About tad

Retired United Church Minister. Born in Japan, came to Canada and worked in Vancouver, Lesotho, South Africa, Geneva, Switzerland, Toronto, Canada, and Montreal, Quebec. Married to Muriel Mellow. One daughter and two grand daughters.

C: THE CHURCH BEGAN WITH A WIND – PENTECOST

THE CHURCH BEGAN WITH A GUST OF WIND

 Joel 2: 26 – 29, Acts 2: 1 – 13

The Church began with a gust of wind. There was a sound of a gust of wind, and spirit came down like tongues of fire. And suddenly a dispirited group of people came alive and began to speak boldly about their faith in public. That”s how the Church began, according to the Acts of Apostles.

What was that wind or that fire? I don”t know but it must have been something potent to revive a miserable bunch of discouraged people.

My father used to tell us kids about the days when radio broadcasting service and telephone service began in Japan many years ago. Telephone poles were built and wired. People were told that those wires would carry messages by what was called telephone. So people hung letters on the wires. Nothing happened, the letters were not delivered, of course. So when the government presented the idea that messages could be carried in the air, when the radio broadcasting began, nobody believed it. Nevertheless, the day when radio broadcasting was supposed to begin, everybody in the village gathered in the village community hall. A huge machine with a pair of earphones was brought in. And the time came. The man with the earphones listened intensely. He heard nothing. So the next man tried. Again, nothing, no sound. Another Government lie, and everybody left. They discovered later that it was the wrong day. The broadcasting began the next day.

You see, the point of the story is that no matter what a wonderful machine you have, if there is no radio waves in the air, the radio receiver is useless. It is like buying an expensive car with all sorts of bells and whistles, when you really want to go nowhere with it. You just want a nice decoration in your garage. What”s the point? You see, the church is not just a building, a minister, or a bunch of people. It has to have something else. We call that something else, Spirit. In other words, the church must catch the spirit of Christ and create a community of love. Otherwise, what”s the point?

You may be interested to know that in Hebrew language, in which the Bible was written originally, the word for Spirit is the same word for breath, breathe, and wind. So when God created man and woman, and when he breathed life into them, he also put spirits into Adam and Eve. It is essential for us to breathe the spirit in and out as much as we need air every moment. We have something unexplainable in us which distinguishes us from vegetables. We call that the soul which is like our lungs, and it has to be filled by spirit, like the lungs need air, to make us human. And the church nourishes us with spiritual food, like the table provides the essential nourishment for our physical body.

I once saw a gentle and kindly woman having turned into something a bit less than a full human. She was a member of my congregation in Vancouver. She had terminal cancer. Towards the end of her life, the pain became too intense, constant and unbearable, she required dangerously much morphine. The doctor decided to disconnect some nerves, so she did not feel the pain any more. After her nerves were cut, she looked peaceful with a perpetual smile in her face. She spoke normally, but there was something missing. I could only described her condition as someone who lost the spirit. She lived only a few days after. Another friend, who was a brilliant criminal lawyer, was diagnosed as having a cancerous brain tumour on the side of the brain that controlled intelligence and feelings. He was told that he could live on for a long time after a surgical removal of that tumour, if he does not mind living like a vegetable for the rest of his life. He opted not to have the surgery, and remained an active brilliant lawyer for a few more years. He died a very painful death, but his intelligence and feelings remained intact. You see he died like a human being, not like a vegetable. The church does not give you food or money. The church teaches you to breathe in and out spirit.

Now, the church in Canada is facing a turning point. We have to make a decision. Should we remain spiritual and small? Or should we become big and wealthy? You can opt for size and wealth, if you really want. A lot of television churches do that. They earn millions of dollars. But I say, let us remain spiritual and authentic as the church. I say this because I believe that the problem we have as the church is not declining membership nor the loss of power in society. It is the loss of spiritual values in society. And the church does not seem to be giving leadership, because it is too busy worrying about our declining numbers and finance.

As you may remember, there was a terrorist attack using sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system that killed scores and injured thousands of people. When we were in Tokyo recently, a cult known as Aum Shinri Kyo under the leadership of one blind charismatic man was found to be responsible for this terrorist attack and the perpetrators of this hideous crime were arrested, including the cult leader. They believed in the immanent end of the world, and the terrorist attack was supposed to have induced the last war of Armageddon to bring about the apocalypse – the end of the world. However, what is remarkable about this group and people involved in the crime was the fact that there were many well educated people directly involved in the crime. Many scientists with PHD degrees and medical doctors and lawyers became members of this religion and used their training to plan and execute the attack. Many commentators agreed that this was partly the result of a society successful in building a dynamic economy and technological advancement without any respect for spiritual values.

We are by nature spiritual beings, as well as having a physical existence. Mere material fulfilment does not give us a full sense of being. If social status and wealth are all we need to live like a human being, how come there is so much unhappiness among the rich and famous? How come there are so many personal problems in the richest countries like U.S., Canada and Japan?

The church has to bear some responsibility for this state of unhappiness. The church has been too preoccupied with the size of membership, money and buildings. We neglected spiritual matters. Spirit is the thing that started the church. And we have neglected it. Many people seek spiritual fulfilment, but can not find them in traditional religions. That”s why so many people go to strange, and often fraudulent religious groups.

When the old mill was turned into this Church seventy years ago, those stones were used to turn the site from a business enterprise into a house of God where people would hear the good news about God”s love and the message that they were to care for each other. If we lose that spirit, there is not much point continuing. But if we keep that spirit, no matter how small the group that meets here becomes, this church built with the stone of an old mill, will not revert back into a mere money making enterprise. It will remain a place of worship where people are comforted, and encouraged. You never know. You may offer a real cure of the ills of the world. David Lochhead once described Howick United Church to me as, "a spot of sanity in the chaotic world."

May you continue to breathe with the spirit of faithfulness, and send many gusts out. You may transform the world around you.

B: CRAZY? MAYBE BUT ALIVE – PENTECOST

CRAZY? MAYBE. BUT ALIVE

Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104, John 15:26-27

May 18, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

When the powerful IBM computer, called "Deep Blue", beat the world”s chess champion Garry Kasparov, it ignited a big discussion. The question is: "Can machines take over human beings?" The answer, of course, is "No". We make machines. A creature can never take over the creator. But the fact that this question keeps coming back in movies and novels shows how little we understand the spiritual nature of our being and our relationship with God. The reason why Kasparov lost the game is because he got frustrated and tired, not because the computer was better. The fact that Kasparov had emotions and physical limitations makes him a better creature than a computer, because it proved that he was alive and that made him closer to God. Deep Blue is only a boxful of pieces of metal that is programmed by human beings to very quickly compute all the chess moves ever made by the best chess players. We know that computers are really stupid machines which stop functioning when we handle them wrongly. It does not have the capacity to go beyond the human mind. Computers never understand why we become crazy sometimes.

Computers can not be sad or happy. They just do what they are told. They have no emotions, feelings, or intuition. On the other hand, even a little baby can recognize effortlessly her mother”s face across a crowded room. Something unexplainable is planted between two human beings when they are bonded, which no machine can reproduce. No scientists knows how to make machines laugh, because they can not make computers understand humour. Also machines can never learn from mistakes. But humans can, because we have a storehouse of capacities to convert experiences into insights and wisdom. But the same token, we should understand the happenings on the day of Pentecost not so much as literal facts but as a uniquely human and spiritual experience. Computers also lack the subtlety to translate language effectively or put the feeling into poetry or the passion into music.

When the disciples were touched by the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in many different languages which only foreigners understood. But some people thought that those disciples were crazy – they probably had too much wine and were drunk. I wonder why some people understood the language, but others didn”t and thought the whole thing was outrageous. The beginning of the Christian church obviously was not a result of a well calculated and planned event like an Academy Award ceremony. It was a happening that was inspired by a mysterious force which no human vocabulary could adequately explain. We must realize at the outset that understanding language is not just a matter of knowing the vocabularies and grammar of a nation. It involves learning a whole culture, history, and tradition. Most importantly, it involves ingredients that makes persons human.

When marriages break up, they often say, "We don”t speak the same language." It is about a break-down in communication. Sharing of whole persons is not happening. A famous Canadian pianist, Jon Kimura Parker, was interviewed by Vicky Gabereau in CBC a few days ago. His mother Keiko was a member of my congregation in Vancouver. The parents were pen pals before they met. She lived in Tokyo and he was in Vancouver. They corresponded for a few years before Keiko came to Vancouver for a visit. A few weeks later they were married. When I met Keiko and John, neither of them was fluent in the language of the partner – Japanese or English. And yet they have had a wonderful marriage. They spoke the same language even though they spoke in the languages of different nations. It was the sharing of emotions, feelings, and everything else that makes a human different from a machine, not just words. And I suspect that a similar thing, which went further than the mere utterance of foreign words, was what happened on the day of Pentecost.

When the disciples were touched by the Holy Spirit, the Bible speaks about strange phenomena occurring, like a sound of a strong wind or a bits of fire like tongues dancing around the room,. It was a powerful experience that went beyond the capacity of any human vocabulary to explain. They felt an impulsive to share the good news of Jesus Christ. So they began to speak the languages understood by those who were visiting Jerusalem. All those languages that the disciples were supposed to have spoken were Mediterranean area languages. They were like Scandinavian languages. If you ask a Swede how to communicate with a Dane, the answer would be something like, "You speak Swedish with two candies in your mouth. The Dane would understand what you say." You sort of get by speaking French in Italy. The same thing.

It finally dawned on the disciples how powerful the message of the God of love was. They were no longer a bunch of frightened people hiding behind doors. They desperately wanted to tell others how wonderful it is to know the story of Jesus. The atmosphere of the room was so charged that the only way to describe the scene was the language of fire and wind. They could not contain themselves. Many of us do the same thing from time to time. When something exciting and wonderful happens, one has to tell somebody; you can not keep it as a secret. A bunch of kids burst into the church last Sunday, and started to tell me about their brand new family van. All of them spoke at once to me, and did not make too much sense. They were speaking about the doors that open on both sides, etc. So I had to see the van in the parking lot. It is not only kids: we all do that. The disciples went outside and started to tell people of their experiences in whatever the way they knew how. I can understand that they sounded a bit crazy.

When the other party does not understand what we want to tell them, we have to learn somehow to communicate. People learned many languages to tell the stories of Jesus throughout the history. I was amazed many times how early missionaries learned strange languages so well and so fast. They translated the Bible, and even wrote dictionaries. Most of them did not earn much money doing so. The tradition of the Pentecost has continued for many centuries. It was not just the question of learning to speak in other people”s languages; it was about communicating messages. Such communication often happens despite limitations in language abilities.

In one sense, the disciples were crazy on the day of Pentecost. It was dangerous to openly admit that they were the followers of the way of Jesus of Nazareth; it was madness to expose their belief about a criminal who was executed for blasphemy, sedition, and subversive ideas. They were crazy. But were they? They were alive with Spirit. We are also alive, not machines. So we do crazy things when we are excited. God help us if we only act in a well calculated logical manner, like a machine.

Machines will continue to make life easier, healthier, richer, and yet also more puzzling. And human beings will continue to care, ultimately about the same things they always have; about themselves, about one another and about God. On those things machines and science will never make any difference; they never will. Machines and science will never take away from those things; Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

C: WHERE DO YOU FIND GOD? – FIRST WEEK OF JUNE

WHERE DO YOU FIND GOD?

Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31, Psalm 8, John 16:12-15

June 7, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

Every mornings a cat comes to visit our front porch. It comes from the north side, walks on the same side of the front porch, and walks away towards the south. I”ve never seen the cat. But I am quite sure it is the same cat. Why do I know this then? I see its paw marks when it is wet outside. When it snows, I can see the same paw marks more clearly on exactly the same path. This is just like the way we know that there is God. Nobody has seen God. But the world is full of foot marks of God.

Look at the face of the person next to you. Do you know that it is almost impossible to find exactly the same face anywhere in the world? There are about five billion people on this planet. But no two persons look exactly the same. I think it is amazing. If you take one inch deep of earth from a square foot area in the woods, and look at them with a magnifying glass, the scientists say, you will find on the average 1,356 living creatures. 865 ticks, 265 springtails, 22 millipedes, 19 beetles, and 12 other kinds of living things. If you are talking about microscopic creatures, one spoon full of dirt has two billion bacteria, millions of fungi, algae, and protozoa. I can not believe all that came about accidentally. It is so amazing that we must say they are all God”s work. I believe that God created them. That”s the only explanation. We see God”s foot marks everywhere in our world.

It is amazing, also, that we instinctively know what we can do and what can not do. The Bible says that this is because the Spirit of God lives in all of us and talks to us. It is called "Wisdom". Sometimes, other people teach it to us. In those times, they are teaching us according to their wisdom – the same Spirit of God. Sometimes, we learn the wisdom through experiences. Once you burn your finger, you will never touch a fire ever again. You know you are not supposed to hurt other people. You know you should share, because when you do to others, some other time when you are in need, someone will share with you. All these are voices from the wisdom. I believe that they come from the spirit of God. You can not see God, but you can hear God when you listen to the wisdom.

Most importantly, the love of God is in everyone. When you are kind to another person, you are doing what the love of God in you is telling you to do. All of us have bits and pieces of Jesus in us. When you learn more about Jesus, we learn more and more the better ways to love other people. Here again, we can not see God nor hear the voice of God, but we can feel the love of God in kindness, and in love between family and friends.

God is everywhere, even though we don”t see him nor hear him. We can not see God like we see flowers in the garden. But when we see the flowers, we can see God”s foot marks in them.

 

 

A: ABOUT DINNER – PALM SUNDAY

NOW ABOUT THIS DINNER

Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 31, Matthew 26:26-35

Tad Mitsui, March 31, 1996

In our church, there are two most important rituals. They are Baptism and Holy Communion. It is interesting that those Sacraments relate to basic events in our daily life; washing and eating. In Baptism, we join the community of faith through a symbolic act of cleaning ourselves with water. In Communion, we affirm the sharing nature of our community by symbolically eating a meal together, in doing so we also remember that Jesus made an ultimate act of sharing in giving his own life.

The ordinariness in our most sacred religious acts shows a very important aspect of our faith. In our spiritual tradition, there is no division between sacred and secular. This is God”s world. So everyday ordinary act of life is holy. Where we stand in our daily life at home or in our work is a holy ground. One day, last week, I was in a car with two of you. The conversation was fun. But at one point, one man said to another, "You watch your language. The minister is here." I assumed his remark was meant to be a joke, but had it been serious, it would be very unfair to the minister. He would miss out on all the fun of this world. There should not be the world of fun separate from God”s world, because there is only one world, which is God”s world. For our God, every ordinary thing is his business also. There is something wrong in our faith, if we feel that God takes fun out of our lives. He doesn”t. If it is important to us, it is important to God, also.

Eating is one of our most important functions. Therefore, it is also important in our faith. We spend a lot of time thinking, planning, acquiring ingredients, preparing, and eating food. We spend more time in learning to cook, reading recipes, and talking about what we ate. I am sure that we spend more time on food related activities, perhaps next to sleeping, than on any other daily task. Human beings used to spend a lot more time, growing, hunting, preparing food. In fact, until a century ago, food production was almost the full time occupation of a majority of people. Because the activities relating to food gathering and consumption took more time, food was arguably more precious than it is to us today. Thus it is not surprising that much religious significance come to be attached to it. If it is important for humans, it is important to God also.

There were many religious instructions about the selection and preparation of food. Many of them made a lot of sense, especially in a hot climate and with less than perfect sanitary conditions. Much of worship service was concerned with the act of dedicating food items to God. In fact, the first five books of the Old Testament are filled with instructions about preparation of food and about offering food items to God as acts of worship. Faithful Jewish people still today observe many of those ancient practices. It is called keeping kosher. So paradoxically food is important in our religious life, because it is so ordinary. There is no separation between ordinary and sacred.

There is another reason why food had much spiritual significance. It is due to the collective nature of food production and consumption. One of the reasons why human beings thrive despite our many physical shortcomings is because we are good at working together in groups producing and sharing food. Any predatory animal, which operates alone, may look fierce and strong, but actually has less chance of survival. Ants and bees may look tiny and vulnerable, but they have potential to outlive eagles and lions, because they are better at working together and sharing food. We are one of the best animals at acquiring and producing food together. Peaceful relationships are the most important element in enabling such cooperation and sharing. Justice is an important part of the code of sharing. It was not just profit that enabled human beings to become so efficient in food production. We should not forget that only a community bound by a code of justice and peace can work together well.

Food also has important religious significance because most of the food we eat comes from living organisms. In fact, we can live because many lives are sacrificed for us. This is where the notion of sacrifice emerged as an important spiritual element of food preparation and consumption. Ancient people were familiar with the sight and sound and gore of animals which were being killed for food. So thanksgiving before the meals had another dimension, which we seldom recognize today. People in earlier times remembered with thanks those who lost their lives to sustain lives.

Unfortunately, we have sanitized the process of slaughter of animals. It is shielded from the eyes of most of us. So the element of sacrifice has been lost in our idea of food. In an African country where I once lived, it was the custom to slaughter a cow for the dinner at every wedding and funeral, and at other special occasions. To kill the animal before all the invited guests was an important ritual. The animal was bound and tied down to the ground. An elder of the village would slit the throat with a sharp knife. It was important that the blood was spilt on the ground as a symbolic act of sharing the life of the sacrificed animal with God. Most of us who came from the west could not eat the dinner. We were not used to seeing such a gore before a meal. But witnessing the agony of the animal was an important part of recognizing the nature of sacrifice. By sanitizing the process of slaughter, we have encouraged people to forget the cost of our food, and thus diminished our appreciation of it.

The enslaved Jews took the best looking lambs without blemish, slaughtered them for the last meal before their liberation, and smeared their doors with the blood of the lambs. This was how the angel of death passed over the Jewish households. They also sacrificed the young and best-looking animal annually to ask God”s forgiveness for the sins committed in the past year. So for the Jewish people, dinner was not only a symbol of the sharing community where justice and peace prevailed, but it also signified what we owed to other creatures who sacrificed their lives for us. So, as we partake in this symbolic meal of communion, we not only remember the last supper Jesus shared with his followers, but also we cerebrate the everyday meals we share with our families and friends including last week”s pancake breakfast, the Spring luncheon, and Fall turkey dinner! We are what we eat. The everyday defines our lives. Yet they are not just ordinary dinners. As we enjoy the food and the company, meals remind us also of our obligation to share and to be grateful for the cost of food, in labour and sacrifice. Holy Communion reflects holiness of our daily food. I hope that this does not spoil the fun of eating. It”s like having fun, even in a company of a minister.

 

 

 

C: HE BECAME LIKE US – PALM SUNDAY

HE HUMBLED HIMSELF AND BECAME LIKE US

Luke 19:28-40

1. Some of you may have noticed that when I came to worship with you for the first time, on March 19, I was driving a Cadillac, silver Cadillac too. I will tell you how I ended up with a Cadillac later. I frankly did not like driving it, but not because it was difficult to get used to. It was because I hated the thought of the way people might look at me driving this car. "How did he get to be filthy rich like that?" Of course, this reaction includes an element of jealousy, too. It is not easy to feel friendly towards the rich and famous. I knew people would see the car, and not the person in it.

Until I came to be with you at Howick, I did not own a car. For twelve years, I had a job in Toronto that took me out of the country a lot of the time. My office was in downtown and we lived in downtown. Whenever I was in town, I rode a bicycle. So when I came to the Conference office, some people wondered how I could do the job without a car. You know, I managed quite well. Because I came to like cycling, I did not want to give up my bike. I cycled to the office, and went to out of town places by buses and trains. I also rented cars, when I had to. I rented so many times that every now and then the rental company gave me free weekends. On March 19, they were so very sorry that they did not have my favourite Nissan. They were very sorry that they only had a Cadillac. Trust me it was true.

Some people who knew that I did not own a car did not like the way I travelled. Maybe they thought that I was cheap, I don”t know. Somehow they could not understand why I would prefer my bike over a car. But I feel healthy when I cycle. Besides, it gets me from point A to Point B, while saving a lot of money. Only thing is that you have to organize your life a little better, because it takes more time to get there. But it is not impossible.

2. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. In modern terms, not on a Cadillac, but on a bicycle. A public relation consultant would despair. Yet, the whole city was excited about him. "A great teacher, a healer of the sick, a friend of the friendless, came to our city." Thousands came to welcome him. And he chose a donkey to ride. A pregnant woman rode a donkey, because it is low and steady. But it is an awkward, stubborn, and ugly animal, a beast of burden which normally carried only things. Not a means of transportation for a victorious leader.

3. So how should we see this Jesus who gets where he is going in the most unlikely way? God did not have to become fragile human like us. Like the ancient Jews, we could have continued to hear his word through the prophets. God loved us so much that he was not like a General sending young troops to the front to their probable death while staying comfortably behind in the headquarters. That was not God”s way. God”s way was to become like us, and so he rode a lowly donkey ahead of the disciples towards certain suffering. This was not a motorcade in a victory parade. It meant that God was ready to share our happiness, as well as suffering with us in our suffering. A friend of mine, Ko Koyama, who teaches at Union Seminary in New York city said, "God moves with a speed of 3 miles an hour, because a poor person who can not own a car walks with that speed. God moves with a poor person.

4. So God came into the world in the form of a human person called Jesus. He came as a citizen of an occupied, despised and oppressed people, and grew up as a son of a poor carpenter. He knew the humiliation of growing up as a person out of dubious birth. Trusted friends and followers betrayed him, even his mother did not understand him. And in the end, he died a painful death like a common criminal. He did not have to do it that way. He was almighty God. But you see, the difference between our kind of power and God”s is that we humans wants to exercise power for ourselves at others” expense, while God exercises it in order to love us. His love was so powerful that he was ready to make himself totally powerless. This sounds contradictory: in order to be almighty in love, he became powerless. He was willing to slow down to 3 miles an hour, to move at our speed. Choose a donkey over a stallion – maybe even a bike over a Cadillac – if that”s what it took to be at our side. That was the purpose of the incarnation, of the journey into Jerusalem: the journey that led into and beyond death. A journey that seemed impossible by a means we would expect.

A: WINDS OF HOPE – PENTECOST

WINDS OF HOPE

Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104, John 7:37-39

May 23, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

People saw disciples on the day of Pentecost and thought they were drunk. Obviously Peter felt obliged to explain what was happening to them. He said, "Please, people, listen. It is only nine in the morning. We are not drunk." But they had good reason to think that the disciples were drunk or crazy because of their strange behaviours.

Once, a man called me crazy, too. I was so surprised that it took the wind out of me. I had just finished my master”s degree and was preparing to go to Africa. I was selected to be a leader of a group of volunteer students in Nigeria. I met a man at a party at the University, who asked me why I was going to Africa. I tried to explain to him that it was volunteer work. But he didn”t understand me. There was no money in it, neither was there much to see in Eastern Nigeria. He thought I was crazy, THERE SHOULD BE MORE MONEY AFTER I GOT MY GRADUATE DEGREE. He thought I was wasting my time.

I didn”t understand why he didn”t understand me. I was so happy and proud of myself to be chosen. To him, I suppose, I looked like one of those people who grew up in a cocoon, and had never been told about the real world. We lived in two different worlds, he and I. I grew up in a manse and made all my friends in the church. My parents did not teach me much about money or other facts of life. My heroes were missionaries. It was normal for me to think about venturing into an unknown world to do some good work. That”s how I was brought up. Probably, the world in which he was brought up and had lived was the normal world. Likely, more people lived in his world than in mine. No wonder he thought I was crazy. He thought that I had been living in a dream world that didn”t exist. I thought that my world was a better one. Two worlds in which we lived were so far apart and the gap so deep that it would have taken a miracle to be able to see the other world. After all evening arguing who was right, I did not change his mind, neither did he change mine.

There are certain things in all of us that are almost impossible to change. You may laugh if some one says, "My mind”s made up. Don”t confuse me with facts." But all of us can be so set in our ways that they can be beyond reason. You can call it habit, mindset, personality, or upbringing. Whatever you call it, it is something that is hard to change.

But from time to time, people do change their attitudes and opinions. Some changes are so fundamental that you think you are seeing a different person. Some changes happen very suddenly, while some are so slow and so gradual that you can hardly see them happening, like watching a cactus grow. But changes do happen, and some of them are complete "transformations." Insects go through such complete transformation from a larva to a butterfly, which is called metamorphosis. We humans do not change appearances as much as insects do, but the internal transformation can be as complete as metamorphosis. We call that conversion. It would take the Holy Spirit to make such a transformation, which is almost like crossing a big and deep gap into another world.

