(The following is the manuscript of a sermon I gave at a Missions Rally in Kishinosato Free Methodist Church, Osaka, Japan, last June 26, 2016)
Good afternoon. I would like to thank everyone for coming here and giving me this time to share with you all God’s message for all of us. I thank you Bishop Honda for receiving our Taiwan Team. I thank you Rev. Shigetomi for scheduling our many visits. And I appreciate all the pastors and church members who have helped us so much, by driving us to many places, sponsoring our meals, and preparing the instruments and other equipments. Arigatou gozaimasu!
Let me introduce myself. I am David Clemente, a missionary with FMWM, USA. I was born and raised in the Philippines and migrated to the USA in the 1990s. I am married and have two children. My eldest daughter’s name is Carmen and she is 15 years old. My son is 11 years old and his name is Jacob. My wife is Sarah, and I am not telling you her age. If I do, I will be in trouble. She is from Illinois. We are residing in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We have been there since 2005. I am teaching at Holy Light Theological Seminary, and also leading different mission teams to different Free Methodist (FM) work in Asia.
Let me tell you my story. God called me to be a missionary in the 1980s. I was already a pastor of a small church in Manila. I struggled with God’s call because I felt I was needed in the Philippines. For a year and a half, I said “no” to God. I did not want to go. I did not understand that God is on the move. He is calling people to join Him. God is moving from one place to another, from one community to the next. Later I said, “I am willing, Lord.” I now realized that when God moves, we also need to move with Him.
Today, we are not going to talk about my life. We are going to talk about Jonah. Remember the prophet who got swallowed by a whale? Well, maybe not a whale, but the Bible says it was a big fish. This is the story of how God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach a message of judgement to the people there. Jonah did not follow God. Jonah moved, but he went on a different direction. He took ship to Tarsus. God sent a storm to warn Jonah. He ended up being thrown into the sea, and that is when the whale showed up to swallow him. Okay, it is not a whale, rather a big fish.
There are two things I want us to focus on here in our story about Jonah. One is that Jonah understands God with his head and not with his heart. The Bible says that Jonah knows the Lord is the God of all creation. (Jonah 1:9) He knows the Lord is the God who gives salvation. (2:9) He has knowledge of God in clear cut ways. Jonah, the prophet, understands his God.
Most Christians know God. They think they understand God. They put Him in a box. They describe God in clear cut ways. They make out beautiful words to explain what God can do and what decisions He is going to make. People’s tendency is to put God in one place and in understandable ways. In the same way, humanity’s tendency is to limit God into one location. When we experience God’s grace and truth, we usually respond in fear and reverence. We build temples. When God blesses us, we put up shrines. We comprehend our God with our head, through our human understanding and philosophical categories. We put God in a box.
Allow me to tell you a story of God’s movement we can say is outside the box. In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I teach at a seminary. Sometimes, I would go to other ministries to help out. These ministries in Taiwan are involved with people from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the USA. In one Filipino Church, I go once a month to preach. There I would meet different Filipinos working in the city of Kaohsiung as factory workers, caregivers, or restaurant workers. All their stories are very similar. They are missing their families. They are in Taiwan for 6-9 years, and they get to go back home and see their families only once a year. A few of them see their children once every two years. They are lonely and in need of love and care. Can we ever comprehend their dire situation? I do’t think so. However, it is in the middle of these sad situations that they were able to receive God’s salvation. At one Filipino Church, half of its members became Christians while they were residents in Kaohsiung as migrant workers. God found them in Taiwan.
God is moving among the migrants and refugees of the world. God is not in a box. He is moving. We need to understand God, not with our heads, but with our hearts. God is out there. Yes, God is inside the church. But He is also outside the walls of the church. He is calling many people to Himself. In Taiwan, He is calling Filipinos and people from Asia to His salvation. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.
Second thing is that Jonah sees God with his eyes and not with his heart. In the biblical narrative, Jonah saw that God forgave the people of Nineveh. Although, only a third of the residents of the city heard the preaching of Jonah, and yet, everyone repented of their sins (Jonah 3:5). Somehow, word spread around. Even the King of Nineveh repented, and he proclaimed a decree of fasting for all people and animals. (3:6-10) This development should make Jonah the prophet happy, right? But, no! Instead, he became angry. (4:10) He saw God with his eyes and not with his heart. He responded with anger and resentment.
Jonah, after his preaching, went outside the city, and “he waited to see what would happen to the city,” to see the judgement that is coming to the people (Jonah 4:5). He is looking at God’s work with his eyes. If he only listened to his heart, he would see that God is moving among the people of Nineveh moving from one person to another and calling each one to His salvation. God loves all the people of Nineveh (4:11). God is moving from the threat of judgement and destruction to an action of forgiveness and healing. Jonah is looking at the city the wrong way. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.
Around 600 AD, the early Christians of Europe found a way to understand God. They would go on a pilgrimage by buying a boat and setting sail for the open seas. They would leave everything behind and entrust themselves to the elements of the water and the wind, knowing that God will guide them to a place. They spend this time on the boat in prayer and meditation. And when they find a place and land on the beach, the first thing they do is share the gospel to the inhabitants of the area. Many of these Christians never reached dry land. They perish at sea. Some of them end up being murdered by violent local tribes. A few become missionaries and settle in the country to continue God’s work. These early Christians see God with their hearts. They leave everything behind. They move from one island to another. They do not know where they are going when they ride their sail boats. They go where ever the Spirit of God leads them. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.
What does this sharing time from the Book of Jonah mean to you? What implications does this story from Bible has for us? It means that when God moves in our midst we need to see His movement with our hearts. When your pastor comes to you and say he or she wants to be a missionary in another culture, please do not get angry. Do not follow the response of Jonah. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. I say: “When He moves. . .” You say: “We move with Him.”
When your local church decides to give big amounts of church funds to support missions work outside of Japan, please do not worry. When your children come to you and want to serve other churches in another country, please do not be sad. Celebrate with God’s movement around the world. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. I say: “When He moves. . .” You say: “We move with Him.”
In my life, God is calling me to serve our Free Methodist work in Asia. This means I will be traveling to Myanmar, Philippines, and other Asian countries for a time of teaching. (I lead workshops and training modules for our Free Methodist pastors and church leaders.) This means I will be meeting with Filipinos, Vietnamese, Americans, Japanese, and other people of the world while I am in the city of Kaohsiung, or perhaps, in some other urban center. This means I will be crying with Filipinos and migrant workers who are lonely and missing home. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.
(By: Rev. Dr. David W. Clemente, 2016, Osaka, Japan)