. And all the newspapers headlined her unfortunate death. As for her funeral, thousands were present and millions more around the world tuned in via satellite hookup – a simple reflection of just how many people’s lives were touched by the efforts of such a humble woman.

Certainly, I believe that Mother Teresa’s life has impacted my life as well.  And when she died, it got me thinking a lot about my own life and wondering if what I am doing really matters. If I am living my life to be used by God in the same way that she was? And perhaps, some of you may have gone through similar soul searching speculations before. And maybe like me, some of you have come to the overwhelming conclusion that there is no way that you could ever be like the saint that Mother Teresa was. I mean, she was one of kind. She excelled in so many things. She has given so much to humanity, and though she might have been short in physical stature, spiritually speaking, she was certainly head and shoulders above any crowd. And all of this is indeed true.

But you know, when you really think about it, Mother Teresa was not a person who was really more gifted or endowed than anyone else here. In fact, her colleagues from the Loreto Sisterhood have described her as pretty “average”, ordinary if you will. I know that seems a bit hard to swallow, but it’s true. What we need to know about Mother Teresa is that she was not great in and of herself, but rather she was a demonstration and testimony of how God is able to take ordinary, everyday people like you and me, and turn them into the most extraordinary vessels that you could possibly imagine.

This is the repeated story of the Bible. Over and over again, we see this particular script written on page after page.  Ordinary Joe or Ordinary Jane, being used by God in extraordinary ways. And this was the case of Rahab as we read in Scripture today. In fact, Rahab’s story is even more amazing in the sense that she is not just the ordinary turned extraordinary,  but she is the implausible made plausible. She is the unlikely hero. And yet, God chooses her for great purposes beyond what I’m sure she could have possibly imagined.

Now, I don’t know what comes to your mind when you think about what a hero would like, but back in the days of Rahab, no one would have possibly imagined that a hero could look like her.  In fact, Rahab is indeed the most unlikely hero who in her day and culture had many strikes against her. She simply did not seem like Bible hero material.  First of all, we know that she was a Canaanite. The Bible in Joshua 2 sets up the scene where the two spies are sent to Jericho. That’s where they (and we) meet Rahab for the first time – in the capital city of Canaan. This is her home which makes her a Canaanite and not a Jew. Now this is important to note, because for all practical purposes, from the perspective of the Jews – God’s chosen people – Rahab as a Canaanite would have been considered a foreigner and therefore unclean. She would be seen as a heathen and enemy of God. That’s strike one.

 But the second strike was that Rahab was a woman. Okay, I know this observation is not necessarily something that you need Sherlock Holmes to point out for you. But frankly, women were not considered very significant back in those days. In fact, there is an old daily Jewish prayer that simply went like this: “I thank God that I was not born a woman.” This attitude was quite prevalent in many of the ancient societies back then and in fact, I believe, women are still fighting for their rights in many of those societies even today. Rahab was a woman. That’s strike two.

Now, the third strike is most obvious. Can you guess what it is? That’s right. It’s right there in verse one of Joshua chapter 2.  Rahab was a prostitute. Strike three. And let’s assume here for a moment that it doesn’t bother us that God was working through a Canaanite. Obviously, not everyone could be an Israelite, right? And let’s even imagine that in the chauvinistic culture in which Rahab lived that God could actually work through a woman. But the idea of God choosing a prostitute for Kingdom sized work? That’s simply amazing to me. But that’s exactly what happened. God chose a woman – a Canaanite prostitute to save the lives of two of God’s servants who were sent on a mission into enemy territory.

The Bible tells us that the lives of these two spies were in danger. The King of Jericho had found out that Israel had sent these individuals to spy out their land. Not only that, the King of Jericho was told where these two spies were staying – at Rahab’s house. Now, it doesn’t take a genius here to figure out what the King of Jericho wanted to do at that point. He wanted those two spies found, captured and most likely, executed. So he sends his men to Rahab’s house with the message for her to hand them over. Rahab’s response? She hides them on the roof and sends the King’s men on a rabbit chase elsewhere. At this point, we need to know something very clear. Rahab took a risk. She put her own life in danger in order to save these two spies. This unlikely hero, this Canaanite woman who was in fact less than ordinary, was made extraordinary for God’s purposes.