The transformation recorded in the Acts of Apostles was such a change. Take Peter, for example. When Jesus was on trial at the Chief Priest”s palace, Peter was so afraid to be associated with him. He lied and said that he didn”t know the prisoner. Even after his encounter with the risen Christ, he was still afraid to be seen in public and stayed with friends inside of a house with all the doors locked. They stayed like that for seven weeks. As they talked and prayed, one day they were overcome by the realization that they were the witnesses to the astounding love of God, demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Then something extraordinary happened. Luke described it only as something like a gust of winds and the tongues of fire. Obviously this is figurative language. They found no other adequate words to describe what happened inside of themselves.

The result was extraordinary. They were not afraid any more. It was like they crossed over into another world. They were no longer afraid of risks in speaking about Jesus Christ. They wanted everybody to understand what they wanted to say. So they started to speak the languages of many lands. People thought the disciples were drunk, if not mad. But it happens every time the spirit moves; people begin to behave differently, often in the extraordinary ways. The Spirit of Jesus Christ transforms us.

There is a moving scene in the Academy Award winning film "Life is Beautiful." A of a Jewish man forced her way into a Nazi extermination camp simply because she wanted to be near her son and husband. She didn”t have to go, because she was not Jewish. Love was stronger than the fear of hardship and death. But this is not an exceptional story. It happens all the time around us. People do all sorts of crazy things because of love.

The story of Pentecost sounds quite extraordinary. It was, and it wasn”t. The transformation of the disciples during the seven weeks after the crucifixion was remarkable. They could not find adequate words to describe what changed them so completely. But if you think about some brave acts of love you see around us, Pentecost was not all that extraordinary. How can any person who is by nature self-serving, transform him/herself into a loving parent, brother or sister, or kind friend and neighbour? But we see that all the time. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. The spirit of Lord Jesus Christ intervenes when we love someone. Pentecost happens every day. Wherever the winds of hope blow, God is in action through his Spirit.

 

YEAR A: GOODNESS OR RIGHTEOUSNESS? – FIRST WEEK OF JUNE

TO BE GOOD OR TO BE RIGHT.

Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 33 , Matthew 9:9-13

June 5, 2005, Picture Butte

I go to the same church where a certain infamous former-member of Lethbridge City Council worships with her family. However, I always admire the way my fellow worshippers rally around her and her family. They make it clear that she has friends. This gesture must give her tremendous sustenance in a community where many people still say and write terrible things about her. Their act of kindness very much follows the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus never made the past an issue, when he made friends.

When we can not reconcile what is good and what is right, we often choose mistakenly righteousness as the Christian way not goodness. In this respect, Jesus often surprises us, because he didn’t first ask what’s right, but asked what’s good.

Matthew was a tax collector. But Jesus not only had dinner with him, but also made him his disciple. No wonder the righteous people like Pharisees were appalled. When Jesus was living, the Roman occupation authorities contracted selected Jewish persons to administer taxation on a commission basis. In other words, tax collection was privatized. The tax collectors invented many methods to impose taxes. Many of them took bribes, pounced on the poor and weak who could not complain, and often made fortunes by ruthlessly imposing taxes thus getting fat commissions. They were not only corrupt, but also sinners and unclean in religion. They belonged to the same class with lepers, prostitutes, and thieves. They were not allowed to attend religious services. They were also traitors working for the enemy. They became rich but they were outcasts. Of course, they had no friends.

But there must have been those who were just doing a job to earn a living? There were less corrupt and would have loved to be accepted by society. Matthew must have been one of them. This is why, when he was called to be Jesus’ disciple, he had no hesitation to follow him, leaving his job and money behind. The encounter with open-minded Jesus gave him courage to get out of a profitable but questionable occupation.

From time to time, we run into a situation where we find ourselves in a bad company but do not have courage to get out. Jesus understood of people like Matthew. And if you feel the pain of conscience, Jesus, like a doctor, can help you. But if you don”t feel guilt, no one can help you. This is why it is so important to admit that there is a problem in your life and to recognize that you are in need of help.

This is the problem of the people who consider themselves righteous like Pharisees when Jesus was living. They don’t acknowledge that there is any problem in their lives. They are proud to be righteous, and they forget to be good people. They are too busy being right and forget to be loving and kind. They are law-abiding but heartless. They forget that laws are instruments of justice and mercy. Laws that are not applied with justice and mercy are like the tools you don’t know how to use. The worst problem, however, is the fact that they don’t see any problem in obeying laws faithfully without being loving.

Paul described this state of empty piety in his letter to Corinthians, "If I have all knowledge of God”s words, ability to preach wonderful sermons, faith to move mountains, charity to give everything including life itself, but if I don”t have love, I am nothing." If we do not have kindness and mercy in our hearts, any visible signs of righteousness can be an empty shell. We are easily be hypocrites.

If you are totally convinced that you have no problem in your life, you are worse than those who have problems and regret it. People who know the pain of guilt have a much better chance of being made whole. If you do not admit that you have a problem, no one can help you. If you think that you know everything you need to know, the world is closed for you. You slam the door and shut yourself out of future. Then no one can help you.

This is why Jesus thought that the sinners, who knew that there was something wrong with them, had far better chance of being saved than the righteous people who believed that they needed no help. He said, "A healthy person does not need a doctor." Furthermore, sick persons who do not acknowledge their illness have absolutely no chance of getting better because they never agree to go to the doctor. They closed the door to health by themselves. Pain of guilt is a signal. Through pain, God tells you that you need to seek help, to change and to grow.

Justice and righteousness must be applied mercifully. Laws must be based on love. We must remind ourselves that Jesus was a good and loving person. And he tells us to be good persons too.

Let us not be afraid to acknowledge our problems and weaknesses. Also let us accept those who are honest about their weaknesses. Then there is an opening for God to come into your lives.

 

 

B: WHO IS MY MOTHER? – 1ST WEEK OF JUNE

WHO IS MY MOTHER?

II Cor. 4:13-18, Psalm 138(#73 Mark 3:20-21 & 31-34

June 8, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

One of the most difficult experiences for all of us is a family conflict. It shakes up our sense of security. Your conviction is put to a severe test when it is challenged by someone you love dearly in your family. My father was disowned by his parents when he decided to become a Christian minister. Up to that point, he had followed his parents” wishes and he had been studying to become a physician. However, his conviction that he was called by God became stronger. He left a medical school and went to Tokyo to go to a seminary. He lost all family support and had to work his way through the seminary. Jesus also ran into the same kind of difficulty with his family earlier in his ministry and suffered rejection by his mother and brothers. In Howick, too, I heard of some family quarrels at the time of Church Union. Considering this, perhaps this passage is especially appropriate for Anniversary Sunday.

When his mother and brothers heard that Jesus was openly challenging the Sabbath laws and became a target of hatred of the leaders of the society, they thought that he had gone insane. So they came to nab him, to avoid further embarrassment to the family and save him from endangering his life. They were going to take him back to Nazareth, to the carpenter”s workshop where he belonged. How did Jesus react, when the disciples told him that his mother and brothers were looking for him? "Who is my mother?" he said, as though he was denying any relationship with his own mother. "Who are my brothers?" he continued. Looking at the disciples, he said, "You are, because you are the ones who obey God”s commandments." Was he in despair because his family did not understand him? Or was he being spiteful? Either way, the situation looks sad. In a way, it is reassuring that our Lord Jesus went through a real life situation like the ones we sometimes face. What does this episode tell us about family conflicts? I am going to make three points.

First of all, family members can be amazingly ignorant about each other. We think we know each other in a family. Indeed we do. But we can overlook many things because we assume we know everything about everybody in a family. Familiarity can make you blind. When we think we know everything, we lose a sense of wonder. We refused to be surprised. We even lose a sense of respect for someone or something we think we know very well. This is why I don”t like to preach in the church where I grew up. They know me too well. They still see that naughty boy who switched off all the lights in the church for fun, during the Christmas Eve Service. It is difficult to get the message across to those people who only see me when I was fifteen years old. You work hard to raise your children, so you know them well. That does not mean you can lose respect for them. Never lose respect for whom you know well.

Secondly, the Gospel story teaches us that there are wider circles of family outside of our immediate flesh and blood. Jesus said to the disciples, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? You are my mother. You are my brothers." Jesus was not being disrespectful of his own family. He was speaking about the family which is wider than immediate flesh and blood. In the story of creation, there is a line, "A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." "Cling" is a very graphic word. When you get married, you must leave your parents. If you still cling to your mother or father after the marriage, if you are not ready to leave your parents; you are not ready for marriage. Your spouse must become closer to you than to your parents. Likewise, we must widen the circle of our family as we grow. You find a teacher, a neighbour, or a friend you come to respect and come to love very much. Those people become almost like a mother or a father. A wider circle of family is a sign of your maturity. That does not mean you are abandoning your real parents. Your family is becoming bigger. When you find a group of friends who believe in the same things, like to do the same things, go to the same church, or just enjoy hanging around together, they become like brothers and sisters. The world will be a wonderful place to live, if many more people become like our mother, father, brothers and sisters. We aim to make our church like a family. That is one way to create heaven on earth.

Finally, sometimes a real test of authentic relationship comes when you are confronted with truth. What do you do when someone you love very much disagrees with you about what you firmly believe in? Jesus” mother and his brothers thought he was out of his mind, when he acted on his convictions. Jesus believed that he was following God”s commandment. My grandparents thought that my father was disrespectful of them. He, on the other hand, thought that he was following God”s call. Do you obey God or respect your flesh and blood and go against your belief? This is a difficult question.

There was an ambitious Samurai, who was the most powerful warlord in Japan in the fourteenth century. His name was Kiyomori. His oldest son, Shigemori, was the best strategist in an art of war, and the army chief of staff. Shigemori was also an honourable man – a man of principles. One day, Shigemori learned that his father was secretly planning to overthrow the throne to replace the emperor with a stooge. So he went to see his father to find out what was going on. It was obvious that the old man was preparing for a war. He was in his armour, and men were running around with bows and arrows. The son asked him what the commotion was all about. The father lied and said that they were doing some war games. What should the son do? Stay out of his father”s dirty politics and keep his nose clean? Or stand up against his own father and defeat his army, so that he could prevent an act of high treason? He might have kill his own father. Or join his father, and become a traitor to the country? As the history has it, Shigemori joined his father in the rebellion, was defeated, and died as an enemy of the nation. He is remembered in history as a tragic figure: an honourable man who faced an impossible dilemma.

Let us hope that we don”t have to face such a difficult situation as Jesus faced. Let us hope that our flesh and blood will not present us with a dilemma like the one Shigemori faced. But if we do find ourselves in such a situation, we must remember what Jesus did. He followed God despite his family. But he never stopped loving his family. Do you think that was what your fathers and mothers did at the time of the Church Union? It is good to honour them by believing that our parents followed their conviction. We should follow their examples and pray that love overcomes every conflict.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: LOVING IS GIVING – 4TH WEEK OF JUNE

LOVE IS A GIVING

Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Matthew 10:40-42

June 27, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

In 1992, the NHL Vancouver Canucks held a charity auction to raise funds for a hospice for the terminally ill children. People were donating things so the children could spend the last days of their lives comfortably and happily as much as possible. Six-year-old Jeff Robinson of Kelowna, B.C. heard about the auction. He had a hockey stick with Wayne Gretzky”s autograph on it. Jeff was lucky enough to meet him one day at a hockey practice. After many days thinking about it, Jeff decided to give up the prized hockey stick for the auction. Jeff said, "Those kids are dying. I”m lucky." The hockey stick was sold for one thousand dollars. Some months later, Wayne Gretzky heard about this, and was deeply touched by what Jeff did. He sent Jeff a brand new autographed hockey stick.

We have only one life to live in a limited time. So we regularly have to give up a lot of things we treasure in order to keep what is more important. If you don”t know how to choose one and sacrifice others, your life will be a big mess. Let us learn some important lessons about sacrifice from the story of Abraham and Isaac.

 

Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah when they were both beyond the age of baby making. When Sarah was told that she would become pregnant, she though it was a bad joke. "Him? At his age?" "Me? With my hot flashes?" She laughed bitterly. That”s how they came to name their son "Isaac" – "laughter" in Hebrew. The conception of Isaac might have been met by his mother”s disrespectful laughter, but he turned out to be the joy of the parents” life and a source of many a happy laughter. So, they thought that it was the most cruel test of their faith, when they learned that they had to give up Isaac. Since then, many people have also interpreted that this story was about the test of faith. But I don”t agree with this view.

Abraham had believed that God required a sacrifice of his son. But at the crucial moment, God stopped him. Did God change his mind? Or was the whole thing a test of Abraham”s faithfulness, and God did not really mean to let Abraham kill Isaac? I believe that Abraham refused to accept the old custom and found the true God. In order to understand how Abraham changed his view about God and sacrifice, you need to figure out how God speaks to us. Nobody has ever heard God”s voice. God speaks to our hearts and to our minds when we are in prayers. A Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle once said, "Prayer is the most sincere form of thinking." The more we become familiar with the way of God in the Bible, the more clearly we will know the mind of God. That”s how God speaks to us.

When Abraham decided to follow the custom of the day, by killing Isaac at the alter for God, he had truly believed that he was following the God”s wish. Many ancient peoples thought that sacrificing the first born child was the correct way to please the jealous God. In fact, the child sacrifice has always been a common religious practice in many cultures for many years. You still find mummified bodies of children, often young girls, who had been killed to please the supposedly greedy and voracious God in many parts of the world. They are well preserved from the elements, because they are dressed well as offering to gods. Even in the history of Israel, there are stories of children and young women in the Bible sacrificed for the good of a family or a nation in the Bible.

So Abraham was not doing anything unusual for his days. It was normal to believe that by following the widely practised custom they were being faithful to God. It must have been an excruciatingly painful decision for them, because they had waited for their own child for a long time. Abraham walked for three days towards the Mount Moriah with Isaac beside him. He had lots of time to pray and think. It was a difficult struggle. He was challenging the age old belief about the way to serve God. He was a faithful and righteous man. But he loved the child too, more than his own life. "Is loving a child against the will of God?" As he struggled with this difficult question, he began to hear a different voice of God; "Love of a child is good." A split second before he plunged the knife into the child”s body, he was seized by a firm conviction, that God would never demand a life of a child for sacrifice. He had a courage to challenge the old belief, and found a fresh belief in the loving God.

The lesson Abraham learned in this story is very important for us today too. Nobody has the right to require human sacrifice, especially of children. No one owns other human beings. You can not sacrifice what does not belong to you. That is not sacrifice. Sacrifice is to give up what is yours. The human race is still learning this basic lesson. Wars are fought on the assumption that human lives can be sacrificed for the sake of ideas or pieces of real estate. Children are abused and exploited, because some people believe that they are not as valuable as grown-ups, so they are expendable. As the result, education, health, and welfare are the first ones to be cut from the budget affecting mainly children.

However, Abraham found a lamb for sacrifice. He did not ignore the importance of sacrifice. Sacrifice is not only the indispensable part of religious life, but also is an essential life skill. All of us must know what to give up for the sake of what is more important. The people of Israel sacrificed their prized livestock in the temple of God. They gave up portions of their wealth.

When Abraham struggled with the question of what to give up, he found the truly loving God. Jesus Christ sacrificed his own life because he loved us, and showed us the love of God. Sacrifice is to give up what is precious, like Jeff”s hockey stick. By giving up something you treasure, you will know what is most important, which is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: SUNDAY FOR PEOPLE – FIRST WEEK OF JUNE

SUNDAY IS FOR PEOPLE

II cor. 4:5-12, Psalm 139, Mark 2:23-28

June 1, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

I wonder if the Lord”s Day Act is still on the books in Canada. It must, because I never heard that it was repealed. But how things change! Who would worry nowadays about running out of cash or grocery on Sunday. I remember the mad rush on Fridays to the bank, to the grocery store, and to the beer store, so we had enough to survive the weekend. I remember laughing at an ignorant American tourist who was looking for a grocery store to buy beer on Sunday. In the US, I thought I was in a pagan country in a supermarket on Sunday, to stock up the pantry for the week following. I was staying with a family in the States. That was only in 1968. How have we changed! Is it good or bad that we don”t worry too much about Sundays any more? If we can not turn the clock back to the days of strict observance of the Lord”s Day, how then should we observe Sundays in 1997? According to the ideas found in the Gospels about Sabbath, I can say, in short, that Sunday should be different from other days in order to take care of ourselves. In other words, Sunday is for people.

The idea of Sabbath appeared first in the Bible as the day of rest. In the book of Genesis, God created the world in six days. After six working days, feeling good about what he did, God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it as the day of rest. The word "hallow" means to set aside something as special; in other words, to make it "holy". God is telling us that to rest is good for us and also important enough to be hallowed: to set it aside as a special day. Of course, work is also important. After all, he looked at what he achieved in his work, and said to himself, "That”s good!" Work and rest are both good and mutually dependent. Work will be a torture if it is not broken by intermittent periods of rest. Rest will become unbearable and demeaning without meaningful work. Work enable us to live and rest makes us human. The story of creation puts Sabbath in perspective.

Jewish Sabbath is Saturday, and it begins on Friday night. Jesus was crucified on Friday. It did not seem right to the authorities leaving the body of a criminal who committed blasphemy exposed in public on Sabbath, especially during the Passover. So he was buried on Friday night and rose from death on the third day – Sunday. The Christian Church replaced Sabbath with Sunday to commemorate the day of resurrection. Seventh Day Adventist Church, however, insists that we should still follow the Jewish customs and worship on Saturday. I am saying all this to show that many rules and debates about Sabbath have much too much to do with worship services and the rules of the religious institutions, and little to do with what is good for human being. The true spirit of Sabbath can easily be lost in a maze of religious discussions.

If you go to Jerusalem and stay in any hotel in the Western Jewish sector of the city, you will notice that there are two kinds of elevators. One is for Sabbath and the other for the rest of the week. If you take the Sabbath elevator, you don”t have to touch anything. As soon as you get on it, it opens and closes the door, and stops at every floor automatically. Never take the Sabbath elevator on the week days. It will take forever to get to your room, if you are staying on the twentieth floor. Pushing a button is considered to be a work. So you don”t push a button on Sabbath.

The story is not much different from some of the old Christian customs. Anthony Bailey, who is a United Church missionary from Montreal area now working in Jamaica, told me once how he used to spend Sundays. His father, Frank, was a beloved minister of the United Church in Maxville for a long time until he retired. But he was a strict and old fashioned Christian. He did not allow any entertainment on Sundays at home. They went to church twice on Sundays. And the only TV program allowed on Sunday was "Hymn Sing". I know that many of you, who were raised in strict Christian homes, can tell us many similar stories. I am sure that worshipping God together in a church is good for our soul. I am sure that it is good to have rules of behaviours for Sabbath, so that everybody benefits from the day of rest together. But if those rules should overtake the real spirit of the day, that will go against God”s intention. In other words, the rules regarding Sabbath must not interfere with the pursuit of a genuinely wholesome life. That is what Jesus was trying to tell us in the today”s Gospel story.

Jesus defended those disciples who collected some grains from a field on Sabbath, because they were hungry. He healed a physically handicapped person on Sabbath. Jesus recalled a story of King David who had let his soldiers eat the meat which was offered to God on the alter, because there was nothing else to eat. Only the priests were allowed to eat the offerings under the normal circumstances. His point was to say that the laws were made for people, not the other way around. So in principle, on Sabbath you should take a break from work. But if one is starving and there is no food, one must do something to get food even on Sabbath. If you see a person suffering from illness, you must heal the sufferer even on Sabbath. The whole point of Sabbath is to restore life. So some rules become hindrance to life, it is normal to break such rules to restore life.

You may wonder why we need rules to give ourselves holidays. As a person who grew up in a non-Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture, where a regular holiday traditionally came only twice a month, I like the notion of ”at least a day off in a week” as a norm. Without some kind of rules to put the brakes on, it is difficult for human beings to stop working. Because of greed, some people force others to work as long as possible. It is not only in a story like Dickens” Christmas Carol, there are many stories to tell us that human beings have exploited others everywhere. We, also as a race, suffer from workaholism like Scrooge. It is because we are incapable of looking at ourselves. So work becomes our escape. We often don”t know what to do when there is nothing to do. So we keep on being busy to avoid thinking.

The lesson of Sabbath teaches us that we are valued children of God for no other reason but for a fact that we are human beings. Work is good, fruits of our labour are good. But life is much more than work and rewards of work. When we take a break, we will find more about ourselves which we have not known before. We who come to church believe that by attending the church God will help us find important things about our life, and help us put our daily work into perspective. When I was working in Africa, one of the many lessons I learned about our faith is from the way the Africans looked at each other. They value human being regardless of income or position. No one looks down on a person who has no job, nor was there any sense of shame on the part of a jobless person. An old person who has no education, no money, no job, nor position in society, is revered because he or she is old thus assumed wise.

I am sure you heard me telling you this story before. But I love this story. So allow me to conclude by telling it to you again. One day, I was busy going places on my Land Rover in the mountains of Lesotho. I ran into an old man sitting by the road looking tired. In fact, he looked so weak that he looked sickly. I offered him a ride. He declined the offer and said, "I walked all day and came a long way – five miles. I am sitting here waiting for my spirit to catch up with me." Sunday is for people. It is the day set aside by God to help us recover a sense of what we are. Enjoy it.

A: A HEALTHY DOES NOT NEED A DOCTOR – 2ND WEEK OF JUNE

A HEALTHY PERSON DOES NOT NEED A DOCTOR

Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 33 #5, Matthew 9:9-13

June 9, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

Matthew was a tax collector, and knew that nobody liked him. Not only people hated tax collectors, which we still do today, they also excluded them from community religious observances, because they were seen as an unclean class. But Jesus not only became Matthew”s friend for a dinner, but also made him a disciple. No wonder the righteous people were scandalized.

In many ways, I do understand why tax collectors had such a bad reputation. Palestine was under the Roman occupation at the time. The last Jewish rebellion against Roman Empire was brutally crushed in the first century B.C. To add insult to injury, the administration of tax revenue was given to some selected Jewish persons on a commission basis. In other words, tax collection was privatized. The more money tax collectors collected, the richer they got. The Romans adopted an universal dictum of any conqueror; "Divide and rule." And they were very successful. People hated tax collectors more than the Roman soldiers.

The tax collectors invented many methods to impose taxes. They were a enterprising lot. Many of them made fortunes but became corrupt, took bribes, pounced on the vulnerable people who were often poor and weak. They became not only morally corrupt, but also because of their moral bankruptcy, were branded as religiously unclean. Priests and Pharisees refused to let them participate in community religious events. As a class, they were not only traitors working for the enemy but also became excommunicated, so-to-speak. They became rich but had no friends.

I could understand why the category of tax collectors was synonymous with the one for sinners. But when a whole class of people becomes an unacceptable category, the exceptions to the rule can be victims. What happened to tax collectors who were not necessarily bad people, but who were simply doing an unpleasant job to earn a living? There is some evidence in the Bible to indicate that there were some less corrupt ones who would have loved to redeem themselves and to be accepted by society. Matthew was one of those people. This is why Matthew had no hesitation to follow Jesus, leaving his job and money behind when he was invited to do so. He must have been troubled by what he had to do in his job. Even though Matthew could have been less corrupt than many of his colleagues, it would be impossible to totally exonerate him as an innocent party. Tax collectors as a group were a corrupt class, and Matthew was one of them. He must have had problems of conscience about his job, but did not have courage to quit. We can sympathize with him. It is not easy to quit a job that pays well for any reason. But the encounter with Jesus gave him impetus to get out of a profitable but questionable occupation.

From time to time, we run into a situation where we find ourselves in a bad company but do not have courage to get out. It is a big problem for many of us. But as soon as we acknowledge that we share collective guilt, we are on the way to redemption. Jesus understood the pang of conscience of some tax collectors like Matthew. And when you can feel the pain, Jesus, like a doctor, can help you. But if you don”t feel it, no one can help you. This is why it is so important to admit that there is a problem and to recognize that you are in need of help.

Here was the problem of the righteous people like Pharisees. They did not acknowledge that there was any problem in their lives. They either denied it or did not see it. They were determined to be God fearing and righteous people. In order to achieve their goals, they made for themselves a set of rules and followed them faithfully. Unfortunately, however, in the process of becoming righteous people they forgot to be good people. They forgot to be loving and kind. While they were on the way to be righteous, they became judgmental and lost the core of being Godly, which is being merciful. They became law-abiding but lost their heart. They forgot that laws were instruments of justice and love. Laws that do not achieve justice are empty shells and burden to society. The worst problem, however, for the Pharisees was the fact that many of them did not see any problem in obeying laws faithfully without being compassionate.

Paul described this state of empty piety in his letter to Corinthians, "If I have all knowledge of God”s words, ability to preach wonderful sermons, faith to move mountains, charity to give everything including life itself, but if I don”t have love, I am nothing." What is most important is what is inside of ourselves. If we do not have kindness and mercy in our hearts, any visible signs of righteousness can be an empty shell and even inhuman. We can easily be hypocrites. The tragedy of the righteous Pharisees was that in their eagerness to be acceptable to God, they became legalistic, heartless and judgmental people. Their worst problem, however, was that they did not think there was anything wrong with them. They thought that they were perfectly acceptable to God because they knew that they obeyed the laws to the last iota.

Their ignorance of how they were wanting was the worst illness, worse than that of sins acknowledged and regretted. People who know the pain of guilt have a much better chance of being made whole. If you do not admit that you have a problem, no one can help you. Socrates in the ancient Greece said that the best knowledge was the knowledge of oneself. "Know thyself." , he said. However, he said that the most valuable knowledge is the knowledge of one”s ignorance. When you know that you do not know, you have a whole unknown world open before your eyes. If you think that you know everything you need to know, the world is closed. And you slam the door shut yourself. No one can help you.

This is why Jesus thought that the sinners, who knew that there was something wrong with them, had far better chance of being saved than the righteous people who believed that they needed no help or no lesson to learn. He said, "A healthy person does not need a doctor." The irony of the context was a sick person who did not believe that they were ill had absolutely no chance of getting to the doctor, because they closed the door by themselves. Thank God for occasional pain. Pain itself is not a good thing. Don”t look for it. But it is a signal. Through pain, God tells you that you need to seek help, to change and to grow.

 

 

A: AMAZING GRACE – 3RD WEEK OF JUNE

AMAZING GRACE – BLOOD INTO BLESSING

Genesis 12:1-3, Psalm 33, Luke 8:43-48

June 6, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

The author of the much loved hymn "Amazing Grace", John Newton, had been born blind. Despite his handicap, with sheer determination he became a successful and wealthy businessman. He traded in African slaves. To him, African people were a mere commodity, and cargo to be thrown overboard when the ship was at peril in a storm. Then, "Amazing Grace" burst into his life, and he was given the gift of sight. One day, he looked into the eyes of one of his slave cargo and saw a human being, a child of God. Years later, he wrote "I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see."

If you think that the cure of John Newton”s blindness was a miracle, you are completely missing the point. The real miracle was that he gained spiritual eye-sight. He could now understand that there was a fellow human being in a person who had been a mere commodity. Likewise, the miraculous healing of a woman who had suffered twelve years of haemorrhage was not so much about the cessation of bleeding, but it was about the recovery of her membership in humanity. These days, science can sometimes give sight to the blind and stop a haemorrhage, but it is only the Holy Spirit that makes a human a child of God.

So the woman in the Gospel story was in double jeopardy. She had a physical problem and trouble with the society. She has bled for twelve years. The society made her feel even more rotten by labelling her "unclean" and "untouchable." Doctors did not take her seriously, because she was nobody in the society – she was an untouchable. How can any doctor examine a person without touching? It must have made her feel so frustrated and angry. Ancient societies often had a double standard about blood. They often considered natural flow of blood like a women”s monthly cycle, or natural flow of any kind of body fluid, disgusting and unacceptable, thus unclean. Coming into contact with it was a taboo. A taboo did not necessarily cause medical problems. It was more related to religion. In the meanwhile, men”s experiences of blood have often been related to death. They considered blood related to deaths and heroic acts of sacrifice noble, yet nevertheless life-denying. So they thought that the shedding of blood without an outward sign of wound must have been the indication that below the surface the devil was at work. For men, there was no healthy blood. Blood always had to do with either death or evil.

On the other hand, women have known blood to be life-giving – a sign of God”s blessing. Their regular monthly flow indicates that every month their bodies are prepared to nourish life. But men”s fear of blood made the woman having her period classified as unclean and untouchable. A woman who gave birth was also untouchable because of blood of birthing. She was isolated for a month, or even for years in some cultures until the baby was weaned. The woman had no health problems, but she was a taboo during her period. No one could touch her, and everything she touched was considered to be unclean. So imagine how this haemorrhaging woman in the Gospel was treated. She had bled for twelve years. Her bleeding problem could have been a medical problem. But for religious reasons she had to be made an outcast, unclean and untouchable.

When she sought a cure of her haemorrhage and touched the hem of Jesus” outer garment, she was really looking for wholeness. As a sufferer of recurrent headache, I understand her very well. When migraine persists for a period of time, you begin to feel guilty, because you are not doing anything and wasting the space you occupy. Often this lack of self-confidence becomes more of a problem than what actually ails you. Behind your search for a cure, you are really looking for acceptance. Acceptance makes you feel whole. Wholeness is genuine "healing", which is the same word as "salvation" in the Bible. When you feel healed and wholeness is gained, you are at peace with yourself; then you feel truly healthy. So, she touched Jesus” clothes. Touching was an important feature in many healing miracles of Jesus. By touching the handicapped and the sick, Jesus declared, "They are not untouchable. These people are the children of God, as lovable and precious as you all are." Touch conveyed the message of acceptance and affirmation.

In this case, however, it was the seeker of healing who touched Jesus. There are many stories of people who demanded justice and salvation in the Bible, and this is one of them. The woman in this story knew deep inside that her problem was merely physical and that she committed no offence in the eyes of God. But she did not want to shock people by an act of open defiance. So, she extended her hand to touch as a quiet act of petition, and she felt affirmed, and was healed. Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith made you whole." She was now a beloved and precious daughter. In the Bible, the expression "daughter" always suggests a special loving relationship. She was now a daughter of God. She was healed, she was made whole.

David Lochhead is still on life support, totally paralyzed except his eyes. Marta reported to friends on the internet on May 29, "Today David gave me a beautiful gift. With his eyes he told me that he wanted to communicate something. We took out a board with the alphabet. He dictated, "I love you." You can imagine my reaction! If David loves, he will be OK……We are open to the will of God. Thank you for your support. Marta." Here are a couple of persons, like the woman who had bled for twelve years, healed and made whole by love and grace of God despite a seemingly hopeless situation.

The story of John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace", the story of the woman with the haemorrhage, and Marts”s message about David Lochhead, all touch us that God”s grace is available to each of us, if only we are open to it. By that grace we are healed and restored to our rightful place as daughters and sons in the family of God. Thanks be to God.

B: TO MAKE A DECISION IN A COMPLICATED WORLD – SECOND SUNDAY OF AUGUST

A DIFFICULT CHOICE

2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; PSALM 130; EPHESIANS 4:25

August 13, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

Once I had to fire a person who was a friend of mine. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. She was a creative person in the wrong job. After a thorough review of her performance, the committee recommended that I dismiss her. She has now been in the right job for eight years in the church. She is doing excellent work, and she is most happy. But of course, at the time of her dismissal, she felt I had betrayed her as a friend. To dismiss her was a most difficult decision. At the time, I was not sure at all whether I was doing the right thing or not.

Life would be a lot easier, if everything was clearly marked as right and wrong, good and bad, black and white, big and small. Too many situations fall in grey areas. Often, our only response can be, "It all depends." The choice King David had to make about his rebellious son Absalom was such a difficult one. A good looking and popular son rebelled against him and his kingdom. King David even had to flee for his life on barefoot in the dark of the night. Today”s Psalm was said to have been written by David as he remembered the night when he climbed a mountain in tears to escape his son Absalom, who was after his life. He loved his son, but his son was destroying his kingdom. His most trusted friends were urging King David to crush his son”s rebellion. He prayed, using gut wrenching words, "From the depth of my despair I call to you, Lord. Hear my cry to you, Lord, listen to my call for help!" These are the words of a man who didn”t know what to do.

David didn”t know what to think. He was in despair not because he was facing his own death at the hands of his own son. He was in despair because of the difficult choice he had to make between his son”s life and the welfare of his people. If he had to save his people from massive deaths and destruction, he had to kill his own son. But he could not bare the thought of losing yet another son – he had already lost two sons under wretched circumstances. He despaired because of his love for his son. So he made the wrong decision. He asked his generals to crush the rebellion, but to keep his son alive. The death of Absalom was too difficult a thing to choose. The generals, however, ignored the king”s order, in order to save the kingdom from further turmoil.

However, the story of David and Absalom gets more complicated if you read the whole story from Chapter 13. Before the relationship between Absalom and David came to a tragic climax, there were a series of sordid incidents; incest between siblings, a murder of a brother by another, etc. The whole story of Absalom and David is so juicy that any afternoon TV soap opera looks like an innocent children”s program in comparison. There was so much history between the father and the son that one comes to understand how difficult it must have been for King David to make the right decision.

What then is the point of this story? Why did the writer of the Book of Samuel think that this particular story was worth recording for posterity? What lesson did he want to give us? One of them lessons I see in the story is this: it is telling us that life is so rich that no simple answer can cover all the situations of life. We do ourselves a grave injustice, if we look for a clear cut and simple answer all the time, because life is much more complex. Life is more complicated and wonderful than we can ever imagine. Because God has created such a rich world for us, we need patience to live with ambiguity and to appreciate it. It is love that makes us patient to truly enjoy God”s lavish world.

Once I visited the cleanest country I had ever been to, and met the most honest people I had ever seen. Any trash left on the street was picked up by someone instantly. People were so honest that even a pencil left in a hotel room by accident was delivered to you two days later, after you travelled hundreds of miles. Everything was clearly understood as right or wrong, and everybody knew it. Any offence against this strict code of ethics was dealt with by harsh and instant justice, and often by execution. It was the Communist China in 1978, when it was under its most oppressive regime. I also remember breathing a sign of relief when I got on the plane to leave China.

If we look into the depth of our minds, we don”t really want a clear and instant judgements. We live in a rich and complicated world for that. We need the kind of loving patience that lets us take time to explore many options, and gives us a second chance. We need understanding even when we make a wrong decision. I heard a medical doctor speaking about the biggest problem most physicians were facing today. "The doctor has to make an instant diagnosis and prescribe remedies immediately. But what people really need is your time and the touch of your hand," he said. Then he went on to speak about his own experience as a patient in an emergency room; he was in agony. A friend of his looked in, who was a prominent physician himself. He could have prescribed a remedy right away. It was an easy job. But he didn”t do anything of the kind. He was a friend. So he held the first doctor”s hand, looking very concerned and stayed with him some time. The first doctor said to the interviewer, "I felt a whole lot better by the time he left the room. This experience showed me what was fundamentally wrong with the practice of medicine today."

Jesus was confronted by a crowd who brought a woman accused of adultery. They demanded an instant judgement of her case. Jesus didn”t speak for a long time. He just sat silently in front of the woman and doodled on the ground with a stick. When he finally spoke, he said, "The one who has never committed sin should throw the first stone." Silence followed again. People left one by one leaving Jesus and the accused woman alone. Jesus said, "I will not punish you either. Go. Don”t make the same mistake again." Jesus showed his love for people by not passing judgement quickly. David acted for the love of his son and ignored the welfare of thousands of people, after long hours of despair and indecision. Was he wrong? We don”t know. I believe that this is one of those murky questions on which we would need to spend a long time in prayer in order to find an answer. Let us not be quick to condemn others. God is not quick to judge, but patiently waits for us to turn to him and pray, "From the depth of my despair, I cry to you." God”s patience means that we don”t always need to be right or know the answer immediately. Whatever decisions face us, God will not desert us. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

C: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, NOT WHAT WE DO.

WHAT ARE WHAT WE ARE, NOT SO MUCH WHAT WE DO.

ISAIAH 1, 10-20, PSALM 50, LUKE 12:32-40

AUGUST 9, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

When his close friend and a co-worker Howie Mills died suddenly at the age of fifty-three, the Very Reverend Sang Chul Lee, the former Moderator of the United Church, pointed his finger at heaven said, "This is not right. You are wrong this time." This surprised me, because I had never expected Sang Chul to complain to God. He was a faithful and wise servant of God and impressed me as a person who would be willing to undertake any difficult task for God and for the church.

For me, God was the ultimate authority. I did not believe that one could complain to God. It was a kind of things that a person of no faith would do. But the Prophet Isaiah surprised me in the same way. In the verse 18, God was proposing to people, "Let us argue this out." In the beginning of the chapter, God had been speaking about all the wrong things people were doing. And yet after all that diatribe he suggested, "Let”s sit down and talk about this." He didn”t sound like someone who lays down the law and punishes whoever would not obey him. In this sentence, God is ready to negotiate with you, like a lawyer proposing immunity from prosecution.

Isaiah is reminding us that our relationship with God is a covenant – a contract between partners. The God we believe in, according to the Bible, is the God who respects us and invites us into a covenant with him. This is one important expression of God”s love for us. In a truly loving relationship, one party does not exercise arbitrary power over another. It is a give-and-take. Friendship, marriage, or parenthood can be a true relationship when there is a mutual respect for each other. Our God is the God who became a human being, by giving up his godly power, to live among us, suffered like us, and died like us. He became an equal partner. We are who we are in a relationship to someone, especially to God. That is the basis of our most fundamental identity.

We are ”human beings”, not ”human doings”. We must know what we are simply as "beings" before we do anything. However, many of us, especially men, don”t know who we are except through what we do for living. When we are asked to introduce ourselves, we usually mention our jobs after our names. This is why for many years women, who stayed home to look after children and homes were treated like nobodies, even though they had much heavier work load than many paid jobs. We must know who we are before whatever we do. Knowing who we are is knowing the meaning of life. Doing things without knowing who we are is like driving a car not knowing where we are going.

For many years, parents have expressed their hopes and aspirations for their children in the acts of naming them. Unfortunately, today we do not take the meaning of the names seriously as much as our ancestors used to. Names used to give more profound identifications to persons. Abraham in Hebrew means ”Father of Nation”, for example. Many cultures still maintain that tradition to take seriously the meaning of a child”s name. In Lesotho in Africa where I worked for some years, naming a child is a serious business. The names are always parents” prayers for the children. "Mpho – gift" for a girl and "Thabo – joy" for a boy, expressing the parents” gratitude for the gift of a child. Some children have terrible names like "Moiketsi – manure" and "Tsietsi – trouble". The idea to give such terrible names is to lure an unwanted attention of the devil away from the special child, like a first born. In Hebrew tradition, when one reached adulthood, another name was added to express one”s own hopes and aspirations. That was how Jacob later in his life became Israël meaning "God”s chosen one".

So the names in the Bible were always deeply representative of who people were. One day on a mountain, Moses wanted to know how he could introduce God to people. So he asked God his name. But God answered, "I am what I am". A name was not just an identification mark. It had to describe the whole being. This is why "I am what I am" was the only name God could give at that moment. God was trying to tell Moses that the true knowledge of God would come only through relationship with him. God did not allow a simplistic description of himself "in a nutshell." We enter into a relationship in trust in a covenant, then our knowledge of God grows as we interact with him in our daily life. It should be like that in our relationship with another human being, too.

I believe that one of the serious problems we have today is a crisis of identity. We are not quite sure who we are. If we have nothing to do, we feel worthless – we feel like nobody. When you become unemployed your self-esteem plummets and you feel you are nobody, because what you do for money is often the only way you know who you are. But being busy doing a lot of things does not solve the problem, because you don”t know who you are, therefore you don”t know why you are doing all this. It is time we claim our identities in relationships – as someone”s beloved, not just a series of numbers on a plastic card. Your children know who you are oblivious of what you do for living, because you are their parent first and foremost, and you are loved by them.

Most importantly, we are what we are in relationship with God; we are his beloved. God treats us as his equals as covenant partners, and even invites us to argue issues with him. Let us spend more time thinking about who we are. We already spend too much time worrying about what we do. Too many things to do drive us crazy and often waste our life. But when we know who we are in relationships, we will know what to do without wasting our life away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: A WISE FOOL – THIRD SUNDAY OF AUGUST

TO BE A FOOL IN ORDER TO BE WISE

1 Kings 2 & 3, Psalm 111, 1 Cor 3:18-23

August 20, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

Many family owned businesses fall apart when the founders pass on and the kids take over. The Eaton”s department store chain is a good example. Who would have imagined that the Eaton”s, a Canadian icon, would go bankrupt after Timothy Eaton”s kids took over. The story of King Solomon teaches us about the limitation of a person, who may be very gifted and wise and is successful.

King Solomon was the most successful king of all times, not only in the history of the Hebrew nation but also in the stories of kings everywhere. Under his reign, Israel became a powerful country extending its borders from the present day Israel to Jordan, to Lebanon and to Syria, and even to Egypt. The country became very wealthy. Solomon was successful economically, militarily, politically. He was said to have married hundreds of wives and had an equal numbers of concubines, which was a sign of a successful man in those days. But most importantly, he was known for his wisdom. As you have heard from today”s lesson, when he became a king, he first asked God for wisdom and nothing else. For this, God was very pleased. He was not only a successful king, but he was also a wise king, as the episode in today”s lesson shows.

In fact, many of "Wisdom Literature" in the Bible are said to have been written by King Solomon. They are the Ecclesiastes, the Proverbs, the Song of Songs, and some Psalms. My favourite is from the Ecclesiastes; "For everything, there is a season. A time for every matter under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to love and a time to hate. Etc." Some of them are humorous. For example in Proverbs he says, "If you are wise, you will keep your mouth shut." Or, "To live with someone who talks all the time is worse than living in hell." Some are full of humanity. The Song of Songs is the loveliest of all love songs. The fact that such a love song is in the Bible is an affirmation of human sexuality.

However, what is most interesting is the fact that King Solomon himself ended up very frustrated after all those achievements and successes – he was most sceptical about his achievements. Furthermore, just like Timothy Eaton, he did not succeed in creating an enduring kingdom: in fact his kingdom crumbled immediately after he died, and split up into two countries causing the eventual demise of the Jewish nation. Because he was extremely wise, he was able to realize how limited human enterprises were. The Ecclesiastes, which I believe to be the best writings of King Solomon, is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. In it, he expressed his disappointments in life. In chapter one, he said, "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. – It is useless, useless. Life is useless, all is useless. You spend your life working hard, labouring, and what do you have to show for it? Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same. What”s the use?" Why did such a successful man, like Solomon, end up so disappointed.

A Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy made the same point in a story. There was a man who was given all the land he wanted if he could go around it on foot in a day. So, one day at dawn, he started to run. At one point, of course, he could not go on any more because he was absolutely exhausted. But with determination he staggered on. As the Sun was setting in the West, he was crawling but still trying to grab more land. He did make it back to the place where he started out when the Sun disappeared. But he was completely exhausted, in fact he died a moment after the Sunset. At the end, all the land he acquired for free was a piece of land with a size of 3 by 6 feet, where a hole was dug to bury his body. Now then, the question is: are Tolstoy and Solomon saying that all we do in this life is in vain therefore useless, because we die anyway? Is what we do is so useless that we should do nothing?

Some people believe that. They think that the best way is to get away from the world and spend the rest of your life in meditation. I firmly reject this view. I don”t think that King Solomon was saying that. For one thing, he tried his darnest to be a good king, for people and for the country. And he was a good king and a wise one, too. His country benefitted from his wisdom and achievements. This is why he is fondly remembered even today. But because he tried his best, he got to know that human endeavour alone had limitations. He found that his achievements fell far short of the goal. In fact without God, he found them useless. He felt the need of something more, to make life worthwhile. Solomon in the Ecclesiastes, said at the end, "Remember your creator in the days of your youth.", as though to say, "whatever you do, you do it with God in mind." He also said, "The ultimate way to become wise is to honour God."

Albert Einstein, who was considered to be the best scientist of the 20th Century. He said, "Science without religion is blind and dangerous. Religion without science is crazy." Science is one of the most important human enterprises. And the best scientist we have ever known in the last century believed that human endeavour was dangerous without God. And only lazy people, who don”t believe in science turn their religions into superstitions.

Of course, the first article of faith in the Christian teaching is "God is love." Therefore to honour God is to love. This is why Paul in his letter to the Corinthians said, "You may have to be a fool in the eyes of humans in order to be wise in the eyes of God." He said it because the way of love may seem foolish if you don”t know God. If you don”t believe that ultimately the wisdom of God is love, you will have no choice but to see Jesus Christ as the most foolish person ever lived on the earth. It is because he died for others for love. But for those who believe in the love of God, Christ showed us the true way – indeed the way of wisdom of God. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: FORGIVE US AS WE FORGIVE THEM – FIRST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

FORGIVE US, AS WE FORGIVE THEM

2 Samuel 11 & 12, Psalm 51, Ephesians 4:1-16

August 6, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

One day, a colleague of mine known for her sharp tongue asked me, "Well Tad, what did you do today to justify your existence?" I didn”t know she was teasing me, so I took her question seriously. I could not think of a single achievement that could justify my existence. It was a very humiliating question. Ralph Milton admits that he is one of those men who don”t know how to stop working. He thinks most of his health problems come from the fact that he is a workaholic. He is always overworked and tired, offering his body as a breeding ground for all bacteria and viruses. He feels he has to be working all the time because of guilt. He feels guilty when he is not working. He says; you feel guilty when you have past which has not been dealt with properly, so you don”t feel you are OK as you are. You have to be working all the time to redeem yourself and earn your salvation. But in the Gospel, we believe that we can not earn salvation. We believe that we will be forgiven by the grace of God if we simply admit our guilt. We all suffer from guilt. We have to realize that we can not be absolved from our past by ourselves by working our butts off. We all need forgiveness to go on with life. Today”s story of David and Prophet Nathan teaches us important lessons about forgiveness.

A king orders the death of his brave and loyal soldier in order to go to bed with his wife. That was how King David married Bathsheba. What a disgusting story! David”s behaviour was immoral. Pure and simple. How could he be so horrible? Yet David remained a God”s most favoured king in the Bible. The child from this unholy union grew up to be King Solomon, who was the most successful king in the entire history of Jewish people. What is going on?

We will not understand the point of this story fully until we realize that David”s behaviour was no different from other kings. You don”t have to read the stories of Henry VIII to find out that the kings did the same kind of things, or even worse things, all over the world throughout the ages. Sleeping with the bride of his lackey the night before the wedding day, for example, was an accepted practice for the lord of the land even as late as the nineteenth century. It was called "l droit du seigneur" – the right of the lord.

The point of the story of David and Bathsheba is not to highlight David”s sin. David”s sex life was no better nor worse than other kings. The point of this story is to tell us that everybody sins and even a king is in need of forgiveness like everybody else. It says that nobody, not even the king, can get on with life until one”s guilt is taken cared of. King David was a great king because he admitted his guilt, and not because he was a morally better human being. I am not saying that David did nothing wrong. He was guilty for sure. But I am saying that everybody without exception makes mistakes and has a past history that causes guilt feeling. One must acknowledge that. It is not an easy thing to acknowledge that. But it is a first step towards forgiveness. David was a sinful man like everybody else. But he was more honourable in his honesty than many people. Nobody wants to admit one”s fault. This is why so many of us are busy working too hard or trying hard to have fun to escape from the deep menacing feeling that somehow we are not OK. When someone touches that sensitive spot, you would get angry and hate such a meddler. If you were a king, you would probably kill such a person. Prophet Nathan had a superb skill to tell King David that he did wrong without making him angry. The story of a rich man and a poor man”s sheep Nathan used sounded so much like a day-to-day kind of court case King David would have heard in his court. Nathan had to be careful even though as a prophet he was paid to tell the truth. He could have lost his head. John the Baptist was virtually decapitated, by telling the truth about King Herod”s personal life.

But the most important point of this story is that the king was no different from other people before God, and David was big enough to admit that he needed forgiveness. Everybody makes mistakes and is in need of forgiveness including the king. God does not demand perfection, but accepts those who honestly admit guilt and forgive them. David was a good leader, not because he was pure and blameless, but because he was honest to admit his faults and accepted his guilt. He accepted equality of all people before God in their sinfulness. Greatness of King David was that he acknowledged himself to be just another miserable guilty man in need of God”s mercy. This was how he could get on with his life and move onto do greater things for the nation, trusting in God”s forgiveness and mercy.