Now, let me pause here for a moment to point out a couple details that we may easily overlook – details that are absolutely important to this story.  There is a clue in the verses that we read that though Rahab is identified as “the prostitute”, it is very likely that she is no longer in that profession. Clue number one is that the Bible says she hid the spies underneath stalks of flax. I’m not sure if you understand this or not, but gathering flax was a tedious and laborious task. Industrious women like Rahab would spend hours gathering these stalks to make cloth. If Rahab was still a prostitute, chances are that she would not be gathering flax. She simply would not have the time for this kind of respectable work, and yet, the Bible said that she had gathered enough flax to cover two grown men. Apparently, she must have been in the cloth business for some time. There is this clue here that tells us that she went through some transformation in her life. Although the people in Jericho might still refer to her as a prostitute because of her past, we can assume that her life had significantly changed.

 I want to believe that her life had changed because of what she had come to know of the God of Israel. This is what we read of her own proclamation in Joshua 2:9-11:
 “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt…. When we heard of it, our hearts melted…for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

The Bible reveals that Rahab knew the God of the two spies, the God of creation, the God of heaven above and the God of the earth below. And there is this sense that regardless of theological technicality, for all practical purposes, she was a believer and she had put herself in a place where she can be used by God. It didn’t matter what her past was. It didn’t matter what others still thought of her now. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t a Jew. Somehow she knew and understood the power of God and then made a decision to surrender herself to that power. And in that moment, the less than ordinary became extraordinary, the unlikely became a hero for God.

You need to know that Rahab’s heroic act is actually celebrated over and over again in Scripture. If you look in the Gospel of Matthew, she is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, then James refers to her as he talks about what it means to have faith that leads to action, and then finally, in what we will call the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews chapter 11, it says this about Rahab:
 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

I don’t know if you can fully grasp this, but to once have been a Canaanite prostitute and mentioned this many times in Hebrew Scripture, even in the lineage of Jesus – this is simply amazing. But here’s the more amazing thing.  If God can use someone like Rahab – take the less than ordinary and through her do some extraordinary things, he can do the same with you. He’s done it through Agnes Boyaxhiu and through countless others throughout history. And I want you to consider today the possibility that in your own unique way and in your own unique situation that you, too, can become a hero and be used for some significant purpose in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps, it might not be as dramatic as lowering spies down the wall to their safety and to their lives, and perhaps it might not be as significant as moving to Darjeeling or Calcutta to work with the poorest of the poor, but it could certainly be something as simple as “being the pencil with which God writes His love letter to others.”

Friends, I believe God is calling each and every one of us to do some extraordinary things today. God is in the business of making and using heroes. And you don’t have to be qualified to be called. But certainly, if you say yes to the call, God will qualify you and use you in ways that you have never imagined before. So, let’s be a Rahab or an Agnes and invite God to use us – boldly, intentionally, willingly and most importantly – extraordinarily. Amen?!

Sermon Transcript – Power of the Holy Spirit (Christianity 101)

POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – Christianity 101 SeriesActs 2:1-13
May 20th, 2012
Pastor Sun Hee Kim

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’


We are now into week six of this Christianity 101 sermon series that Pastor Anne and I have been preaching, and today I will be sharing with you the second of this two part message on the Holy Spirit. Last week, we took a look at the Promise of the Holy Spirit, how in Scripture we have this understanding that the Holy Spirit was not an afterthought or just a New Testament thing, but clearly present from Genesis to Revelation.

Today, we are taking a look at how that promise is fulfilled through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in particular, we will be looking at this very familiar passage and scene of Scripture where the disciples get filled with the Holy Spirit and start to talk in all sorts of different languages. Quite a scene. If you didn’t know what was really going on, you’d think that it was some sort of big Rosetta Stone conference.

This is what we read earlier:

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

What strikes me about this scene is this response of the crowd that had gathered in Jerusalem that day. The Bible says that they were: bewildered, amazed, and astonished. In other words, when the Holy Spirit showed up, it was a big deal! What the people saw and experienced was not your run of the mill, everyday occurrence. They were witnesses of the incredible power of the Holy Spirit that was being manifest that day. Imagine this crowd of people, wide-eyed and just blown away (some literally!) by this supernatural and superspiritual demonstration. I don’t know about you, but it seems like to me an appropriate response to what was happening. The people were bewildered, amazed and astonished!