In our trip to Japan last month, a woman I knew well told me about her son”s recent divorce. Muriel and I were very sorry to hear that, because we cared about the young couple and a baby girl very much. She said she was devastated in the beginning. She was angry with her son. But she blamed herself more than anybody for bringing him up to be such a man of many faults, who could not make his marriage work. Not being able to see her grand daughter as often as she used to added injury to her anger. But eventually love towards her son and the grand daughter proved to be stronger than pride. Love did not allow her to dwell in a blaming game too long. She loved her son very much and had to forgive and accept him. When she could forgive her son, she felt that she was also forgiven. She felt forgiveness as she forgave her son. When she experienced forgiveness, strangely grudges she used to hold against some people had also disappeared. Experience of forgiveness changed her views of people. "It”s wonderful. The world is a better place to live," she told me.

It is indeed wonderful. We are forgiven people. We are not ashamed nor afraid of our past any more, because God has forgiven us and took care of our past. We can accept ourselves as we are. Christianity is not a religion of perfect people who never do anything wrong. It is a religion for forgiven sinners. A theologian once said, "Good News of Jesus Christ is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find food." Thank be to God.

 

 

 

C: YOU FOOL, YOU WILL DIE TONIGHT! – FIRST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

YOU FOOL! TONIGHT, YOUR LIFE WILL BE TAKEN.

Luke 12:13-21

August 2, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

There was a man absolutely dedicated to fitness. He religiously ran, swam, lifted weights, ate high fibre foods, and avoided cholesterol. He died of a heart attack anyway. When he got to heaven, he was bitter and asked God, "Why?" But God said to him, "I didn”t know you were interested in me. You had never asked ”what for”, whatever you were doing." Jesus spoke about a man with a similar problem in today”s Gospel.

A wealthy farmer had a good year and harvested a big crop. He built a big new barn to store up all his newly acquired fortune. He was very happy. He said to himself, "I made it! I made it! I”m going to have a big party." And God said to him, "You fool! What if I call you home tonight. What can you show for yourself about your life? You have never asked ”what for” you were working so hard."

Both men were doing normal things in their lives. They were good men actually. But their lives were not complete, because they lived without God. They never asked what was the meaning of their hard work. Both stories are telling us that our life is not complete until we have a relationship with God and know the meaning of our life. Without God, all the hard won affluence and physical well being are wasted, because they are good only in this life and useless beyond it. Most people know that. Even though many traditional religions seem to be on the decline, survey after survey show that most of the people believe in God today. Many books on spirituality are selling very well, and teachers of meditation are very popular. In fact, the magazine "The Economist" reports that this last week the book on top of the best seller list both in Britain and North America was the one about spirituality by Richard Carlson, not about ”how to make money”. But most people seem to think that they will be able to fulfil their spiritual needs when the time comes, like filing the income tax return before April 30th. The only problem is that the relationship with God can not be manufactured by working overnight on a piece of paper with a calculator and a pencil. Besides, nobody knows when the deadline is. It may be forty years from now or it may be tonight. When you desperately need to speak to God, you don”t know how to speak to God if you are not used to praying.

Our relationship with God, like any other relationships, grows with frequent interaction. Relationship must be like a familiar road that leads to home. You walk that road so many times that you can get to your door even at night in pitch darkness. In fact, all relationships, be it with your spouse, with your child or with your parent, must be like a familiar passage. If it is not, you don”t know how to find it when you need it. In fact, true love may begin sometimes with excitement or with tender moments, but it can sustain you and last only when it has become an ordinary normal condition like breathing in and breathing out of air.

I have a cousin, who goes to church only when I am preaching at the church accessible to him. By my count, that means he”s been only six times in the last forty years, because we have always lived tens of thousands of miles apart. He came to visit me in Vancouver, and to Lesotho in Africa. Her came to hear me every time I visited Japan; but that”s only a few times. I am glad that he appreciates my sermons so much. But he must realize that my thoughts are about God, and God appears in many different forms. Hearing only my sermons and trying to figure out what God is all about is like trying to comprehend an elephant by hearing only about its tail while completely ignoring all other parts. When you are in close relationship with a person, you know that person in many different moods and forms, morning, day, and night. True knowledge of a person comes only through frequent interaction and a steady relationship. But when it comes, you know and love that person in any form or shape, even in an ugliest of mood and under the most difficult conditions.

God appears in many different forms and ways. The God described by Hosea is God of love. The God of Hosea is so loving that he is almost pathetic, like the love of a husband who goes after an unfaithful wife looking for her even in a brothel. The God of Abraham, on the other hand, is a demanding God. God tested Abraham”s faith to see if Abraham would give up his only son for him. God loves, punishes, demands, teaches, judges, heals and feeds. God is so enormous and appears in so many different ways that he is almost impossible to know. The only way to know him is to live with him daily and to experience him in action. Jesus said, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you don”t know where it comes from and where it goes."

When you ask a very young child, who has just begun to speak, who her parent is, you probably won”t get any factual information like the name and age of the parent. But they know who Mom or Dad is, more surely than any other person does. Their knowledge of the parent is through experience and beyond words. A parent is the person who stays with the child all the time, knows every need, and takes care of the child. Our knowledge of God is like that. When we acknowledge God in action in our daily life, feel grateful every moment and every day, we become accustomed to God”s presence. That”s how we come into relationship with God. In exactly the same way as a child knows his father or mother, we will know God, maybe not completely but abundantly.

 

 

 

A : YOU DON”T GO ANYWHERE, IF YOU PLAY IT SAFE. – SECOND SUN DAY OF AUGUST

LETTING GO OF OUR CRUTCH

MATTHEW 14 : 22 – 33, MARK 6 : 45 – 52

AUGUST 11, 1996, BY TAD MITSUI

Was it Winston Churchill who once said, "All we have to fear is fear itself"? Fear is, in most cases, the fear of the unknown. Once you know what it is that you are afraid of, it often turns out to be a simple thing. This is why it is important to learn to get out of a familiar place and to experience new things. You may find that there is nothing to be afraid of. Because we are often hesitant to let go of familiar things, we are gripped by fear of things that we don”t know too much about and become paralysed. The Gospel writer gave us a lesson about the power of faith in the face of fear by telling the story of Jesus walking on water.

Most of the people who read this story usually pay a lot of attention to a supernatural aspect of the story. "How could Jesus walk on water?" And often a miracle such as this is referred to as proof that Jesus Christ was the son of God. So if I may, I want to digress a little here and deal with the question of miracles.

To me, the question about whether miracles really happened or not is not important. I don”t object if some people see it as a proof that Jesus is the son of God. But to me, it isn”t the proof. Jesus was the saviour and the Lord, because of the way he loved us and not because he performed miracles. Besides miracles are rather common place in ancient literatures. If you read old stories from different cultures, you will know that miracle stories were a literary style many ancient people adopted. Even in the Bible there were many accounts of miracles performed by various people. There are even accounts of a contest between an Egyptian and Moses as to who performed better and more impressive miracles. And there are a few other similar stories in the Old Testament. They wrote those miracle stories to get some points across. They were not all that concerned about the factual details.

In recent years, we began to trust the scientific method and adopted scientific way of seeing things. In doing so, we have developed a rather unfortunate tendency to judge nature of truth scientifically at the expense of other human aspects. And if a story of an event is not a historical fact, we dismiss it as something as not true. That is very unfortunate. By doing so, we become unable to understand many human qualities that are important and real to us. There are many truly human experiences that can be expressed only in metaphors and mythical language. A man praises his wife he has been married to for sixty years, and says "She is as beautiful as the woman I dated sixty years ago." It is very touching. Surely nobody would dismiss such a comment as only silly words from an old man. We understand what he means. But as long as we use only shallow standards of factuality, objectivity, and visibility, we have become disabled human beings. We are no longer able to keep in touch with our deepest feelings and understand those of others. Miracle stories help us to recover one of our most important human faculties. We must recover our ability to communicate in depth about human realities through mythical language.

So let”s not worry about whether you can walk on water or not. That is not the point of the story. The points of today”s Gospel are about fear, letting go, and salvation from fear. Let me make three points:

1. Danger is often about perceptions. If you know what you are dealing with and what you are doing about it, often there is no danger. Wind and waves, especially on a small lake like the Galilee, are not dangerous. They become dangerous when we are afraid of them. The disciples who were left to their own devices, because Jesus wanted to be alone, were feeling left out and became afraid of wind and waves. Even when they saw Jesus approaching them, he became a cause of their fear. They thought it was a ghost.

Ignorance is often a cause of fear. We used to be afraid of many diseases, for example. The most of them are no longer causes of fear because we know what they are now. I noticed that in the remote villages of Africa where people were not exposed to modern western medicine, even a slight headache was a reason for a great concern. They were more sick than they should be, because they did not know what troubled them. In the mean time, they did not make as much fuss as we do about visible external injuries. It was kind of strange for me to notice that so long as they could see blood, they worried less than when they had internal pain. It is a case of fear of unknown.

Death and fear of death is another example. Death is as natural as life itself. But we fear death, because we don”t know what it is and what lies beyond. Knowledge can eliminate some fear. But we can not know everything. This is why faith and trust play a crucial role in allowing us to be free of fear and go forward. The more you trust someone who gives you assurance, the less you fear to go into a new passage of your life. Even death no longer is a cause of crippling fear, if we know what it is and where we will go after that.

2. Help does come when you are gripped with fear and can not cope, just like Jesus who came to the disciples on the lake. But the question is again whether we trust the helper and take the help or let it pass by because of distrust. Help does not fall into your lap when you just sit and do nothing. When the disciples saw Jesus coming to them, they thought that they were seeing a ghost. But when he spoke to them, "Do not be afraid. It is me." They were not afraid any longer. Help does come often in the most unexpected way. Walking on the water may sound incredible. But likewise, many difficult situations are resolved in some unexpected ways. The question is whether we trust the helper or not. That is the most important question. You have to take initiative to seize the opportunity. It does not impose itself on you. Mark”s Gospel tell the same story but has one interesting sentence which is not in Matthew”s account. It says, "Jesus came towards them walking on water. He intended to pass them by." Because fear is the result of your own perception, the resolution to overcome fear must come from your own initiative. You have to take it. Otherwise, the opportunity to go beyond the fear passes you by. God is the help in times of need, but you have to take action to take it.

3. Then you have to let go of some crutches, if you should go forward. Peter tried, and got off the boat managing the first few steps that had seemed impossible. Yes, Peter started to sink after a few steps, because he was not so sure about this "walking on water" business. But the first few steps must be taken. And Peter took them. In order to do that, you have to get off the boat. Remember when you first started on your two wheel bicycle, or went solo driving a car? You have to do it by yourself. No one can do it for you. Yes, the first few days or weeks, you do fall off the bike or scratch the side of the car. But that is the only way to get rid of the fear of the unknown, to learn a few lessons, and to go forward. But first you must learn to let go of things. For ceratin, we fail a few times. But that is natural. This is how God helps us to learn the lessons of life: you can”t walk on water unless you get off the boat. And when you do, you sink into water once or twice. We must learn not to feel too bad about our mistakes.

A man approached a farmer who was sitting on a front porch, and asked, "How”s your wheat coming along?" "Didn”t plant none." was the reply. "Really. Why?" "Afraid it would rain too much", said the farmer.

"Oh! Well, how”s your corn?" "Ain”t got none." "You didn”t plant corn either?" "Nope

B: GOD LIVES IN A BATHROOM? – LAST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

A BEAUTIFUL DWELLING PLACE FOR GOD

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11,22-30,41-43, Psalm 84 644 1 Cor.: 3:10-17

August 27, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

In a book called "Children”s Letters to God", a boy by the name of Jimmy wrote, "Dear God, I went to New York City and saw St. Partick”s Cathedral. You live in a big house. Yours truly, Jimmy." There was another child who thought God lived in the bathroom. A Sunday School teacher asked her why. She said, "Every morning my Dad shouts in front of the bathroom, "My God, are you still there?" Where does God live? It”s a good question, isn”t it? In the church? Is the church a house of God? Today”s story from the Book of Kings answers some of that question.

It is a story of King Solomon who dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem. Now he and his kingdom could undertake an expensive project because he was a very successful king. He expanded his kingdom to into an empire. The people of Israel under his reign stopped fighting among each other and became one unified nation. Solomon”s reputation as a wise king became known throughout the Mediterranean world. Many foreign leaders came to pay respect to King Solomon, thus many profitable trade relations were established. As the result, Solomon”s kingdom became a very wealthy country.

But he did not feel fulfilled. He felt that he had to do something extra special for God. So he built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. Its splendour was comparable to many magnificent ancient Greek and Roman architectures. When it was completed, Solomon enshrined the Box of Covenant with the original stone tablets of the laws of Moses in it. On the day of dedication, he felt he was blessed and humbled. His long prayer shows how proud and humble he felt. It also answers the question about the place where God lives. Let me mention three important points from his prayer.

First thing I noticed was that Solomon did not think that his Temple was big enough for God. He said, "Can you, O God, really live any place on earth? Not even all of heaven is large enough to hold you, so how can this Temple that I have built be large enough?" He built the Temple for the Covenant Box to be enshrined, and for people to pray. "Hear my prayers and the prayers of your people when they face this place and pray." he said. In other words, he believed that anything we humans could build or think of, not even what we perceive as heaven, was not good enough for God to live in. We can not box God into something we can think of. If you think that the church is the only place where God lives, you are wrong.

In other words, a church building is a people”s house. It is a place where God”s words are spoken and where we pray to God in response. This is the second point I want to make in Solomon”s prayer. The church is not the house of God, it is the people”s house of prayer. Jesus said when he chased the merchants out of the Temple, "You have made the house of prayer into the house of thieves." It is the house for people to hear the word of God, as was contained in the Covenant Box, and today as is heard in the reading of the Bible. It is also the house for people to come together and pray together. Anyone can read the Bible and can pray alone at home. But we must also come together to share our experiences of God. We all can hear the word of God by ourselves. But you must come to church to make sure that it was God”s words you heard, not the last night”s pepperoni pizza giving you heart-burn. You can learn by yourself, but it is always better if you have a chance to compare notes and learn with others. If there are sufficient number of people who want to learn together, you can put some money together and hire a teacher who might shed light into a difficult question. Those teachers were called Rabbis, and Ministers in our case. It is the same with the prayer. We all have to have our own private prayer time. But when we pray together, we feel the power of prayer.

Lastly, the Temple was built when the unity of people was achieved. Now that the people of Israel stopped fighting among themselves, they were able to undertake a big project like building an expensive temple. King Solomon was able to summon, without any fear of old feuds erupting all over again, all the leaders of the tribes and the clans of Israel to come together in Jerusalem. It is quite an achievement. Building Solomon”s Temple became possible when the unity of the nation was achieved. Likewise, the real church can exist if there is harmony among people of God. We make a mockery out of our Gospel when the church is divided. We come to church to hear the word and to pray together, not to settle the score.

When the Soviets were ahead of the U.S. in a race to reach the outer space, one Russian Cosmonaut had gone into the space and declared, "I went into heaven and looked around. But I didn”t see God." Obviously, he hadn”t read the Book of Kings. God is too big for the heavens, as King Solomon declared. What we called "Heaven" as in the opening of the Lord"s Prayer "Our Father, who art in Heaven" is a metaphor for something beyond us. Not a place "up there." God is everywhere. He comes to meet us in the church. Solomon believed in God”s presence in the words of the Covenant. As we hear the words of God in the Bible with others in the church, and we respond in prayer in words and in music, we are repeating the same thing that King Solomon saw in the Temple in Jerusalem.

God is everywhere. Most importantly, He lives within each one of us in the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul called our bodies the temple of God. This notion, in fact, is the very basis of our moral ethics. Because our bodies are where God lives, we have to try our best to keep it clean. Inevitably, a house collects dust and falls into disrepair. That”s normal. Don”t be ashamed about it. We clean it up from time to time. Because we are all the temples of God, we must be good to each other, too. When we are kind to each other, we are being kind to God. We are the beautiful dwelling place of God. Let us remember that.

 

 

 

 

C: YOU ARE THE BEST GOD CREATED

YOU ARE THE BEST GOD CREATED

Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 72, Luke 13:10-17

August 23, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

I once wrote to my father asking for money. I was travelling and I ran out of money. I was embarrassed. I began my letter with a line, "Sorry to sound like a spoiled brat, but…" "I – a spoiled brat" is a common expression that Japanese people use when they ask for a favour. When I received a cheque in a mail, there was a note, "I don”t mind giving you money, but don”t say I spoiled you." Inadvertently I implied that my father was the one who made me a spoiled brat. Humility is not always a virtue. You think you are being humble, but you may be humiliating another person by denigrating yourself. For example, don”t say, "I”m just a housewife." or "I am only a farmer." You may be insulting another housewife or a farmer, who is proud of being one. Besides, if you present yourself cheaply, you are insulting God who created you.

Self-deprecation is not really humility. Jeremiah had to be told that. God appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet when he was still a young boy. But Jeremiah was afraid and tried to wiggle out of it. He responded, "How can I be a prophet? I don”t know how to speak. I am only a boy." Many important persons in the Bible made the same kind of responses when they were asked by God to take up God”s work. "I am always slow to speak – I am not eloquent." said Moses. "I come from foul-mouthed people, and I am a man of unclean lips." said Isaiah. But God did not like that kind of false humility. God said to Jeremiah, "Who are you to say that you can not do what I want you to do? I have known you long before you knew yourself. I know you better than you know yourself. I tell you to be a prophet because I know you can be." God did not accept their self-deprecation. All three of them became powerful prophets, because in the end they said "Yes" to God. They said "Yes" to life.

God created humans and looked at the man and the woman, and blessed them. God is happy with us. We must never forget that. We must never think of ourselves as unacceptable or worthless. Most of us are shy when we appear in front of a crowd. We are afraid because we don”t know who are in the crowd and are not sure if they accept us. But if you know that you are accepted as you are, you will not be shy. You are not shy at home, because at home you are accepted as you are. When you feel shy and want to hide, you are trying to protect yourself from embarrassment. When we feel small and good for nothing, let us fight the temptation to hide. We must remember that we are good, because God made us and said that we were good. Let us not hide from life, let us say "Yes" to life.

Unfortunately, we live in the world of competition. This is why humiliating others and making them feel small is the name of the game in the real world. As Christians, we reject the idea that the laws of competition should control the world. We believe in the compassionate world. We believe in the world where the smallest and the weakest are loved and respected as well as any other member of the society. We come to the church and learn how to create a world where everybody, no matter how different he or she is, is equally loved and respected. We believe in creating such a place everywhere, in the family, among friends, and in the neighbourhood.

Competition has its place. It”s fun to compete in a card game, at a curling rink, and in a baseball diamond. Win or lose, it”s all for fun. If competition is the best way to run the business, the rules of competition should be strictly for business. Business must never decide how they are treated. We must firmly reject the idea that only winning in the competitions makes a person important. We are all acceptable and immensely valuable in the eyes of God. When we know this, we will be able to live our life in the best way God has intended us to live without shying away from life”s challenge. The story of the call of Jeremiah is not only for prophets. It is a lesson for all of us.

There was a woman in Nova Scotia, who said "Yes" to life. Maude Lewis had a difficult life. She was born in 1903. She was severely deformed due to birth defect. Her fingers were all curled up, shoulders hunched, and her chin pressed into the chest. She lived all her life in an one room house without running water nor hydro. She eked out a meagre living by painting and by selling pictures on any surface of material she could find. She painted in bright colours dreamlike figures of birds and cows, fields and mountains, and pretty houses and ordinary people, on the pieces of discarded wall paper, cardboard, and wood, etc. Tourists found her paintings and started to swarm Marshalltown where she lived. She did not see much of the fruit of her success, because her miserable husband, Everet, creamed off most of the earnings and hid them from her. When she dies in 1970, she was buried in a pauper”s grave in a child size coffin. But she left behind hundreds of exuberant paintings, which made her an icon of Canadian Folk Art today. Many of them have toured widely across the country and are on permanent display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Maude Lewis lived fully as God intended her to live. She could have complained bitterly about the miserable conditions she was born into. But she didn”t. She said, "Yes" to life and shared with thousands of her visitor the beauty and joy of God”s creation.

God”s call is not only for Prophets. God calls all of us to be whatever we are meant to be. Let us not say, "I am only a…" and shy away from the idea that you can not have a meaningful life to live. Maude Lewis performed her role superbly on God”s stage. We can do that too. So let us say, "yes" to God”s call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: AVOIDING ROAD RAGE – LAST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

AVOIDING ROAD RAGE

Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105 (VU 828 Matthew 16:21-28

VU 213 , 560, 701, 713

August 28, 2005

Imagine yourself in this situation: You are driving on a two-lane crowded highway. You are speeding but just a little, like 5 km per hour. Someone is tailgating you with only a few yards behind. He is nudging you to speed up or to get off the road. You could understand why some people explode in "road rage" and do something stupid, but you won’t do that. The difference between those who get into road rage and commit violent acts and yourself is that your anger is under control. Your anger does not consume you, even in such an annoying situation. Thank God for the gift of self-control. But that does not mean anger as such is bad. Anger is an important passion that leads you to fight evil and injustice. We have to be angry from time to time to do the right thing, provided that you act in a controlled manner.

There are many kinds of emotions and impulses that are important for us. Anger is one. Sexual desire is another. It lets us in an intimate and pleasurable way to express our love for the one you love very much, and sometimes lets us make babies. Appetite is another one. It lets us want food. Without it, our health will fail and eventually we will starve to death. But those strong emotions impulses can also consume us and drive us into destructive behaviors such as senseless violence, sexual crime, and over eating and obesity. Emotions and passions are not bad. But they can be the causes of evil once they take over you and become obsession. When Moses saw a bush burning without being consumed by fire, God was showing him God’s important gifts of passion and our responsibility to use them constructively and responsively.

Let me go back to the beginning of the story. When Moses saw a burning bush in the desert, he was in exile and his self-esteem almost vanished. He grew up in an imperial palace as an adopted son of a princess. He was a prince of the mighty Egyptian Empire, the most powerful nation at the time. He lived with pleasure, privilege, power, and wealth. But one day, he was driven by righteous anger and committed murder. He saw an Egyptian beating up a Jewish slave. Moses got very angry and killed the Egyptian. He tried to hide the crime, but realized that some Jews witnessed his murder. When Moses tried to stop two Jews fighting, they asked, "Who are you to interfere in our business? Are you going to kill us just like you killed the Egyptian?" Moses realized that he had no moral authority among his own people. He had to give up everything, and flee into the desert in shame. He married a local girl and had to lower himself by becoming a homeless nomad – a shepherd. What a come down, just because he could not control anger. Fire consumed the bush.

He spent days absent-mindedly watching sheep munching grass. He sustained himself by eating rats and snakes or whatever he found in the desert. He slept on the sand in rags to shield himself against the chill of the night. He was completely wrapped up in boredom, despair, misery, and self-pity. On one of those dreary days, he saw a bush fire. He went to take a look and noticed that fire was burning but bush stayed the same, not consumed. Very strange indeed. He watched it for a while trying to figure out what was going on. Then he heard the voice calling his name, "Moses, Moses!" He answered, "Hear I am." Then the voice said, "Don’t come any closer. Take your sandals off. This is a holy ground." This was how God revealed himself to Moses. God is passionate without causing harm.

The Bible is filled with wonderful stories like this. They are not just wonderful, but are full of wonders. How do you read the stories that are full of wonders? Those incredible stories give us problems in this day and age of science and technology. Many have left the church having decided that religions are just superstitions, because of these unbelievable stories. For us who remain in the church, the question is how we understand the stories like this, making it possible for us to keep on believing in religion. Many people believe that every word, sentence, and story in the Bible is factually and historically correct. Because God is almighty, everything is possible for him. God is a god of miracle. If you don’t believe it, you don’t believe in the god of the Bible. For those people miracles are the proof of existence of god, they tell you.

I do not to believe in that way. And I suspect that many people in the United Church share the way I believe. But I believe that I am a genuine Christian and a no less believer than those who believe the Bible literally. I am proud of my faith in the way I believe. However, I must make sure that I never condemn the different ways other people believe. If it is important for them to believe in that way, I respect it, so long as they do not condemn my way.

I believe that many wonderful stories in the Bible are exactly that – stories. They might have happened in the way that are written in the Bible, or may not have. But I doesn’t bother me if they are just stories either. It is not important for me to know if it happened the way they are written in the Bible or they are made up stories to make a point. Jesus told many made up stories to make his point. That doesn’t make those parables, like "Good Samaritan", any less important. It is making an extremely important point. What makes them sacred and central for my belief is what those stories mean. You have to realize that ancient people did not have language to express concepts. So, they wrote wonderful stories to express their sense of sacred. That does not diminish the importance of what they are trying to say to us. They are stories to tell us truths. They are called myths.

Unfortunately nowadays, there is a tendency to dismiss myth as untruth. I think it’s wrong to call it "untruth." We must recover the importance of myth as a way to convey truth. One of the world’s greatest scholar of English language Northrop Frye once said, "Myth is an expression of the most profound reality." Some truths are beyond words. The deeper the truth, the less there are word to describe it. How do you convey your sympathy to someone who just lost a child. Words are never enough to express deepest emotions. So we tell stories and show our emotions in our actions. That does not mean the stories you tell are lies and are not important. They could be more important and true than just saying mere words and listing some facts.

A little girl said to her mother, "Mommy, I love you. I love you so much," by describing the size of her love with hands like we describe the size of the fish we caught. The distance between two hands became wider and wider, because mere distance between two hands just didn’t describe enormity of little girl’s love of mother. So in the end she just hugged mother. The little girl loved Mom so much that she threw the whole of herself into Mom’s arms. Myths are like that. I think that often words are too shallow to describe truth.

The story of the burning bush, for example, tells more important truth than a mere strange phenomenon. Any magician can easily recreate Moses’ burning bush. Such a magic does not, for me, reveal God. Such a god is too shallow and small for me. But the god who revealed himself in the burning bush to Moses was the one who affirms passion as important gift of God by telling us that it is our duty to exercise responsibility. He was telling Moses, "It is OK to feel anger when one sees cruelty and injustice. But do not be consumed by passion. Use it constructively and patiently." That was a very profound message. When Moses saw the point, he realized that he was standing before the God almighty, who was ready to send Moses off to his enormously important mission. He was to lead a whole nation from slavery to freedom.

From that time on, Moses was a powerful but patient and wise leader of the nation. He never lost the love of people. The passion for his people never diminished. But he was ever so patient, never lost love for people, no matter how many time they betrayed him. Let us learn to be passionate in love, but also to be patient and wise in loving. Let us not waste our precious gift of passion by being consumed by it.

 

 

 

 

 

C: JUDGEMENT AS AN ACT OF LOVE – THIRD SUNDAY OF AUGUST

JUDGEMENT OF LOVE

Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80, Luke 12:54-56

August 15, 2004 by Tad Mitsui

When I was a child, I used to enjoy the summer festival at a Buddhist temple. There was a community dance, a circus, rides of all sorts, a big open-air market and the exhibitions of arts depicting Buddhist legends and stories. There was one room I avoided. It had a huge mural depicting scenes of Hell. It was a horribly vivid painting of many torture scenes. Seeing it first time, I had nightmares that night. So I never went back again. In Europe too, you will see the same kind of gory pictures of Hell among medieval religious art.

We don”t talk much about hell in our church these days. I believe that our idea of hell has changed. Today”s passages in both Isaiah and Luke tell us that God”s judgement is certainly an important part of the message of the Bible. But judgement and hell are not the same. This morning, the suggested Bible passages make us think about judgement in our belief.

First of all, we notice that the Prophet Isaiah began speaking about the judgement of God in a parable and called it the love-song of the beloved. This sounds a little bizarre. Judgement is a love-song? We usually dread God”s judgement. We call it in such terms as "Fire and brimstone, Eternal damnation, or Hell," etc. But we must realize that here the Bible spoke about the judgment as the time of reckoning. And in God’s accounting, the bottom line is justice and mercy, not punishment.

In this sense, we disagree with the ideas of Hell as represented by the old religious arts. We realize that many religious leaders have used the image of Hell as a threat to exercise their power blackmailing ignorant people into submission. Let us not go back to the dark ages where God was a jail guard. We believe in the religion where our God is love. In his love God credits us where credit is due and points out to us the mistakes we may have made. That’s true love.

Unfortunately, some religious people abuse their power with a threat of God’s judgement even today. Their words were full of condemnations, hatred, and punishments and rejections. We remind ourselves that we believe in a merciful and loving God who does not enjoy punishing people.

How, then, can the judgement be described as a love-song? The answer lies in our belief in our loving and trusting relationship with God. It is just like our relationship with our spouses, children, and friends. In such a relationship, it is an important to pause from time to time, to celebrate what we have accomplished together, and correct it where it went wrong. We do that at the dinner table, while we are driving, or in a quiet chat before we fall asleep. Nowadays, we call it a quality time.

The parable in the Isaiah begins with a vineyard owner working hard to create the best conditions for the vines. Likewise, God loves us and takes the best care of us. That is the nature of our relationship with God. On that well prepared soil, we do our part to grow and produce fruits. It is a partnership. God does his part and we do ours. God trusts us.

When a partnership works well, the time to stop and check each other is a time of delight. From time to time, we celebrate our life together big time like harvest time. Anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, even the funerals are the time of celebration of our lives together. They are important time of accounting. The judgement of God is the time for accounting. For those who do their part faithfully, the reward of justice is a source of comfort and joy, and recognition of shortcomings is a gift of an opportunity to learn.

True love demands justice and fairness in accounting. The judgement of God is not a rejection. When we fail, we will bear the consequences. But even then God patiently waits for us to start a new vineyard. He gives us chance to begin afresh. God is ready to forgive us and to bring us back into a new relationship.

Often you hear of parents who defend their criminal child. You may want to call it foolish love. But if I was a criminal, I would be grateful that there was at least one person in the whole wide world who would still love me despite my mistakes. God is like the parent who never ceases to love. God does not ignore our guilt. Instead, he suffers more because of it, like the parent of a criminal does. The judgement of God is not an act of rejection. It is an opportunity to take stock of his relationship with us. Let us look forward to it. And if we fail, let us learn lessons from it. Judgement of God is a love song, not hell.

A : FIRE THAT DOESN”T CONSUME – FIRST SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

FIRE THAT DOES NOT CONSUME

EXODUS 2 & 3, PSALM 104 (#10 MATTHEW 16:21-23

September 1, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

When Moses saw a burning bush in the desert, he was already a broken man. His passionate idealism got him into trouble a few times. He even killed a man. He not only became a wanted man, but also was a man of shattered dreams. So he went into exile, got married and settled down into the boring life of a shepherd. The fire of passion was bad news for Moses. But one day he saw another kind of fire on a mountain in the Sinai desert. There was a fire but it was not burning up the bush. He drew near and tried to see this strange phenomenon. And there he met God. And when he came down from the mountain, Moses was a changed man. He rediscovered his idealism – his passionate commitment for his people, and was more determined to pursue his goal. He was more aware of his shortcomings but was more sure of himself knowing that God was with him.

Thanks to the ingenious acts of defiance committed by some women, Moses, though he was a son of slaves, grew up in a palace as a prince. But evidently his birth mother did not allow him to forget his national identity. Inside of his well groomed and elegantly clothed appearance, there was a fire burning. It was a passion for his people. This passionate nationalism could easily be transformed into a consuming hatred towards those people who enslaved his kinsfolk. But he lived in the palace of the oppressors. What a dilemma.

One day, passion had overtaken him. He killed an Egyptian overseer who was abusing a Hebrew slave. He was going to hide his crime. And he could have got away with it; after all he was a prince. But shortly afterwards in a totally unrelated incident, when he tried to intervene in a fight of two Hebrew men, they loudly challenged him by asking if he had guts to kill them also. He realized then that he had no moral authority. The rumour must have spread. The king heard it, too. Moses became a wanted man. He fled Egypt and went into the hills of Sinai desert. There again, his good intentions got him into trouble. He defended some women against local shepherds. He managed to make himself an enemy of the men of the region. His heart was in the right place, but his acts of passion always got him into trouble. But by the end of this episode, Moses was a matured man with exhausted idealism. He married the daughter of a local priest, one of the women he had defended, and had some kids. He had no more patriotic passion. His zeal for good deeds was spent. He now knew better. He would stay away from this dangerous fire. Fire consumes. He retired into a safe life of tending his father-in-law”s sheep.

Moses had had a comfortable life as a prince in the royal household. But his passion ruined this life style. He learned the lesson well. No more passion, no more adventures. They are silly things that destroy quiet lives. This is where most of us end up. We work hard putting in long hours, raise a family and make money to be comfortable. There is no time left to be idealistic. When he reached this stage, Moses was 80 years old, according to the Bible. Even if that meant 40 years old according to our way of counting years, the point is clear. He became a mature man who stopped doing things out of passion.

But that was not the way it was meant to be for Moses. He was chosen to be the leader who would free his people from slavery. He had a mission in his life. But he did not know that until he saw the fire that did not consume a bush. God told him in a vision of the burning bush that there was fire that empowered. There is a fire that nourishes and sustains. A wick does not burn up so long as there is a constant supply of oil. But first God told Moses to honour the ordinary things of life.

When he saw the fire which was not burning up the bush, God told him to take his shoes off. He was standing on holy ground. In other words, God told Moses that what seemed to be only his boring daily life was in fact a holy place. Moses felt that he had to settle into routine life as a punishment for his immaturity after he failed in his adventures. It was silly on his part to be driven by youthful passions. But he was reminded that where he stood was actually holy ground. Much of our daily life is holy. Like Moses, we also have moments of resignation thinking that reality of our life is pretty boring, nothing to write home about. We may think: "I have no time to be like a Mother Teresa." The media do not help us either. They tell us that there are other lives that are more exciting than ours. We should go places. We should look different. We should earn more money. There are adventures out there, but not here. Then God says, " What you are doing is an important thing. It is holy ground where you are. You have to be brave to be a mother. It takes guts to be a teenager and a church going Christian. Being a farmer is not easy; farming is like a high stake gamble. It is a holy ground where you are. Respect what you are doing. Take your shoes off." No leader can lead by escaping reality. Leadership begins with respect for the ”here and now”. Take your shoes off. This recognition of the importance of the ordinary is a fire that does not consume. Any one who does not recognize the holiness of the ordinary fails in the first test of leadership.

Then God told Moses to go back to where he failed. Of course, Moses did not want to hear that. He made all sorts of excuses. "Why me? I failed in the past. Surely there are better persons to do it." He was too tired to remember his long forgotten passion. "I tried and I failed. Saving my people from slavery is a big job. There must be a better person to do it, out there somewhere, but not here. The fire inside of me got me into trouble, and made me a failure. I paid my dues. No more, please." An interesting thing about this dialogue between God and Moses is that God did not go into the subject of Moses” shortcomings. God was silent about his past failures and weaknesses. The only words the Bible records as God”s response to Moses” excuses was, "Go. I will be with you." It was a promise to accompany him.

We often forget that being human means we are limited. No one is perfect. To make mistakes is human. This is why believing that we can achieve perfection is a disease of mind, because we can not attain it. Only God can be perfect. God does not ask us to be perfect. He does, however, ask us to do our best. Excellence is not perfection. It is doing the best we can do. And God always stays with us. We only have to be aware of his presence. That will enpower and sustain us. When I learned to ride a bicycle, my father held on to the seat of my bike, and ran with me as I pedalled. He kept shouting, "Faster, faster." At one point, I realized the voice behind me was receding and began to sound far away. He was no longer holding on to the bike. I was riding the bike by myself. God tells us to "Go on your own, and give your best." He does not promise that we are perfect and we don”t make mistakes. But he promises that he will be with us always.

All of us were born with a mission. Many of us live a normal life, but some of us live differently. But to characterize some life-style as exciting and others as boring is a misunderstanding of our mission. Even those extraordinary persons who become leaders must know the importance of every person”s purpose in life. Otherwise, their inner fire will burn them up no matter how spectacular their lives seem to be. We know so many ruined lives even though they seem rich and famous. Let us take our shoes off. Where we are is holy ground. This is where God is, who nourishes and sustains us constantly. God is like the unlimited supply of oil. A candle will burn out. But our lamp can go on burning so long as there is oil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: LET”S SUPPOSE WE WERE ROBBERS OR VICTIMS? – SECOND SUNDAY OF JULY

ROBBERS AND VICTIMS

LUKE 10: 25 – 37

Nobody wants to be a victim, neither does one want to think of oneself as a robber. This is why we prefer to speak about the Good Samaritan and not so much about the other characters in the story. But there are many important lessons to be learned about robbers and victims, too. Because we”ve all heard about the good Samaritan, I decided to talk today about being robbers and victims. I must warn you though, it may make you feel a bit uncomfortable. I found it so myself.

About the victim: Unfortunately, everyone is a potential victim. In the story Jesus told, a man was on a way from Jerusalem to Jericho, and encountered an unexpected disaster. He was robbed, wounded, lying on the ground totally helpless. Travelling from point A to point B, that kind of things can happen to any one of us. But we prefer to think that being a victim only happens to other people.

This is because we want to be in control of ourselves all the time. Our culture places high value on being independent and in charge of our lives. We take all sorts of precautions so that we will not be in a helpless position. We are proud to be able to look after ourselves. This is why, when disaster strikes, we feel guilty. We feel that we have fallen into this situation because we were not prepared, were not good enough, or we did something wrong. We say that to the victims, too, saying, "It”s your own fault." Victims are punished instead of the perpetrator being named.

We blame poor people for being lazy. We blame assaulted women for inviting such a fate by being insolent or wearing provocative clothes. One of my past parishioners was once very angry when I visited him in a hospital. He did not want anyone to know that he was seriously ill. He firmly believed that sickness was a result of sinful living. Poor man. He did not want to admit that he was vulnerable. He did not allow others to care for him and love him. He was proud, so being cared for was a shameful state of affairs.

The most serious problem about not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is our reluctance to open ourselves to others. Because we are proud and think that we are in total control of ourselves, basically we don”t want others to help us. We shut them out. We don”t allow others to love us, or care for us. There is absolutely no shame in being loved. But we somehow feel ashamed – and this is especially true for men – that other people know we are in need of help, and are vulnerable. We must know the limit of our abilities. There comes a time in everyone”s life to realize that receiving a loved one”s care is normal. Let”s admit that we are sometimes helpless, and that there is no shame in that.

Because we are proud, we have a tendency to prefer taking what we need rather than waiting for others to give it to us. We live in a culture which admires aggressive people rather than patient people. I think this is why violence in entertainment is popular. You see, we have the seed of a potential robber in all of us. If we don”t have something, we take it. The only way to keep the robber in us in check is to nurture humility. Humility reminds us that we are not the almighty. There are things that we can not do. We need to wait from time to time for others to come to our rescue. And we have to be ready to accept that. That is called humility. Otherwise, how can we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sin? We are totally vulnerable before the cross of Jesus. That is the basis of our Christian faith.

There is another interesting twist in this story. It is called opting out. It was the option chosen by the priest and the Levite. It can also be called lack of commitment, making excuses, or cowardice. You say, "Sorry, no time, I have a dentist”s appointment." You know how it goes. You may even have done it. I remember doing it from time to time myself.

The priest and Levite were professional do-gooders. It was their job to act as God”s agents. But they had excuses, probably good ones. There must have been an important worship service, where hundreds were waiting for the priest to arrive. You can”t let down the hundreds on account of mere one wounded man. There could have been an important congregational meeting in which the Levite had to chair. You can not run an efficient organization with sentimentality. We know. Don”t we? So we passed by on the other side of the road, pretending that we did not see the dying man.

The typical moral drawn from those characters of the priest and Levite is that we too easily wait for others to pick up the slack, to do the things which we should do. But wait a minute, didn”t I just say that there are times when we must wait for others to help us? Perhaps it”s a question of balance. The trick is to have the wisdom to know the difference between when to act and when to wait. There is a prayer I love to say from time to time, written by a great American Christian and theologian, Reinhold Niebur. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Of course, there will be times when we have to act with courage, without waiting for others. That is the time for assertive attitudes and action. But there is a world of difference between acting courageously on behalf of others, and acting aggressively on behalf of ourselves. It is wisdom, coupled with humility, that helps us judge the line between assertiveness in aggression and assertiveness in courage. The exercise of such wisdom is itself an act of courage, and not an excuse. Sometimes such wisdom leads us to wait, to accept the fact that there are some things we cannot do, and to accept the care of others. Sometimes such wisdom motivates us to act. But then the action is based on love for God and love for other people. Love is the measurement for what is important and what is less important. It helps us to discern the difference between waiting and opting out.

Let us hope that we will learn to know God”s standard of love so we know what we can not do and admit it honestly, and what we can do and act on it courageously. The victim, the robber, the Levite, the Priest and the Samaritan all travel within us. Only love can tell us which character”s footsteps most mark our souls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C: WHAT ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE THAN THE GOOD SAMARITAN? – THIRD SUNDAY OF JULY

ROBBERS AND VICTIMS

LUKE 10: 25 – 37

Nobody wants to be a victim, neither does one want to think of oneself as a robber. This is why we prefer to speak about the Good Samaritan and not so much about the other characters in the story. But there are many important lessons to be learned about robbers and victims, too. Because we”ve all heard about the good Samaritan, I decided to talk today about being robbers and victims. I must warn you though, it may make you feel a bit uncomfortable. I found it so myself.

About the victim: Unfortunately, everyone is a potential victim. In the story Jesus told, a man was on a way from Jerusalem to Jericho, and encountered an unexpected disaster. He was robbed, wounded, lying on the ground totally helpless. Travelling from point A to point B, that kind of things can happen to any one of us. But we prefer to think that being a victim only happens to other people.

This is because we want to be in control of ourselves all the time. Our culture places high value on being independent and in charge of our lives. We take all sorts of precautions so that we will not be in a helpless position. We are proud to be able to look after ourselves. This is why, when disaster strikes, we feel guilty. We feel that we have fallen into this situation because we were not prepared, were not good enough, or we did something wrong. We say that to the victims, too, saying, "It”s your own fault." Victims are punished instead of the perpetrator being named.

We blame poor people for being lazy. We blame assaulted women for inviting such a fate by being insolent or wearing provocative clothes. One of my past parishioners was once very angry when I visited him in a hospital. He did not want anyone to know that he was seriously ill. He firmly believed that sickness was a result of sinful living. Poor man. He did not want to admit that he was vulnerable. He did not allow others to care for him and love him. He was proud, so being cared for was a shameful state of affairs.

The most serious problem about not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is our reluctance to open ourselves to others. Because we are proud and think that we are in total control of ourselves, basically we don”t want others to help us. We shut them out. We don”t allow others to love us, or care for us. There is absolutely no shame in being loved. But we somehow feel ashamed – and this is especially true for men – that other people know we are in need of help, and are vulnerable. We must know the limit of our abilities. There comes a time in everyone”s life to realize that receiving a loved one”s care is normal. Let”s admit that we are sometimes helpless, and that there is no shame in that.

Because we are proud, we have a tendency to prefer taking what we need rather than waiting for others to give it to us. We live in a culture which admires aggressive people rather than patient people. I think this is why violence in entertainment is popular. You see, we have the seed of a potential robber in all of us. If we don”t have something, we take it. The only way to keep the robber in us in check is to nurture humility. Humility reminds us that we are not the almighty. There are things that we can not do. We need to wait from time to time for others to come to our rescue. And we have to be ready to accept that. That is called humility. Otherwise, how can we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sin? We are totally vulnerable before the cross of Jesus. That is the basis of our Christian faith.

There is another interesting twist in this story. It is called opting out. It was the option chosen by the priest and the Levite. It can also be called lack of commitment, making excuses, or cowardice. You say, "Sorry, no time, I have a dentist”s appointment." You know how it goes. You may even have done it. I remember doing it from time to time myself.

The priest and Levite were professional do-gooders. It was their job to act as God”s agents. But they had excuses, probably good ones. There must have been an important worship service, where hundreds were waiting for the priest to arrive. You can”t let down the hundreds on account of mere one wounded man. There could have been an important congregational meeting in which the Levite had to chair. You can not run an efficient organization with sentimentality. We know. Don”t we? So we passed by on the other side of the road, pretending that we did not see the dying man.

The typical moral drawn from those characters of the priest and Levite is that we too easily wait for others to pick up the slack, to do the things which we should do. But wait a minute, didn”t I just say that there are times when we must wait for others to help us? Perhaps it”s a question of balance. The trick is to have the wisdom to know the difference between when to act and when to wait. There is a prayer I love to say from time to time, written by a great American Christian and theologian, Reinhold Niebur. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Of course, there will be times when we have to act with courage, without waiting for others. That is the time for assertive attitudes and action. But there is a world of difference between acting courageously on behalf of others, and acting aggressively on behalf of ourselves. It is wisdom, coupled with humility, that helps us judge the line between assertiveness in aggression and assertiveness in courage. The exercise of such wisdom is itself an act of courage, and not an excuse. Sometimes such wisdom leads us to wait, to accept the fact that there are some things we cannot do, and to accept the care of others. Sometimes such wisdom motivates us to act. But then the action is based on love for God and love for other people. Love is the measurement for what is important and what is less important. It helps us to discern the difference between waiting and opting out.

Let us hope that we will learn to know God”s standard of love so we know what we can not do and admit it honestly, and what we can do and act on it courageously. The victim, the robber, the Levite, the Priest and the Samaritan all travel within us. Only love can tell us which character”s footsteps most mark our souls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: WHERE DOES GOD LIVE? – THIRD SUNDAY OF JULY

WHERE DOES GOD LIVE?

Genesis 28:10-19, Psalm 139, Matthew 13:24-30

July 18, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

One Sunday, a Sunday School teacher asked everybody in her class to write a letter to God. So Jimmy wrote: "Dear God, I went to New York last summer and saw St. Patrick”s Cathedral. You live in a big house." But today”s story about Jacob pretty well destroys Jimmy”s theory about the house of God, doesn”t it? The passage means that St. Patrick”s Cathedral is not necessarily God”s house, neither is any church. Jacob named a place where he slept "Bethel". It means the house of God. It was where, in a dream, he saw a staircase leading to God in the desert. Jacob”s experience of God tells us that God meets with us anywhere even in the depth of despair, and that the house of God can be any place where God meets with us.

When Essau realized that his own brother Jacob had tricked him and stole all he was entitled to inherit, he was so angry that he vowed to kill Jacob. Confronted with such anger, neither his mother Rebecca nor his father Isaac could help Jacob. Both of them urged him to run for his life as fast as he could, to their homeland, ten days walking distance away. He was alone. He had nothing, no food nor water. He had only the clothes he had on. He had to run for his life.

The worst thing about it is that Jacob brought all this to himself and by himself. He had nobody else to blame but himself. When he stole blessing from his father and brother, he was thinking only about himself. He thought he was being clever. But he was too conceited see that his wit could destroy him, if he didn”t take others into account. He didn”t even think about God. Blessing comes from God. Blessing means nothing without faith in God. Isaac was only a conduit for the blessing of God. Jacob behaved as though alone he could control everything. He was wrong. Jacob could not blame anybody but himself.

He ran and ran. The sun in that part of the world can be so strong that it can kill you. By the time he laid down his head on a stone to sleep, it was more accurate to say that he just collapsed and fell into unconsciousness. Then he had a dream. He saw the stairs that landed just beside the place where he was sleeping. He saw angels going up and down. On top of the stairs was God. God spoke to Jacob, "I am the God of your grandparents and your parents. I promised to them that their offsprings will be blessed and prosper. I now promise the same to you. Remember, I am with you now and will be with you always." Jacob woke up in the morning and said to himself, "God has always been with me. And I didn”t know that." He picked up the stone which he was using as a pillow, and set it up like a monument and said, "I call this place Bethel – the house of God, because this is where I realized that God had always been with me."

This Jacob”s experience teaches us that God is with us in the darkest of the dark moments in our lives. Psalm 23rd says, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. For thou art with me." Our fundamental code of beliefs, the "Apostle”s Creed" is even more explicit, "(Jesus) was crucified, dead and buried, descended into hell." God meets us in the most desperate situation, even in hell, to be with us.