That was nearly two thousand years ago. Compare that to our typical response to the Holy Spirit in the 21st century: bored, bland, burnt-out. When I look around at Christians living in this day and age, unfortunately, I do not see the excitement and the amazement that was present among the first century believers. And you may agree with me on this, but more often than not, people seem bored in the church. They kind of have this attitude of knowing what to expect. They are rarely surprised. And instead of being wide-eyed, they sometimes seem like they are asleep. Of course, no one is sleeping here today, Amen?! But the truth is that this is the case for many, many Christians and churches. Boredom turns to bland spirituality, and ultimately, it becomes the breeding ground for followers of Jesus Christ simply being burnt-out.

And actually this makes sense – that when Christians are not experiencing the amazing promise, presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in the church, they get tired. Because it means they are probably doing the work on their own, out of their own strength. And they get burnt-out. Not an uncommon thing among believers.

In fact, let me make an observation: Too many Christians are feeling more fried than fired. Can anyone here amen that? Indeed, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, we should be feeling fired but most of us are just feeling fried. We are burnt out. But that is not the way our Christian lives are meant to be experienced or lived. And certainly, the Bible presents a very different picture of the experience of faith.


Speaking of being fried, there is this Jay Leno quote that’s pretty hilarious but also makes me think about the way that we tend to approach the Holy Spirit sometimes. This is what Jay Leno said: “I went to McDonald’s yesterday and said, ‘I would like some fries,’ and the girl at the counter said, ‘would you like some fries with that?’” Funny right? Actually, it’s hilarious to me. We are so used to ordering fries “on the side” that when we actually order fries, the response is “would you like fries with that?”

But what’s not so funny is that this is actually the unfortunate way that I think many of us approach the Holy Spirit. We see it as something optional or something to have “on the side”. But the text that we read today in Acts chapter 2 gives a very different view of the Holy Spirit.

Actually, according to the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was not an option or just something you can have on the side. The way that the Holy Spirit is portrayed in Scripture is that it is like the main thing! In fact, as I mentioned last week, when you look at the ministry of Jesus, you see that everything that Jesus did was through the Spirit – whether it be teaching or healing or even laying down his life. He did everything by the Spirit and he did nothing without it. And so is the case with the disciples. Without the Spirit, they are afraid and immobilized – huddled up in hiding in the upper room. But when the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them, everything changed!

And what we see in this scene and in many scenes of Scripture is that experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit is something that is a standard and the norm rather than the exception to the rule. In other words, what happened on the day of Pentecost would not be some sort of rare occurrence or “once-in-awhile” happening. It would be the precedent for all followers of Jesus thereafter to experience. And this picture and precedent is one of incredible, incredible power.

Let me pause here for a moment and just highlight what we see in Acts 2 – this picture of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This is what we see: One, we see that the Holy Spirit is described as coming like a “violent wind”. In the Amplified Bible, this description is offered in this way: “the rushing of a violent tempest blast”. Eugene Peterson in The Message translation describes it as: “a strong wind, gale force.” In the New Living Translation, it’s put this way: “the roaring of a mighty windstorm”. And just one more for fun. This one from Young’s Literal Translation. It’s simply translated as “a violent breath”. Any of you married folk wake up in the morning next to your spouse who has “violent breath”?!

Anyway, the point is that when the Holy Spirit appeared, it was noticeable. Things got stirred up. People’s hair got a little messy and the sound was pretty enormous. In other words, the picture of the Holy Spirit is one of power. Incredible power.

But the second thing that we see in this picture of the Holy Spirit is that it filled the disciples. And the sense here is that it filled them completely. They weren’t just touched by the Holy Spirit. This incredible thing described as a rushing wind didn’t just come and brush up against them and leave as quickly as it came. No, the disciples were filled. From head to toe. In mind, body and heart, the Holy Spirit just poured itself into their very beings. And they were instantly transformed. What just a few minutes earlier were a group of trembling and timid men, became a group of powerful leaders speaking with incredible authority.

Which brings me to the third thing that we see in this picture of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gave abilities for ministry. The Holy Spirit is seen in the passage as actually enabling the disciples for ministry. This is what we read in Acts 2:4:

4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Did you hear that? The Spirit gave them ability. This is the promise of Jesus fulfilled in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples would be clothed with “power” from on high as we read last week in Acts 1:8. And power, indeed, were they clothed with on this day of Pentecost! Incredible power. And I want to make sure that you don’t overlook or take this picture for granted.

So let me give you a real quick Mini Greek Lesson. This is stuff I learned in seminary, so I want to use it in moments like this to make me feel good about all the tuition I paid. You all get this for free, by the way. In the original Greek, the word which we translate in the English translation of Scripture as “power” is the word “dunamis”. Dunamis. Does that sound like any word to you in the English language? That’s right, dynamite. We get the word dynamite from this Greek word “dunamis” which is the word used to describe the power of the Holy Spirit! And understand this. It’s not that dynamite is used as a comparison to describe the Holy Spirit. It’s the other way around. It’s the Holy Spirit that is used as a comparison to describe dynamite! I’m not sure if you catch what I’m saying here. When people are in the presence of something powerful, they are thinking…hmmm, what is this powerful thing like? Oh yah, it’s powerful like the Holy Spirit! Dunamis power. And friends, that power is available to each and every one of us.

So let me give you a real quick Mini Faith Lesson now. This one I did not learn in seminary, but just from trying to live life and faith. And what this mini faith lesson is about is connecting promise to power. How do we take the promise of the Holy Spirit given by Jesus and make it a reality of power in our lives? By praying and waiting. Like so many promises of Scripture, the caveat here is to really want it and to really seek it. And that comes in the form of prayer. We need to pray to God and ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to be manifest in our lives and in the way that we live out our faith. And we need to pray together and be together – as a community of faith. Unity in this type of prayer is always more effective. And after fervently and intentionally praying for it, we wait. We wait in expectation and we wait with hope. And we wait with others who have prayed for the same.

And this may sound a bit simple, but it is the foundation of our faith. And it is certainly the precursor to experiencing the dunamis power of the Holy Spirit that has been promised to us in Scripture. This dunamis power, this Holy Spirit power, when it is manifest in our lives, everything changes. We move from being bored, bland and burnt-out to being bewildered, amazed and astonished. And then, we really live our lives in ways consistent to those that are filled by the Holy Spirit.


So how do we apply this message to our lives? I know it may seem like I’m referencing fast food too much in this sermon today, but I’m going to make one more reference. I don’t know if you remember, but there used to be a time when you go to McDonald’s you could order one of those McDeal Meals and actually supersize it. So basically, you are taking something that’s already pretty hefty in calories and you are asking for a bigger portion of it – a supersized portion. Now, I’m not recommending anyone to supersize anything at McDonald’s per se. I’m not even recommending anyone eat at McDonald’s, period. But if there’s anything we should be supersizing, it should be our faith.

We need to stop living these quiet, timid, and unimpressive versions of our faith, because when you think about it – real faith, real Christianity is nothing less than supersized. We need to practice the power of the Holy Spirit that involves:

One, Living large. We need to be living boldly and claiming the dunamis power in everything that we do and are about.

Two, Not squinting. Ultimately, I believe that real faith lived in real power is nothing that we need to squint our eyes at to see. Remember that when the Holy Spirit showed up, it was noticeable. Live out faith in noticeable ways. Let people see your faith and let them be bewildered, amazed, astonished.

Three, Loudly proclaiming. When the Holy Spirit is present and manifest in our lives, we are called to witness and testify to that power. Or in other words, to speak about it and to speak about it loudly. This is what the disciples did on the day of Pentecost. They started proclaiming loudly so that other people could hear the message and respond. Next week, you are going to hear some amazing stories from our very own members of how the Holy Spirit has been working in their lives and in their blessing of being together in community. And they are going to be proclaiming loudly. And you are going to be bewildered, amazed, and astonished. It’s going to be awesome.

In the meanwhile, I invite you to supersize your faith this week. Seek and pray for the power of the Holy Spirit, and wait for your heart to be stirred. It’s coming and when it comes, everything will change. Amen?