Once I had a parishioner who became addicted to gambling. He gambled away his family business and the family home. His wife and children kicked him out. When I saw him in a downtown flop house, he said to me he really missed the church. But he said he had no nerve to go to church in his predicament. He promised that he would change, work hard, pay all gambling debts, and then ask his family to take him back. He promised that he would come to church when he could come with his family. Another story: an unemployed woman said to me, "I have no clothes to wear to church." If you take the teaching of the story of Jacob seriously, both of them were wrong. God meets with you at the worst possible moment of your life. The church is the right place for them to be. On the other hand, if the church gave them an impression that they could not come to church if they were not perfect and respectable enough, there was something fundamentally wrong about the church. The house of God should be the place where God meets with anyone who is in a dire straight. If the church gives the impression that one has to be squeaky clean to be allowed in, God does not live that church. If the church is called the house of God, it should be where the sinners meet God.

If you believe that God is with you in the worst possible moment in your life, you will have a courage to endure. Victor Frankl was a psychologist who survived a Nazi death camp, and wrote a book about his whole experience from a psychologist”s point of view. He noticed that people, who knew the meaning of life because of their strong religious conviction, had much better chance of surviving hardship than those who did not see beyond the here-and-now. God meets with us at the worst possible moment of our life.

We run into difficulties because of our mistakes and weaknesses. Also misfortunes strike all of us for no fault of our own. God does not promise to steer all problems away from us. They come, just like rains fall on the good and the bad without discrimination. But God does promise to be with us always. And that belief gives us courage and strength to endure. Jacob had to go through many difficult experiences in his life. But he lived through it all and survived. He had a courage to go back to his brother to ask for forgiveness. He could have been killed by Essau. But he was strong enough to go through all this, not so much because he was without fault, but because he had met with God at the lowest point in his life, at Bethel – in the house of God in the middle of nowhere, in the wilderness. Remember what Jesus said? "I will be with you to the end of time."

A: I WISH SHE WAS A BOY – REBECCA”S STORY: FIRST SUNDAY OF JULY

REBECCA”S ADVENTURE

Genesis 24, Psalm 46, Matthew 11:25-30

July 4, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

He was in his forties. She was in her teen”s. They were the most unlikely man and woman to get married. He was raised by a protective mother, a good man, but was a type who enjoyed to be alone than to hang around with guys, and easily influenced by other people. He was a kind of man an old fashioned mother would say, "I wish he was a girl." She, on the other hand, was raised by his big brother. She was generous and kind hearted, but independent, physically strong, highly spirited, adventurous, but also cunning and manipulative. She was a kind of woman an old fashioned father would say, "I wish she was a boy." Isaac and Rebecca had not even seen each other before they got married. But he fell in love with her right away when he saw her. This is a story of Rebecca, who became the mother of Jacob who later became known as Israel.

Our God is the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and of Jesus Christ born of Mary. The history of our religious tradition is about the faith of our fathers and mothers, a partnership of men and women. I wanted to remember Rebecca today partly because we have neglected stories of some amazing women in the Bible far too long. Rebecca was beautiful and friendly, but she was not a wallflower. She was generous and kind, but she was also strong in body and spirit, smart and cunning. She played more important role shaping the history of the Hebrew people than Isaac.

Abraham sent an emissary, whose name was Eliezer, to find a wife for Isaac in his home country. The first thing that Eliezer noticed about Rebecca was her generosity. She gave him water when asked, and watered his ten camels as well without being asked. This was no mean act of kindness. The well was deep, often hundreds of feet deep in those hot and dry countries, covered with a heavy stone slab which covered the top of the well to protect it from robbers and elements. To fetch water, they used a jug which was a heavy earthen ware attached to a long cord. It took strong muscles to draw water in those days. This is why the Bible termed the acts of offering water to strangers as extraordinary kindness. Rebecca”s own son Jacob married Rachel who also gave water to Jacob when he was a homeless stranger. Jesus gave high praises to a Samaritan woman who gave him a drink at the well. So when Rebecca gave water not only to Eliezer but also to his ten camels, he was impressed. She was kind to a total stranger. He was so impressed by her that he decided right there and then that this young woman was to be the bride for Isaac.

However, the next chapter of this episode is a surprise. It reveals that Rebecca was not only kind and physically strong, but also was she an adventurous, independent minded, and strong willed woman. When Eliezer proposed a marriage for Rebecca on behalf of Isaac, her mother and brother immediately consented. But they wanted to ask how Rebecca would feel about this. This was very unusual, because, four thousand years ago, women had no say on the matters of their marriages. Marriages were arranged often for business and political reasons and the brides” wishes were beside the point. So the fact that mother and brother felt obliged to ask Rebecca”s opinion showed a considerable degree of respect for Rebecca. It is easy to guess how she had been like growing up. With her intelligence and strong will, she must have earned high esteem from her adult members of the family even when she was very young.

The scene that followed is equally astonishing. Rebecca”s mother and brother wanted 10 days to prepare the young woman for the wedding. But Rebecca said, "Yes, I will marry Isaac, and I want go away right now." as though to say, "My mind”s made up. Why wait." She was quite ready to leave home right away to an unknown country and marry a man whom she never met, demonstrating an adventurous spirit bordering recklessness.

But the Bible does not hide the darker side of humans. It is the book about God, and no human person is described as perfect. Rebecca is not spared from brutal truthfulness of the Bible either. The darker side of her intelligence and determination surfaced as cunning and manipulative in a story for next Sunday. She didn”t hesitate deceiving her aging husband to get what she wanted.

Rebecca reminds me of the mother of a well known Canadian virtuoso pianist, John Kimura Parker. The baby John and his mother Keiko used to come to the Play Group – "Baby Band" as we called it at my pastoral charge in Vancouver. Before Keiko got married with John Sr., they had corresponded for two years. They decided to get married without ever meeting face to face. When the baby John came, she decided that the little John was going to be just like his uncle Ed, who was a famous piano teacher in Vancouver. She went to the University of B.C. to study music, got a music degree and a qualification as a piano teacher by the time the little John was five. So the poor boy had two piano teachers, uncle Ed and Mom at home. Now John Kimura Parker is a number one concert pianist in Canada today, and you can hear him on the CBC Radio often.

At any rate, here is a story of a woman who played an important role in shaping the history of Israel. Rebecca was so far away from the image of a nice woman – "sugar and spice and all that nice." But I believe it is time we appreciated tough women and the roles they play. When I was working for the Canadian Council of Churches, I had an opportunity briefly to work with Mother Teresa. Frankly speaking, I did not enjoy working with her. She was tough, uncompromising, and a skilful manipulater. Of course, that was why she achieved so much. She was tough. I think it is about time we appreciated tough women, just like we admire tough men. Jesus said, we must be like "crafty like a snake, and gentle like a dove." Thank God for Rebecca, who showed us how to be filled with tender love at the same time having a tough mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: MARK OF LEADERSHIP – FIRST SUNDAY OF JULY

THE MARK OF LEADERSHIP

II Samuel 5:1-5, Psalm 48, Mark 6:1-13

July 6, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

On the TV last week many times, we saw the Queen, Prince Charles, and Jiang Zemin – the President of China. They reminded me of today”s passages from II Samuel, the Biblical story was about choosing a king. Of those three, if we must, whom would we choose to be the head of our country? Jiang Zemin, Prince Charles, or Queen Elizabeth? Prince Charles may be a nice guy, but he has to sort out his personal life before he wins my respect. Jiang Zemin? I guess not. I don”t want anyone like him who would send in troops to the demonstrators, as he did in Tianamein Square. I suppose I will have to settle with the Queen Elizabeth, not because she is brilliant or charismatic, which she is not, but because she is a gracious and faithful servant of God.

In our religious tradition, we always have problems with anyone holding power over other people. Basically we believe that only God is above us, and do not accept unconditionally any human being exercising power over us. This is why in our faith tradition we have never accepted the notion of an absolute monarchy. Chinese emperors claimed that they were gods. Roman emperors did the same and claimed that they were perfect. The early Christians never accepted that any human could be a god. This was why they were persecuted and were often killed. We believe also that no human being has the right to claim absolute power, neither do we accept anyone is absolutely right. The idea that no one is above other people is firmly entrenched in our tradition.

Where, then, does the idea come from that a human being can be a king, and can rule other people? According to the Bible, it did not come from God. In fact, the prophet Samuel tells us that when Hebrew people wanted to have a king like other nations, God did not like the idea. But people insisted. They thought that strong leadership, in a form of something like a monarchy, was necessary to win the war. So Samuel chose in his life time two men and anointed them kings. The first one was Saul. Then was David.

We notice two important points in this process. First, only God has the absolute authority, and all other authorities are given to some chosen people in trust. Secondly, people must give a clear mandate to those chosen ones. In other words, human leadership is given conditionally. You see, in Hebrew tradition, before the introduction of a monarchy in their political system, the word "King" was reserved only for God . The Hebrews, throughout their history, always called God by a generic word for "Lord" or "king". Because it was prohibited to misuse the name of God, they dropped the vowels from the proper name of God and have symbolized it with three letters; YHW. Whenever they came to those three letters when reading the scriptures, they always said "adonai" which meant "Lord or King". In time, they forgot how the name of God was pronounced. Christians began to use the words like "Jehovah" and "Yahweh" for God”s name. But those names are purely educated guesses. The truth is that nobody knows for sure what the original proper name of the Hebrew God was. I am saying all this to show you how strongly the forbearers of our faith believed that there should be nobody above us except God, who alone is the King and the Lord in the true sense of the word.

Consequently, none of the Hebrew kings was an absolute monarch. The Hebrew king was bound by the dual mandate; a mandate from God and a mandate from people. After king Saul died, David did not assume his authority over all tribes of the Hebrew nation automatically. For seven years, he ruled only the Southern part of Palestine called Judea. Seeing how well his kingdom was run, people in the North, which was known as Israel, came to ask David to be their "shepherd". In other words, they wanted their king to be a caregiver just like a shepherd who looked after the sheep. At last, for the first time in many years, squabbling tribes of the Hebrews were united. And his reign lasted for forty years, thirty-three years of which was over the united kingdom.

David was not a perfect man, as we will discover later this month. He made many mistakes. Despite his faults, he never lost a keen sense of his duty to God and to people. He described God the King as a shepherd in Psalm 23rd. The poem was like a motto for him to remind himself of his own duties to the people. The king is like a shepherd. A true leader sees to it that all necessities of the people are provided, stays with his people at the time of darkness, even of death, and leads them with love and justice. You can see the progression of the image of the king from a mighty Lord strong in battles to a merciful and just caregiver – a shepherd. We should also look at our political leaders in the same light, and should challenge them when they fall short. When we see the pathetic scenes our politicians create in Ottawa, I wish that more leaders would take the Psalm 23 seriously to describe their duties.

So that was how David became the model king, the anointed one. The united kingdom of the Hebrews lasted only for two generations of kings; David”s son was the last king. After King Solomon died, the kingdom fell apart, never to regain its unity. So in the tortured history of the Jewish people, the return of a David figure has become the national dream. They have always waited for the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah means in Hebrew the anointed one, the true king chosen by God. The Messiah would covenant with people to bring justice and peace. The Jews are still waiting for the coming of the Messiah. We, Christians, in the meantime, believe that the Messiah came in the person of Jesus. The Messiah has come for all peoples on the earth. This is why the word was translated into Greek, which was the universal language at the time like English is today, and became "Christ", signifying that God has sent the Messiah – the Christ to bring justice and peace to all peoples.

For us, Jesus the Christ is the true King – the Lord. Jesus came to us also as a lamb. We see yet again a progression of the image of leadership. First, God, the only king, was the law maker who knew completely what was right and wrong. Then, the king became the shepherd – a caregiver, who was just and merciful. Lastly, Jesus, the ultimate leader is described in the image of a lamb, the one who rules with sacrificial love. The lamb reminds of the animal which was killed to save the people at the time of escape from Egypt. Jesus, though he was God came to us by humbling himself to be like one of us. He suffered injustice and died on our behalf. This, for us, is the ultimate mark of leadership. Imagine telling that to Chretien and Bouchard?

 

 

A: REBECCA”S SONS: SECOND SUNDAY OF JULY

REBECCA”S SONS

Genesis 25-28, Psalm 119, Matthew 13:1-9

July 11, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

In 1945, the Allied Forces defeated Germany and Japan, and occupied those countries. I was a school boy in Tokyo. I remember the day when we had to cut out certain parts of our text books. We were told that some parts of them were untrue. Especially, we had to blotch out many parts of the history book. Nobody wants to see anyone talking about their ancestors as robbers and swindlers. So the Allied occupation forces wanted to erase all traces of the Japanese military propaganda about the Western countries.

Having gone through a radical alteration of history to make over a image of the past, I find the story of Rebecca and her two sons quite amazing, because it does not hide the shady characters of their own ancestors. Jacob was the first ancestor of a nation. And Essau was the ancestor of the Edomites. But the Bible speaks about Jacob as a fraud and a scam artist, and Essau a moron. Normally, a history book praises the virtues of the forefather like Jacob and his mother like Rebecca, and hide or minimize their dark side. But the Bible, the sacred history of the people of Israel, totally decimates Jacob”s respectability. If a history book makes people feel ashamed of the founder of the nation, it should be banned under the normal circumstances.

And Jacob, what a sleazeball he was! He was the kind of scam artist who rips off senior citizens and skips the town. And his mother was a partner in the crime! Yet, he became the founder of the nation, who changed his name to "Israel", which became the name of the people of a nation. Rebecca was then in her sixties. She loved Jacob. He was gentle, good looking with pale smooth skins, loved cooking, stayed home to look after mother”s sheep, and was clever like Mama Rebecca.

Essau, on the other hand, was everything Jacob was not. He was hairy, a ruddy-faced outdoor”s man. Poppa Isaac loved Essau, because he was a real man”s man Isaac wanted to be. Isaac was, by then, in his eighties. Essau”s idea of good time was to spend days in the wild hunting animals. Most people would prefer Essau to Jacob. He was big, bluff, easy-going, a man without deception. But he had no brain for some of the sophisticated aspects of civilized life like entitlement, inheritance, promises, or tradition. He had no patience to think what”s more important than his stomach. One day, he was desperately hungry. So, he gave away what he was entitled to as the elder son for mere a bowl of stew. What a sucker! A nice guy though. A bit simple like children. A child can not see the long term benefits, so does not wait. But Essau, he was a grown man. He should have known better.

Some people interpret this story of Essau and Jacob as a proof that God favoured the people of Israel over other peoples. They see it as a proof that mind is superior to passion. I don”t agree with this view. God”s judgement was on both Essau and Jacob. Jacob and Rebecca deceived the aging and blind Isaac, and seemed to have snatched the inheritance away from Essau. But what did Jacob gain from his deception? Nothing! In fact, he had to run for his life, away from Essau”s wrath, and had to live in a foreign country in servitude, for fourteen years. If Essau and Jacob gained anything from their experiences, they gained wisdom. They had to live with the consequences of their mistakes and wrong doings, and learned important lessons about God”s way. Both of them received God”s blessing equally in the end.

The Bible is a collection of records of people”s struggles as they tried to live according to the will of God. So the Bible had to be totally honest about people”s strength and weaknesses. If you are looking for perfect people in the Bible, you will be disappointed. Basically, it tells you how imperfect humans are. Instead, you can learn how just and loving God is. As we go on to read other stories in the history of Israel, you will find that the Bible tells you more about disgusting human behaviours. The Bible is full of stories of conflicts and intrigues, murders and rapes, polygamy, adulteries and even incests. In fact, it can easily be banned from the school libraries, if people read the whole Bible seriously. But they don”t. So, it collects dust safely on the book shelf. Those of us who read it, read it selectively. So we don”t run into the stories which raise embarrassing questions. But if we do, we will have hard time explaining some stories of the Bible to children.

I was once challenged by a Communist friend when I was still a student. He denounced the Bible as an unethical book and people in the Bible were disgusting. Of course, I tried very hard to defend the honour of the Bible. But to my embarrassment, he knew the Bible much better than I did. I knew only the parts I learned in the Sunday School and heard in the worship services. I did not know many passages, that described the evil and immoral deeds committed by many familiar Biblical characters. I didn”t realize that the Bible exposed the human conditions so frankly. As I grew older, I found the Bible embarrassingly closer to reality around us.

The Bible tells us how God has interacted with people. It is the book about God. It honestly described people as they were, good and evil. It also tells us how deeply and faithfully God love us, in spite of our repeated failures and unfaithfulness. It is the Holy Bible not because it has many stories of good people, but because it is a book that tells us how wonderful God was with people who had many shortcomings.

This is why we learn so much about God from a story like the stories of Isaac and Rebecca, Essau and Jacob, no matter how they were weak and deceitful. God loved them all so much that he never gave up on them. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to us, who died on the cross for us. Let us see what”s going to happen to Rebecca”s son Jacob, next Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: TEACH US HOW TO PRAY – FOURTH SUNDAY OF JULY

TEACH US TO PRAY

Luke 11: 1 – 4

 

Prayer is like a familiar road you walk everyday. If it is not, it should be. You can walk on it with your eyes closed. You know what”s there. You feel comfortable and safe. It is like a conversation with someone you love. You are so familiar with it and do not notice it”s so precious. Like a glass of water. If conversations with someone you love becomes a chore, maybe there is some problem in your relationship.

Unfortunately, because we clatter our lives with too many things to do, many of us are forgetting how to listen. Consequently, prayer no longer is our daily practice. This is why it is good to know the Lord”s prayer. It is familiar to us and gives us an opening ritual, when we don”t know what words to pray. Rituals are useful to break the ice. You say, "Hello, how are you?" as an opening ritual when you meet someone. If you still don”t know what to talk about, you talk about weather. It is safe, familiar, and offers a way of entering into conversation. Lord”s Prayer is like that.

Prayer is a conversation with God. So it should be easy, like any conversation with someone you know. But it is difficult to start a conversation with someone you are not familiar with. When we are not used to thinking about our relationship with God, we need a ritual we are familiar and comfortable with. So Jesus taught us Lord”s Prayer. It is a good opening ritual to our prayer life.

 

Lord”s Prayer is made up of three parts: the first part is about God, the second about our physical needs, and the last part is about our spiritual needs.

We begin by invoking the name of God to make sure in our mind we are speaking to God. When he taught the disciples how to invoke the name of God, Jesus taught us to address God as "Father". It was an incredibly blasphemous teaching for the time. The Jewish religion does not allow any familiarity with God. God is so holy that nobody should even know the name nor should one depict God in any way. Allowing the disciples to call Jesus "Son of God", and addressing God as "Father" were the very acts of blasphemy which sent Jesus to his death on the cross. So what was he saying, when he taught others to address God as father, despite the objection of the authorities?

Jesus was trying to tell us that "yes, God is holy and almighty. But God is also a loving God", like the God of Hosea, who is like a man pathetically in love with his unfaithful wife and goes after her to a brothel, while others laughed at him. He wanted to tell us that our relationship with God can be of the most intimate kind. This is why he called God father. Jesus must have had a good and loving father in Joseph. If someone does not have a good father, God can be some other loving person like a mother. Didn”t he also use other images like friend, brother, teacher? God can be compared to whoever one feels comfortable and intimate with, and, who can also command respect. I like the way French people address God. They use "tu" just as they would use it for a family member. We should be able to feel comfortable being with God, like being with your father, a mother, a spouse, a good friend. That”s why in the Lord”s Prayer we call God, "Father" even though our language fails from time to time to mean what we want to mean.

We believe also, however, that God is almighty, just and wise. So the best thing that could happen is to make the rule of God reality. Wouldn”t it be wonderful if a loving and merciful figure also has absolute authority and power to rule in our universe? This is why we pray that God”s will be done. And that the world will be his kingdom.

Now about the petition asking for bread : We are not always comfortable when we ask for something we really want or need, because those things are often too intimate. I don”t think many of us can go up to a stranger and ask, "Give me food." When we are intimate with someone who seems to know everything we need, we feel a little more comfortable to ask even for something that may be a little bit too personal. Still we feel a little shy but we can do it if that person is intimate. The god of the Jewish and the Muslim people knows everything before we ask, so they don”t ask. They simply ask that the God”s will be done. Yes, God of Jesus Christ also knows everything we need, but our relation with God is more intimate, he loves us. So we are not shy to ask anything, even though we know we ask not-very-wise things sometime.

We parents know our children”s need, most of the time. But it would be a sad day when our children feel too intimidated to ask for something they want. Our relationship is not only that of supply on demand. Demands and requests form a part of our relationship. They reassure us of our intimate relationship. We can reassure each other of our affection and love, by asking each other for what we really need. It can be another way of saying "I love you." So we say, "Give us our daily food." to reassure ourselves of our intimate relationship with God.

The last two requests in the Lord”s Prayer have to do with our spiritual life: with forgiveness and avoiding evil. And they both have to do with love or lack thereof.

The question of forgiveness here can not be understood unless one speaks about it in the context of a relationship of love. Forgive others? We do that all the time amongst loved ones. Relationships do not work, unless there is forgiveness. Loving people forgive and give each other all the time. Being forgiven and accepted by God, as we accept each other, is our most fundamental spiritual need.

The last request has to do with avoiding evil. There are some people who tell you that there is no evil. They say, "There can be a temporary laspe that makes people to commit evil. But there is no real evil in the world." I, for one, don”t buy that. There may not be evil people by nature. But people can be possessed by evil, and commit horrendous evil acts. Murders, sexual assaults, violence, and acts of callous neglects do happen. We hear about them in the news. And evil, again, has to do with love; it is opposite of love. We find repeatedly teaching of Jesus saying that the fundamental basis of our spiritual life is love. And the opposition to love is the source of evil.

You see, love motivates us to give to others. So opposite of love is to rob others for selfish reasons. In other words, without love you take others as your means to achieve selfish goals. Utter disrespect of other people”s interest is the result of lack of love. That can range from a simple act of omission by ignoring poverty in our society to the extreme case of murders and holocaust.

We want to pray very hard to keep such evil far away from us. And the best way for us to work on it from our side is to keep praying that we be loving always.

A: HOW TO FEED MILLIONS WITH $37 – FIRST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

HOW TO FEED MILLIONS WITH $37

Matthew 14 : 13 – 21

August 4, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

The story of feeding of thousands in the Gospel is a celebration of the spirit of sharing. Where there is willingness to share, many impossible things become possible. The story is not so much a demonstration of the magical power of Jesus. If it should be a demonstration of anybody”s power, it is of the power that all of us possess – the willingness to give up whatever we have because we care for others.

When the feeding of thousands occurred, Jesus was sorrowfully remembering another banquet. It was only a few days before at a banquet at the court of King Herod, where the king beheaded John the Baptist only to please the King”s illicit mistress, his brother”s wife Herodia. John”s relentless condemnation of corruptions in king”s court was a real pain in the neck for many members of the royal family. So the prophet”s life was sacrificed, and John”s head was presented on a silver platter as a birthday present to Herodias. A banquet can be a place of intrigue and machination, greed and other iniquities, no matter how good the food is. Sometimes when a dinner party is intended to serve not very honourable purpose, we may have to say "No" to the invitation.

I remember the time when Archbishop Ted Scott refused to attend a banquet provided by a powerful bishop of another denomination. Archbishop Scott was the President of the Canadian Council of Churches which I was working for at the time. The dinner was a big event of Toronto high society. The list of the invited guests was a "Who”s Who" of Canada. It included cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister, the Premier of the Province, presidents of big corporations, and media stars. It was a boastful show of its bishop”s influence in Toronto society. Ted Scott”s refusal to attend it created a scandal. He was accused of being a spoiled sport, and became a social pariah. The Archbishop did not feel that he could enjoy such an event costing tens of thousands of dollars, in the midst of poverty during the recession.

Jesus”s idea of a dinner was a occasion for caring and loving, a time to enjoy the company of friends and loved ones. It did not have to be rich or plentiful. His idea of a dinner had love as its main course, and food as condiments. I once preached in a remote village in the mountains of Lesotho in Africa. I baptized some 30 babies and conducted communion, because ministers rarely went there. It was a hot scorching summer day. Harvests were poor the year before, and people were so hungry that they could not wait for their crops to ripen; they were eating green unripe crops. Women gave me a few green peaches for lunch, while the congregation feasted on corn on cobs the size of a thumb, and a small cakes of cold cooked corn-meal only the size of a cookie: not much to call dinner. It was a banquet to celebrate the initiation of many babies into the community. We danced and sang afterwards. As I headed home – a couple of hours” horseback ride – I nearly fainted of hunger. My body was spoiled by too much food and was not used to endure an empty stomach so long, as my African friends could. But it was a real joyful banquet. When we can share everything, and can trust the affection and love of your friends and neighbours, we have happiness no royal dinner can provide.

People were eager to hear what Jesus had to say. Thousands followed him all the time. When evening came one day, disciples became concerned about their physical needs. So they asked Jesus to send them home. Do not think that the disciples were callous in trying to avoid responsibility to feed the multitudes. They weren”t. They were exercising common sense. "It”s supper time, Teacher. You stop preaching, and let them go home. You have to think about their physical needs, too." But Jesus knew that they would not go away. Jesus knew that it was not the kind of crowd who would go away merely because they were hungry. After hearing about the cruel death of his cousin John the Baptist, the grief stricken Jesus had wanted to be alone and pray. He took a boat to the lake to escape the crowd. But when he and the disciples arrived on the other side, the crowd was already waiting for him. They did not leave Jesus alone. They were hungry for spiritual nourishment. Spiritually hungry people are caring people. And the caring people can achieve wonders.

When he was asked if it was possible to feed the crowd, the ever sensible Philip responded reminding Jesus gently that there was no such money to feed thousands. "Get real, Teacher!" was his message. There were so many people. Besides, the place was so far away from any town where to buy food. "Send them home, Master. They have to eat, too." But Andrew found a boy who offered what food he had on him. The boy must have overheard the conversation between Jesus and Philip. "Five loaves of bread and two fish." "Poor kid. Nice kid though, he does not know his offer is no help at all." But Jesus sat people down on the grass, so the story goes, blessed the food, and fed everybody until they were satisfied. There were even left-overs.

There are at least two theories to understand this story. One school of thought insists that Jesus performed a miracle multiplying five loaves and two fish ten thousand times, as the Son of God could do things which were impossible for ordinary mortals. But another interpretation is more rational. It speculates that everybody began to offer whatever food there was in their possession. They were touched by the boy”s willingness to share what little he had. But I think that this kind of discussion about what actually happened is missing the whole point of the message of the Bible.

As far as I am concerned, either case is possible. It does not matter. The whole point of the story is to celebrate the community of caring and sharing. Wonderful things happen when people are willing to share no matter how big or small their contributions are. I worked in Geneva, Switzerland during the 80”s coordinating famine relief operations in Africa. It was, as some of you surely remember, the worst famine that ever happened in history. It probably killed over a million people. All the major churches of the world got together and formed a joint program to raise funds and coordinate the relief work. We set a target of $100 million, as much as anything for the shock value of hearing the demand for such a large sum of money. We never thought we could ever reach such a big target. But we hoped that it would shock people into recognizing the seriousness of the tragedy. By the time my contract ended in 1987, the total amount raised surpassed $500 million. It looked like a miracle.

Of course, there were big donors who donated many trucks or ship-loads of grains, including our own United and Presbyterian churches and Canadian government. But what I remember still vividly are the likes of $37 coming from a senior woman living in a nursing home in Beamsville, Ont. and designated it for a helicopter in Mozambique. The most of the donations were those small coins from those who could hardly afford to give those donations. They were often given through the church mission fund. This was also during the time of the last recession when mortgage rates hit 23%. It was a terrible time economically. I gained fresh faith in the goodness of people during those hectic days in Africa. Where people are willing to sacrifice because they care about other people, miracles can still happen.

One could easily think that the Ontario senior was naive in giving her precious $37 out of her pension – she could hardly afford it and $37 would be of almost no help to purchase a helicopter. But she meant well; she was concerned about the starving people in Mozambique. That kind of caring counts, just like five loaves and two fish. Andrew laughed at the boy. But Jesus didn”t. He knew that such love and willingness to give out of concern for others would perform wonders.

On the night before he died on the cross, he broke bread, divided it and gave it to the disciples saying, "Take, eat, this is my body broken for you." I don”t believes that the bread we eat at the communion is a piece of Jesus” flesh. The bread we eat at the Communion comes from someone”s oven or Marche Richelieu. There is no miracle. The miracle is Jesus” ultimate sharing of his life. It does not matter if Jesus miraculously multiplied the five loaves into ten thousand loaves or something else happened. The real meaning of the story of the feeding of thousands is the miracle of caring and sharing.

A: LIFE GIVING DISOBEDIENCE – FOURTH SUNDAY OF AUGUST

LIFE GIVING DISOBEDIENCE

EXODUS 1 & 2

August 25, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

Moses was one of the most important figures not only in Jewish history but also in the whole of human history. He helped the Hebrew people to become a free nation. But also he brought to all of us, for the first time in history, a list of basic moral principles, in the form of Ten Commandments. However, we must not forget the fact that there were six women who helped Moses to come into the world, without whom he would never have been born nor survived as an infant. Four of them were Egyptians and two were Hebrews. But what is most intriguing is the fact that all six of them cheated and disobeyed laws in order to bring Moses into this world. For them, respect for life took precedent over any law written by humans.

The first two women were Egyptian midwives. When the king of Egypt – the Pharaoh, ordered the midwives to quietly kill all Jewish baby boys, they disobeyed him. When it became evident that Jewish babies still continued to increase in number, these women lied. What is most interesting in this part of the story is that the king and his advisers assumed that foreign men were a threat to the country, and thus their boys needed to be killed, while in fact it was their own women who sabotaged the king”s order.

The Hebrew people provided very useful cheap labour to Egypt at the time. They were clever, and worked hard. But they proliferated fast. People usually do in poverty. The Egyptian king was afraid that those Jewish slaves would take over the country. For people with means, cash and equity provide security. But for the poor, it is children who provide security through their free labour. The best family planning method, if we are worried about the population explosion, is to help abolish poverty. As soon as people attain a certain level of income, they choose themselves to have fewer children. So the Egyptians took the wrong tack. They tried to diminish the size of the Jewish population without guaranteeing their security. It did not work. Population control without security never works. This is why teaching birth control methods in poor countries do not work even today. From the perspective of the poor, it does not make sense.

The Egyptian midwives, Shiphrah and Puah respected life. It was their vocation to look after new lives. These women knew that the babies” lives were more important than protection of an empire. Unconsciously they knew that the security of a nation comes from the respect for life. The king was wrong in hoping to protect his country by killing babies. So they had no problem with cheating on the king and lying to him to save babies” lives. The principle they held is still valid today; the best way to solve the problem of over population is to look after people.

Finally the king realized that to trust women to kill children was not a good idea. So he told the soldiers to throw the Hebrew baby boys into the river. Soldiers were trained to obey orders blindly and to kill. But here again, some women cheated the new law. Jochebed gave birth to a baby boy, but hid him from the soldiers” eyes for a while. When the baby”s cry became too loud, it was no longer possible to hide the child. Then another woman came up with a scheme to save the boy”s life. The child”s sister, Miriam, suggested that they built a basket with dry reeds and float the baby among the reeds by the river bank. She thought that someone might find it and adopt the child. It was a risky scheme. But it was better than being found by the soldiers. At least there was a slim chance of survival. The king and the soldiers had made water into an instrument of death. But those two Jewish women turned water into an instrument to save lives.

The British broadcaster, Pauline Webb, once spoke about woman”s ability to perceive some elements men fear as life-giving rather than life-denying. Jochebed and Miriam saw water as life-supporting, while the king and the soldiers made it an instrument of death. For another example, woman”s monthly cycles, said Webb, make women see blood as a symbol of life, as they prove women”s ability to give birth. Men on the other hand see blood as the result of violence and a symbol of death. It must have been his mother Mary who influenced Jesus to see blood as life. He turned his blood into a symbol of life and told the disciples to remember his blood whenever they drank red juice from grapes.

Finally, again two Egyptian women took part in the scheme to save the life of the Hebrew baby boy. The amazing thing is that one of them was a daughter of the king himself. At that moment, she could not see anything wrong in saving the life of a Jewish child, even though it was against her father”s wish. The Bible does not say whether the Princess had initially agreed with the king”s idea of saving her nation by killing foreign babies. She might have, in theory. But even if she had, as soon as she saw a child in flesh, she forgot her father”s order and decided to save him. Her woman servant, took part in the scheme too. For a servant, the risk of being caught and punished for breaking a law must have been much greater than it might have been for a princess.

So Moses became an adopted son of the Egyptian princess and grew up as a prince in the Pharaoh”s court. And the rest is history. But after hearing about those six women who disobeyed the laws to save a life of a baby, we are obliged to deal with the conflict between the laws and the rights to life, lest we go out of here thinking that we can break the laws whenever we like. A fundamental question is: what is the law anyway? Jesus Christ answered it quite simply that the most fundamental law is LOVE. Love God, and love people you encounter, he said. All the other laws will follow when this foundation is recognized. In other words, all the laws, rules and regulations must help us to love. When the laws fail to achieve the goal of love, we must change them.

This is a very important question: when our laws do not protect innocent children and the poor, but protect those who could afford expensive lawyers, there is something very wrong in our legal system. But taking the law into our own hands by carrying guns and throwing bombs is worse. You noticed that those six women who sensed that the king was wrong practised the laws of love by quietly resisting the bad laws in order to respect the life they held in their hands. They did not harm any other people. They obeyed the fundamental law. The only person they put at risk was themselves.

It is ironical that the person who set down in writing the most basic moral rules, namely Moses, was brought into the world by women who disobeyed a king”s laws for the love of life. They gave us a foretaste of what Jesus Christ ultimately taught us. That is to say: the most basic and fundamental law against which all other laws must be judged is love.

 

A: MARY HAS CHOSEN THE BETTER WAY – THIRD SUNDAY OF JULY

MARY HAS CHOSEN THE BETTER WAY

Luke 10: 38 – 42

Mary and Martha owed Jesus a great deal. He saved their brother Lazarus from death. Not only did they owe Jesus their brother”s life, but also they owed him their dignity. According to John”s Gospel, Mary was reportedly a person of ill repute. The Bible does not give the details of her problem. But it is clear that she was not accceptable in a circle of so-called decent people.

John tells us that Mary came uninvited into a large dinner party one day. She was crying. She went straight to the honoured guest – Jesus. She broke a jar of very expensive perfumed ointment and poured it onto Jesus” feet, and wiped them with her hair. People were so shocked that nobody moved to stop her. The disciples were outraged. "How dare she? This is no place for a base woman. Besides what stupidity! Wasting so much money in such an emotional and meaningless act. We could have spent that kind of money in a much better way." But Jesus praised Mary”s action and restored her dignity in the eyes of the public.

Mary must have had a knack of doing things in the wrong way. She did irrational things. She irritated people. Today”s Gospel gives another example. When an important guest comes to your house, there are a thousand things to do. Where was Mary in the midst of all this busy-ness around Jesus” visit? Sitting by the guest without helping Martha in the kitchen. So obviously for Martha, Mary did the wrong thing. "Sitting and talking, monopolizing the guest”s attention, when there are thousand things to do! How dare she?" Mary always did the wrong thing.

 

However, there is an evocative word used to describe Martha”s behaviour that hints that something was amiss. "Martha was distracted by her many tasks." Distracted by chores? Is cleaning the house distraction? Is setting the table distraction? The word used here means not only distraction, but also anxiety or a troubling thing. There are so many things to be done for the guest. And there is so little time. Chores no longer were a joyful labour of love, but a source of anxiety.

At any rate, Jesus” response was a surprise. "Mary chose the better way." Poor Martha! I don”t think, however, that Jesus put down Martha by saying that. I am sure Jesus meant, "I am grateful for what you are doing. But some things can wait. Come, sit down. I want you to hear what I have to say." I think that he was simply pointing out to Martha that there are different ways to look after a guest. On this occasion Mary chose the better one – listening. If you look at your life in perspective, there are tasks that can wait for the sake of one timely thing which is more appropariate at that moment. There is no point being anxious about other things. You can attend to them later.

I think it is especially significant that Mary took the time to listen. Listening is a form of ministry often overlooked in the church. When you sit in the pews and listen to the message of the Bible on Sunday, you call it service. That was what Mary did. She was serving the Lord by listening. Listening is an act of giving oneself. Likewise, we can also serve each other in the community by listening. We are often too busy to listen, because we have too much to do and too many things to say. After saying what we think needs to be said, we run out of time to listen. So we cut out the listening part from our life. I believe that our society is partly in trouble, because we are forgetting the art of listening.

Just think about how little listening we really do at a party for example. One man went through the reception line at a wedding and said to the mother of the bride just for fun, "My mother died yesterday." The bride”s mother responded, her smile undiminished, "How charming, thank you very much." Obviously he was rather unfair to pull such a prank. But it does say something about the way we listen to each other. Unconsciously we think that most of the people say things that are not worth paying too much attention to.

We must realize that listening to others is an important act to show affection and respect. We are always pleased and happy if others listen to us. I don”t think we are as happy, when others talk at us all the time. You see, when someone listens to you even if you are not saying anything interesting, you feel that someone paid attention to you. We are happy when we are listened to, because we are taken seriously. Notice how your young children fight over their turn to talk to you. "No, it”s my turn." When one child at last gets the turn, does he have anything to say? Not necessarily. But that doesn”t matter. If you listen to him, he feels that he is taken seriously. He feels loved. That”s the point. It is quite possible that what your loved one wants is neither food nor fuss, but you. Listening proves that your loved one has the whole of you, not just a piece of you, such as your money, food, or a present, or even the legacy you leave behind. It”s you that they want, the whole of you.

In 1984, during the height of famine in Ethiopia when thousands were dying everyday, the Ethiopian church invited many churches from other countries to see the situation and organize a massive relief operation. I was recruited as Coordinator of Famine relief. One man from a small church from Iceland who attended apologized and said, "We are a small church. We can give some dried fish, but not much money." But the Patriarch of the Ethiopian church said, "But you came. You care. That is most important for us to know. Your presence gives us courage to carry on this daunting task of feeding hundreds of thousands of people."

I visited once a person who had suffered a long and painful process of dying. One day as I went into his room he told me, "Tad, I will die soon." The doctor must have told him. What would you say to him? I had a few ready made words of comfort in my sleeves like any minister should. But I did not have time to say anything. He continued, "I”m darn glad that I can get the hell outa here." It was obvious that he was genuinely glad to get out of pain; he was tired of suffering. So we prayed together thanking God for sparing him from any further indignity. In the end, I didn”t need those words of comfort. All I had to do was to listen. And in the listening, I discovered the most appropriate response to this man”s situation. Letting him express his feelings to me and to God was all that was really neccessary. You see, if you listen, the appropriate action that should follow can be quite an unforeseen surprise.

Jesus had only several days to live when he was visiting Mary and Martha. At the time like that, it was most appropriate labour of love to listen to him. When there is good listening, the action which follows can be most appropriate. And if you don”t listen, your kindness can be quite wasted. In sitting by Jesus, Mary chose the better way to serve him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: JACOB MARRIED TWO WIVES – FOURTH SUNDAY OF JULY

JACOB MARRIED TWO WIVES

Genesis 29, Psalm 103, Romans 8:31-39

July 25, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

When my father and mother fell in love with each other, such romantic love was barely tolerated but was not considered to be socially acceptable. Normally marriages were arranged in Japan. So, Mom and Dad used to see each other in secret. They walked together but separately on both sides of the street. When they got married, they had to appear as though an officially appointed intermediary, usually a position reserved to a highly placed personality in a community, arranged it, in order to make it look socially acceptable.

You must realize that a marriage as the result of romantic love is relatively a new phenomenon. Even in the nineteenth century Europe, marriages were negotiated by the families as a part of business, political, or social arrangements. Romantic love during those days was a favourite subject only in operas and poems but was not a serious matter to be considered among the respectable families. Also you must remember that for many centuries, polygamy was a common practice. It was an insurance to keep the family property within the blood relations at the time when infant mortality was extremely high. More infants died than those who survived. So, it was important to produce many children. Polygamy was openly practiced especially among the upper class people who had a lot to lose if they were childless. Virtual polygamy continued to be practiced, even after the introduction of Christianity. Those, who could afford, took concubines openly without any social stigma even at the turn of this century. When you read the story of Jacob”s marriages to Leah and Rachel, you must understand that it happened nearly four thousand years ago. You have to keep in mind the history of social practice to read it, no matter how distasteful the story may sound today. The Bible does not sugar-coat the truth to suit the opinion of the readers. Despite the ugliness of human behaviour, God”s blessing was never in doubt.

Jacob, Leah, and Rachel were all victims. It all started when Jacob fell in love with Rachel. He asked Laban for Rachel”s hand, but he was a penny-less fugitive. So he agreed to work for Laban without wage for seven years. Meanwhile, the older daughter Leah was getting too old for marriage. So, during the seven years when Jacob was working for him without wage, Laban made a plan to take advantage of Jacob”s weak position. The morning after the wedding night, Jacob discovered that he slept with a wrong woman. He was tricked into marrying Leah. When he went to the father-in-law in anger, Laban sweet-talked Jacob into a deal for him to marry Rachel, by giving seven more years of free labour. What a treachery! On the other hand, you could say "a trickster got tricked, and Jacob deserved it."

Leah was a real victim. She was forced into a relationship with a man who loved someone else. She eventually had nine children with Jacob, but she knew that she was only a sexual object and a child making machine. Can you imagine such a humiliation? The worst was the fact that, though she was completely innocent, she was seen as a part of her father”s malicious deception. Leah must have reminded Jacob constantly of her father”s treachery. Which is why, even though Leah bore him many children, none of them was Jacob”s favourite child. Jacob loved Rachel”s two boys. Life was especially unfair to Leah. But what is most amazing and wonderful about Leah is, though she had to suffer a great deal because Jacob loved her sister, she never hated Rachel nor was jealous of her. Leah loved Rachel until the end.

Leah was a pearl. A mother of pearl does not expel a foreign object like a grain of sand in her body. Rather, she tries to lives with the pain by secreting liquid, rich in calcium carbonate, to coat the source of stress. This is how a beautiful greyish blue pearl is made.

It was not a happy-end for Rachel either. In fact, Jacob”s love brought to Rachel nothing but grief. Because her father, Laban, promised her to Jacob, she had to wait for fourteen years for her turn to be married. The Bible does not mention how Rachel felt about the whole deal. In those days, a woman”s feeling about her future spouse was almost completely beside the point. Because of the deal, Rachel was not eligible for other marriage options. She had to wait far too long, when an average life expectancy was less than forty years. That”s a big chunk of time out of her life. So, of course, when she got married to Jacob at last, it was not easy for her to have children. In fact, she died giving birth to her second child.

Jacob, Leah, and Rachel were all victims, just because Jacob fell in love with Rachel. What do you make of a story like that. You might say that the Bible tells it as it was, and there is no moral of the story. Certainly there is nobody who can be anybody”s role model. Until some time ago, some people who believed in the subservient status of women touted Leah as the model of woman”s obedience. This is a dangerous interpretation and I don”t agree with it. It may be possible to draw a lesson about the futility of treachery. You may be able to say that deception never pays. But it is a weak argument, because some people like Laban gets away with it.

I believe that the message of the passage is in the contrast between God”s love and the reality of human nature. God works among us despite dirt and muck of human conditions. God never gives up on us, and fulfils his promise of blessing. He turns suffering into joy as he endures it, and a cesspool of wickedness into a fountain of holiness. Like the mother of pearl, God does not spit us out because of our iniquity. He keeps us within, enduring endless pain. Leah and Rachel were victims of human treachery. But God made them pearls for us to remember.

B: STAGES OF LOVE – EASTER 6

STAGES OF LOVE

Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98 26 John 15:9-17

May 4, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

When I saw the Gospel for today, I asked myself, "How many times can I preach on love." The disciple John, the writer of today”s Gospel, lived to be a very old man in Ephesus. He became so old that he had to be carried into the church every Sunday, and had no more strength to give new or long sermons. He repeatedly recited one line, "Little children, love one another." John”s disciples became tired of hearing the same old simple one sentence sermon. They wanted to know if he had nothing else to say, and wondered if he should retire. They asked, "Master, why do you always say this?" John replied, "Because it is the Lord”s command, and if that alone is done, it suffices." I believe that John was right in saying this, though perhaps the poor old man should have retired sooner.

There is no other word that suffer from over use than the word "love". It is like years of inflation which has made our money so cheap. We used to respect the dollar, but we now call them "loonies". Likewise love is so cheap that many people think it is same as sex. This is why some religions prefer to use other words like "charity" in the old Catholic liturgy or "mercy" in the Buddhist teaching. Having said all that, I still insist that we must keep using the word, because love is the most important norm in the Christian faith. After all, we believe that God is love. Love contains the whole universe of truth according to our belief. It should never run out of steam.

For one thing, love has many faces and phases. In fact, I believe that there should be many words to express the whole notion of love. The English language has only one word for it. However, Greek language, for example, has at least three words that have been translated into the English word "love." I want to speak about them today.

The first face of love I want to speak about is self-love. We often short change self-love and give it a bad name. Self-love is not same as selfishness. Jesus said, "Love your neighbour as you love yourself." Without knowing how to love oneself, one never knows how to love anyone at all.

A Sunday School teacher asked the class where God is. One boy answered without hesitation that God lived in the bathroom. He said, "Every morning, my Dad knocks on the door of the bathroom and shouts; My God, are you still there?" Seriously, it would be embarrassing to think about God in the bathroom. In a bathroom you see yourself naked, alone. You see yourself in the most candid form. Most of us don”t want to think about ourselves in a bathroom situation, because we don”t think what we do and how we look in there are socially acceptable. We think it is a bad taste. That is the problem. If we can not accept ourselves with pot bellies and excess fat, how can we love another person who may not be agreeable. To love oneself, one must accept reality. Nobody is perfect. To love others, we must also know how to love real persons, not a dream. And love overcomes reality no matter how ugly it is.

There is a word in Greek "Eros" that is the most misused word for love. Originally what the word had little to do with sex. It simply meant attraction to what is beautiful and ideal. It is also a mysterious force that makes you see beauty in any person and makes you forgiving. For parents any child is the most beautiful thing in the world. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. That”s what Eros does.

However, since the word Eros is often used in connection with sex, I should mention something about the relationship between our sexuality and Eros love. Sex in itself is not love as such. It is a mere biological function for procreation. Sexual pleasures are blessings and incentives given by God, so that we want to continue to exists as a species. Sex can happen without love. We must learn from the notion of Eros in our sexual relationship. Then sex can be an important spiritual part of our life. It can be one of the ways to communicate love like a conversation but on a deeper level. The spiritual aspect of sexuality is what distinguishes us from other animals.

Another kind of love is the love between family members and friends. There is a Greek word "Philos", which is frequently used in the Bible. Philos is forgiving. For example, it never occurs to any mother to hate the baby, even after many days of morning sickness, much discomfort, and excruciating birth pain. Also philos love makes you willing to sacrifice yourself for others. Giving becomes as pleasurable as receiving. When you truly love another person, you would want to give the most precious thing in your life – life itself. Jesus” said, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one”s life for friends."

However, trouble is that we tend to take this Jesus” saying too dramatically. Many of us think that Jesus commanded us to die to love others. It is wrong to think that to die is the only way to truly love. You don”t run into a friend who is facing a gun man very often, so that you can throw yourself between them. You don”t need to wait until you see a child drowning, so that you can jump into the rapids. It is that faithful, daily, mundane, unglamorous loving – that is laying down our life for our friend, for your spouse, for your child, and for your neighbour. Woody Allen said, "The essence of love is to show up." It is not very dramatic just to be there everyday. But this is where true love happens. If you don”t know how to love in an everyday kind of way, you would not know how to lay down your life.

Finally, there is God”s love. In the Bible another word "Agapé" is used. Often we think that God”s love which is evident in the life and death of Jesus Christ is unattainable for human beings. I don”t agree with that. I believe we are capable of God”s love. We are created in the image of God. Each one of us has a bit of God in us. If we think deeply about the best of the kinds of love we show daily, we will realize that all of them have bits of God”s love in it. Agapé love is found in a sum total of all the best in human love.

If we are brave enough to look at ourselves honestly and to accept ourselves in a bathroom, we have made a good start in a process of learning to love our neighbours. We may learn to accept other people despite their ugly side, and eventually learn to love even our enemies. Jesus said, "It was said

C: GOD DOES NOT ALWAYS ANSWER OUR PRAYERS – EASTER 6

GOD DOES NOT ALWAYS ANSWER OUR PRAYERS

Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5

May 17, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

When Frank Sinatra died on Thursday, everybody said that he lived like his song, "I did it my way." We all wish, too, God answers our prayers by letting us to do it our way. But you notice that the Apostle Paul, on at least two occasions, did not have his way. God did not answer his prayers, and obliged him to go in God”s way, rather than his own. Today”s lesson from the Acts says, "The Holy Spirit forbid him to speak the Word in Asia." and "A woman (She) prevailed upon us." First sentence implies that he had not thought of ever going to Europe, but rather intended to stay in Asia. The second one says that a woman prevailed upon Paul, and he had to follow her way.

According to the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit prohibited Paul to preach the Gospel in Asia. It takes a bit of detective work to find out what this actually meant. Some of you with sharp eyes may have noticed a change in pronouns in the chapter 16 of the Acts, in verses 8 and 10. After Paul and his company crossed the channel into Europe, the writer switched the pronoun from "they" to "we". It means that the writer of this book joined Paul”s company in Europe. We all know that the writer of the Book of Acts was Luke, and he was a physician. We can assume that the reason why Paul could not continue in Asia had something to do with his health, and a medical doctor had to accompany Paul from that time on. We find many hints in Paul”s letters that he had some serious health problems, although we don”t know the exact nature of these problems. Especially, we don”t know the particular problem that did not allow Paul to continue in Asia. But his ill-health was a clear message from God; "Go to Europe instead."

A persistent health problem is annoying to say the least. How many time did some sickness prevent you from doing things you had wanted to do? It could be very frustrating. This is because we take an adverse situation like illness as a refusal, not as a message that points us in a new direction. We take it negatively and think that God or fate doesn”t allow us to do things we want to do. But we must realize that, from time to time, God speaks to us through an adverse situation, like an accident or sickness. It prevents you to do what you want to do, and directs you in a different direction – in God”s way. We will never find out God”s way if we insist that ours is the best way and the only way. We can only find God”s way when we are ready to make the best out of a bad situation. We may find that the bad situation is a message in disguise. God shows us the best way sometimes by not answering our prayers. We must learn to see the work of the Holy Spirit in disappointing situations and in our failures and mistakes. We must learn to say, "This is not good. But what is God saying in all this?"

Another surprise in today”s reading is the fact that the first European Christian was a woman. Her name was Lydia. It was in her home that the first church in Europe started. Actually, nobody should be surprised that this was the case. There have always been more women than men in the church. Two-third of the worshippers in the church everywhere are women. So it should not come as a surprise that the first person who accepted Jesus Christ in Europe and became a committed Christian was also a woman.

Lydia opened up her whole house as the place of worship. Also she offered her home as lodging for Paul and his company. But apparently those men were reluctant to accept Lydia”s hospitality. The Bible says that Lydia had to "prevail upon" them. Their reluctance is easy to understand, if you consider the accepted code of behaviours between men and women in those days. It could have been easily misunderstood if a group of Jewish religious leaders slept in a single gentile woman”s home. But they stayed in her home for a few days, and that”s how the first European church began.

The church in Philippi in Lydia”s home began to thrive, and eventually became Paul”s most beloved Church. In his letter to the Philippians, which he wrote just before he was executed in Rome, he said, "My brothers and sisters, I love you and long for you. You are my joy and crown." It is fascinating to picture the group of women who originally gathered around Lydia and to realize that a business woman and her employees, grew into a thriving church so generous and loving.

Considering the status of women throughout history, it is surprising that two thousand years ago the first important church in Europe was founded by a group of women. The Bible says that it was the work of the Holy Spirit in spite of Paul”s unsupportive opinion about the place of women in the church. He even wrote in another letter that women should not speak in the church. What happened in Philippi certainly was not within Paul”s scheme of things. But it was obvious that the will of the Spirit of Christ prevailed and some women took charge in the early church.

In fact, Rodney Stark, a sociologist, attributes the rapid growth of the early church to the status of women in the Christian community. In those days in Roman Empire, the status of women was extremely low. For example, the law allowed the killing of baby girls together with deformed children. Consequently, the ratio of men and women in Roman Empire was 14 men to 10 women – 40% more men. Many men could not marry and went to prostitutes. It was only in the Christian church this practice of infanticide was prohibited according to the teaching of Jesus. Women enjoyed more respect in the church than they did in wider society. So, naturally many women were attracted to the church and joined. Eventually, there were more marriages in the church and there was a population explosion among Christians. They practiced the teaching of Christ about the equality of men and women. It was rare in those days. And it brought about a burgeoning Christian community during the early days of the church.

If we honestly believe that God”s way is the best way, we must be ready to accept whatever may come our way, even if it was not what we have expected or wanted. Otherwise, we will never learn from our mistakes nor be able to make the best out of adverse situations. We will miss surprising opportunities that open to us when other doors shut. And we will always blame God for not answering our prayers. The Apostle Paul learned how the Holy Spirit worked when he found that he could not always do it his way. Thank God, some of Paul”s prayers were not answered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: JESUS WENT OUT OF SIGHT – ASCENSION

JESUS WENT UP AND OUT OF SIGHT

– Myth or Truth –

I Peter 4:12-14, Psalm 68 #7, Acts 1:6-14

May 19, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

Last Thursday was Ascension Day, which some European countries and churches celebrate as a holiday. It was the day, according to the words of the Acts of Apostles, when Jesus "was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." While the disciples were gazing up toward heaven, two angels appeared and asked them why were they looking up towards heaven. They said that it was a wrong direction to look for him. This sounds like a similar comment that Mary heard when she was looking for Jesus by the tomb. The Angel asked her, "Why are you looking for the living among the dead?" It was a wrong place to look for the resurrected Jesus. Up toward heaven also is a wrong direction to look for Jesus. Jesus does not live in the sky. He lives among us, as Spirit in each of us.

In early 1960”s, the Soviets were ahead of the Americans in the race toward space. They had sent up a dog, two men and a woman, one at a time of course, into space long before an American astronaut John Glenn became the first American in the space. I remember the comment one of the Russian Cosmonauts made, after he returned back to the earth. He not only made fun of the Americans who had thus far not reached space, but also as an atheist he made fun of religion. He said, "I went up into heaven and looked around, but I did not see God." This comment is so typical of superficial human beings, who are dazzled by scientific achievements, and are no longer capable of seeing ourselves in depth.

Science and technology have given us so much and have made our daily lives much easier and richer than before. But meanwhile, some of us in the process have become poorer by neglecting the emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives. Scientific thought has taught us to value straight forward empirical thinking above all else. Many of us do not appreciate myths any more, and dismiss it as mere fantasy or superstition. Some of us do not distinguish a poetic expression from a description of facts. In this thinking, truth is equated with facts: something we can see and measure. This is why it is difficult to deal with an event like Ascension. It sounds ridiculous as a factual event. Yet, we don”t want to appear to dismiss a Bible story. So we avoid it. We must recover our ability to see truth expressed in mythical and poetic language, not only in numbers and visible matters.

You see, we are likely the only life form who knows that life inevitably ends and dies. This is because we have something more than a mere biological and involuntary survival instinct. We have the premonition of things beyond the visible, which we call a spiritual reality. We can not quite describe it by our limited vocabulary. So we resort to myths and poetry to express our emotions and thoughts about spiritual experiences. It is pointless to analyze them with scientific methods. It is like trying to measure happiness or sadness with a measuring cup or a scale. It is therefore impossible to prove or reject with science what is expressed in a mythical or poetic language. The Bible is full of poetic expressions. A fertile land becomes the land of milk and honey. A love song in the Bible sings about a lover, "You are beautiful, your eyes are like doves. I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys." And our search for God is described as a deer which thirsts for a stream of sparkling clean water. Certain realities of our lives can not be described except in metaphors and stories. This does not mean they are less important than those things that science can prove. We are certainly richer materially than our ancestors of centuries ago, but by losing the ability to express truth in mythical language, we may have become poorer.

So it really does not matter if Jesus did not actually go upward to heaven. Even though we do not stop people believing in the story of something which really happned, that upward movement was not the point. The whole story of Ascension is written in mythical language, because our fathers and mothers in faith simply adopted the only way they knew to describe their spiritual experiences of, and their belief in, Jesus Christ. It does not mean their experience was less real. They saw a very significant transformation of Jesus in the event now known as Ascension. So what does it mean, when Jesus was described to have gone upward and disappeared in clouds? What were the disciples trying to say to us about the particular aspect of their belief in Jesus Christ?

For one thing, it is certain that their message was not the fact that Jesus went upward like a space shuttle blast-off in Cape Canaveral. The comment by a Russian Cosmonaut about not finding God in space is quite inappropriate. Heaven in the Bible is not a place you find in the sky. Besides, what is upward to us is downward in China anyway. An up-and-down definition about heaven does not make any sense at all. I pointed out to you some time ago, that in the Bible, heaven and the Kingdom of God are synonymous. When they spoke about heaven in the Bible, it means a realm of authority. It is the realm of God, where God”s will is the supreme authority. It does not have a notion of geographical place. It can be here, it can be there, it is everywhere where God rules.

Another interesting point is; the clouds took Jesus out of sight of the disciples. Cloud often indicates the presence of God in the Bible. God spoke to Moses out of the cloud, or descended in the cloud, or guided the Israelites in the desert with a pillar of clouds, or from the cloud a voice said "This is my Son, Beloved." etc. In other words, the disciples saw on the day of Ascension that Jesus Christ”s earthly appearance disappeared and joined God”s company.

A discouraged and pathetic band of Jesus” followers were revitalized through their experience of encounters with the living Christ. Now this time, on the day of Ascension they had to be weaned of Jesus” company all together. Jesus now became invisible. He joined God. He has disappeared. There is no point in continuing to look upward. Angels appeared before the disciples and said, "Why are you looking into heaven? He has now joined God. He is gone until he comes back in spirit." You must start living by yourselves. Jesus will join you soon in another way. That was the message.

It is important in our lives to learn to accept changes in the nature of our relationships from time to time, if they should mature. It is unhealthy for a child to cling to the parents like a baby for too long. That is childish. The relationship must mature as a child grows older. Likewise, parents must learn to think of their child as a person gradually growing up to be an independent. You can not hang on to your children as though they are your possessions. There must come a time when parents and children become friends, no longer the possession of either. In the Ascension episode, Jesus disappeared physically. The disciples had to get on with their lives as Apostles, spreading the good news they experienced, on their own. Ascension is about the change in disciples. Disciples, meaning followers, had to become Apostles, the ones who go their own ways with a sense of mission. They had to return to Jerusalem, where Jesus was killed, and enemies still abounded. They had to get out to the people to start speaking about their experiences. They had to get on with their jobs.

And they began to get on with their lives as the witnesses of the great events and started to tell people the stories of Jesus. When they began to do that Jesus joined them in Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, Jesus came back in the form of spirit. That will be celebrated next Sunday.

 

 

 

C: THERE IS NO UGLY CHILD – EASTER 5

THERE IS NO UGLY CHILD

Acts 11:1-10, Psalm 148, John 13:31-35

May 10, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

A tropical fruit called dorian smells like condensed sewage water to us. But those who grew up eating it love it. They say it is the fruit from heaven. Likewise, for a mother, her child is never ugly. These examples prove the point made in today”s lesson from the Book of Acts. "What God has made clean must never be called unclean." But we think that there are too many filthy things in the world. How can we accept what God has made clean but looks disgusting?

We are usually suspicious of anything that looks different from what we are used to. What doesn”t look like anything we know seems to us to be at least strange and unacceptable, and at worst disgusting and unclean, even evil. If you don”t know what they are, it is safe to avoid them. Your instinct tells you, "They look disgusting and dangerous. Don”t go near them. Don”t touch them."

Over the years people devised the ways in which they believed they could make unclean things clean, and can right the wrong. For example, the ancient Jews believed that by cutting away a bit of skin from a penis, a man”s whole body was made clean. In fact, many early Christians also thought that all non-Jews had to be circumcised first before they were baptised. This is because the early Christians were mostly Jews who grew up thinking that all uncircumcised men were unclean. They did not mix with the unclean people nor ate with them. They look at them with disdain. So their status was low in the society. But after the decision by the church not to require circumcision before Baptism, non-Jewish Christians became equal with the Jewish Christians, as well as women in the church. Baptism was performed for both men and women without precondition. By making the Baptism the only requirement to become a Christian, everybody could begin their life in the church on the equal footing regardless of their gender and nationality.

It was a departure not only from the traditional Jewish faith but also from all traditions in the Roman Empire. Many Jewish Christians could not understand how those men perceived to be still unclean could be equal with the already consecrated men. Neither did they understand how women could be equal to men. The subject of circumcision was hotly debated in the Church. In that debate, Peter was severely criticized many times, because he freely mixed with non-Jewish uncircumcised Christians and often ate with them. So by his act, Peter was making a statement to say, "You don”t have to become a Jew to be a Christian." It was a very serious policy change.

Peter believed that he made his decision according to the will of God. In a dream, God told him to eat all sorts of unclean, untouchable animals according to the Law of Moses. So he hesitated initially. But a voice told him, "What God has made clean, you must not call unclean." He took it as the commandment not to discriminate against the peoples from different cultures and traditions. God made it quite clear that the Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ would make everybody an acceptable and equal member of the church, even though they did not follow Jewish customs and traditions.

I noticed also that in Peter”s dream, food was used as a metaphor. This is very meaningful. Food goes into your body. So, eating is one of the most intimate act as sex is. We are understandably most careful and discriminating in eating and sexual acts. This is also wise. Being careless and indiscriminate in the choice of food and of a sexual partner is reckless, stupid, and dangerous. This is why it is very important for parents to tell their infants not to put everything into their mouths.

There is a good reason for being careful in approaching what is unknown and strange. But being careful does not mean you have to avoid them or hate them. If you are too cautious about the different and the strange, you may end up being narrow-minded and miss out on beauty, joy and richness of God”s world. We must find a balance between the love of what is familiar and the appreciation of what is different. How can we live in harmony with different peoples without losing our own belief and traditions? Because this is Mother”s Day, I suggest that we think about parental love as an example of God given faculty that helps us in our search of the fine balance.

It is interesting that we look at the most of the bodily things with disgust. It is less repulsive if they are our own. But it is interesting also that, as persons become closer to each other, as a relationship matures, and as affection grows into genuine love, those bodily things become less disgusting between them. Look at a mother. Nothing that comes out of her child is disgusting as far as she is concerned. Mother”s love tells us that with love and respect for another human being, we can recognize "what God has made clean."

When I was a young student, one year I volunteered to join an International Workcamp to do a reconstruction work in a devastated region on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines after a big earthquake. I had no idea of the atrocity the Japanese military committed against Filipino population during the WW II. Our camp was always surrounded by curious villagers watching a strange group of foreigners from many countries. I made many friends among them, and one of them was an one-eyed young man with a scar on his face. His name was Hector. Many evenings, we had some good time together. It was only after I returned home, another friend wrote to me to tell me about Hector. Hector was tortured when he was a boy by the Japanese military during the occupation, and lost one eye in the process. Apparently, he had been saying the first Japanese who came to his village would taste the medicine he was forced to take. My friend had assumed that was why he was hanging around me. So this friend stuck with me all the time worrying about my safety. He was now writing to tell me that he was very surprised how Hector changed, and how fast he and I managed to become friends. I broke out in cold sweat belatedly. I am grateful that Hector, knowingly or unknowingly, managed to see "What God has made clean" in me, while having fun time together. I wonder if Hector realized that "the Grace of Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit" were working in him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: MOM CROSSES THE FRONTIERS – EASTER 6 (MOTHER”S DAY)

MOM CROSSES THE FRONTIERS

I Peter 3:13-22, Psalm 66 , John 14:15-21

May 12, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

A minister shakes many hands. As I shake hands with you after the service, I have noticed that mothers” grips become stronger – especially first time mothers – as their babies grow bigger and heavier. And their muscles on the arms grow as well. Likewise, all of us grow stronger as we adjust to the added strain of new conditions or different environments. But doing something new which calls upon the development of different muscles can be a painful process. In today”s epistle, Peter spoke about suffering you go through for doing what was right. And he said that we should not be afraid nor be intimidated, because it is a blessing, a good sign – a sure sign that you are spiritually growing.

We keep growing throughout our lives. And there are three aspects of growth we should be aware of. We grow biologically, socially, and spiritually.

All living things grow continually. This is biological growth. All living cells constantly divide and renew themselves. Living things grow until they die. When they stop growing, it is a sign that the process of dying has begun. Every process of growth is a process of change – a process of renewing living cells. And all changes are accompanied with some degree of pain. Some growing pains are slight and some of them are severe. You must remember those sleepless nights you suffered with your babies, when they were teething. The thrust of a growing tooth breaking through layers of membrane, like an grown fetus eager to become an independent baby pushing its way through the birth passage out of the mother”s womb, is a painful process. You must also remember the pain you suffered each time a wisdom tooth emerged. They are all part of growing. They are never so severe that you can not bear the pain. God does not design for us to be in pain we can not bear. So it is the same with strain on a mother”s arms as her baby grows each day. Mom”s body must grow stronger to stay fit to care for the baby.

Just like a physical pain is bound to accompany many kinds of biological growth, we all must go through some degree of emotional stress as we grow socially. When you grew out of Elementary School and move to High School, when you met a boy and got married, or went through any other passages of your life, you likely went through some pains of emotional adjustment. When you move to an unfamiliar community, the stress level doubles until you become adjusted to the new environment. Moving to another country, where they don”t speak the same language, and there is no McDonald”s restaurant, can be one of the most stressful experiences. This is why crossing the frontiers is often used as a metaphor for a test of courage and endurance. But Peter”s message is that we all can successfully endure the test and grow into another phase of our life”s journey.

Not only do we grow biologically and socially, we also must grow spiritually. Peter speaks about the inevitability of pain you have to go through for being good. When you are good, and are rewarded for being good, you are naturally encouraged to continue to be good persons. But life is not always like that. Peter warned us about people who would demand explanations for some of our good deeds, because they don”t understand us or don”t agree with us. People, in other times, may even abuse you and slander you for being good, according to Peter. Do you remember as a teenager the peer pressure to conform to what your friends expected? If you defy the conventions of your peers, even when you are doing the right thing, you get punished for stepping out of bounds. Do you remember that? It is a painful experience. As a mature member of the society, sometimes you feel that you must take an unpopular position, standing alone among your friends. It can be very uncomfortable experience. Unlike emotional adjustment required to fit in socially, spiritual growth is something you often have to do alone with the only support from God. But you grow spiritually when you endure the pain of social ostracism in order to keep your integrity. You must grow into another stage of spiritual equilibrium, even if that means you find yourself temporarily alone, crossing the frontiers into uncharted land.

Being alone in an unknown land sounds very difficult. But fortunately God has given us all gifts of talent – the ability to love as parents do. We all have the capacity to love our children. Some of us may not have our own children but our love of children is instinctive. It is a good start. In fact it is a wonderful start on our spiritual journey, because capacity to love our children enables us to see the inevitable stress in loving as an incentive. Parents by instinct love their children, even if loving them is sometimes difficult and painful. We can use the model of parental love as a starting point for our journey of spiritual growth. One of the gifts of such love is its unconditional nature. We love our children, no matter what others say about them and no matter how unlovable our children are in the eyes of others. All children are beautiful and lovable in the eyes of the parents. We don”t mind being alone in our love of our children. Social ostracism does not interfere with such love. We go on loving our children no matter what society says. We can learn to be good no matter how much abuse we face by imitating the parental love.

Sometimes we hear in news stories of crimes how parents never stop defending their criminal children. You may wonder how they can do it. You may accuse them for failing to properly bring up their children. But you must admit that there is something very touching about their unconditional love. Sometimes, like in the case of David Milgaar”s mother who believed in the innocence of her son, justice in the end found its way and proved his innocence. However we must improve the way we love, so that we love more wisely. Blind love may be a start, but not good enough. Love must grow. When we mature in our love, we will be able to forgive the ones who cause pain in us. The last prayers of Jesus and Stephen before they died are the best examples of the love which reached the level of divine love. Both of them prayed to God that the perpetrators who were causing their painful deaths be forgiven. Were they fools? Maybe. But is this not the reason why Paul said of the crucified Christ, that he was a fool in the eyes of those who sought the wisdom of this world. But to those who are called to be the followers of Christ, Jesus symbolises an ultimate power and wisdom of God. Our world badly needs people with the talent of mature love who don”t mind making fool of themselves by being good, by forgiving and loving. Jesus was like that. Likewise was Stephen. And many mothers are like that.

Let us thank God on this Mother”s day for the gift of capacity to love, which God has endowed us with abundantly. We have an incentive to begin our journey of spiritual growth with joy, because it is a joy to love our children. But we must expand parental love into the wider world. We may encounter some stress on the way. But we can endure it knowing that there is blessing and joy at the end of each stage of our growth. This is how we grow stronger, just like a mothers” hands do in order to lift and hold a growing child. It is all part of our continual growing up.

A: TO RESPECT OTHERS IS TO WORSHIP GOD – EASTER 6

TO RESPECT OTHERS IS TO WORSHIP GOD

Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66, John 14:15-21

May 9, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

A minister was trying desperately to put together a decent sermon on Saturday. Her 3 and 1/2 year old child kept popping into her study and disturbing her. She told him that he must leave her alone so that she could think. "What are you thinking about, Mommy?" he asks. The minister replied, "I am trying to think about God." He looked at her directly in the eye and said, "So, what do you want to know?" I am not quite sure what exactly he meant. If he meant she could find God in him, he was right. I think that you can meet God in another person.

As Jesus was making a farewell speech to his followers in John”s Gospel, he promised that he would never leave them alone. He would ask God to be with them forever as the Advocate or the Holy Spirit. He said, "He abides with you for ever, and he will be in you." God is in all of us. God can be found in other people. To respect another person is the same thing as to worship God. However, Christ did not say we are gods. He said that God was in us. We must respect each other because everyone is with God just like a pregnant woman is with a child. We humans are limited, and unworthy vessels. But God in his amazing grace chose to be with us. We are what we are because God decides to be with us.

Paul had a problem in Athens, because the people of that city believed that they were in complete control of their lives and even the lives of gods. Ancient Greeks were known for their ability to think. They were intellectuals and produced many brilliant philosophers, who even today influence our ways of thinking. They were masters of observation and logical thinking. They were wise enough to realize that humans were limited. So they created gods, as many as they could think of, to fill the gaps which they thought to be beyond human capacity to control or understand. It was a way of giving themselves a sense of control over their universe. They created gods such as Aphrodite – the goddess of love, or Zeus – the god in charge of the heavens and Poseidon – the god in charge of the sea and the underworld. And in the end, after they thought about everything they could think about, they created a category of gods just in case they missed something very important. So they dedicated a monument to an "unknown god." It was a kind of an insurance policy. The Greek thought about all the eventualities. Even the unknown had to be neatly ordered.

So Paul took up the subject of the unknown god, and tried to explain the God of Jesus the Christ. But he was not successful. He was first mocked by them: they said, "What does this babbler want to say?" And when it came to the resurrection of Christ, it sounded so incredible that they just gave up. They went away saying, "Thank you. We will call you if we want to hear more about your god. Don”t call us." So Paul left Athens without planting a church. Paul failed in Athens, because he tried to appeal to their reason. That was the wrong way to preach the Gospel. They were not ready to see God through Jesus Christ. They were only ready to listen to reason. They were so proud of their capacity to think logically that they could see no importance in things that did not make sense.

But we must realize that many of the things which are most important in life do not make logical sense. Most notably love is not logical. Because of love, a mother does some incredible things for her child. If you think that success is the most important thing in life, a mother”s self-sacrifice doesn”t make sense. Without God in us, we will live strictly by self-interest, and love does not make sense. But with God in us, we can perform some incredible deeds for the sake of love. With outrageous love in us, we are able to surmount life”s incomprehensible questions and even tragedies.

Once I was visiting a friend in a village in the mountain region of Southern Africa. One old woman came knocking on the door. She asked me if I could take her daughter to the hospital, because she was having a difficult time giving birth to her baby. I was the only person around with a Land Rover. The young woman was in agony. It was about an hour drive to the hospital. But it was the most scary drive I have ever done in my life. It was not so much because of the twist and turns of mountain roads at night, but because the woman was really in pain; she screamed all the way. The clerk at the admission desk told me to wait to see if I needed to take the mother and the child home. It was dawn when a nurse came out to tell me that "the baby was born tired." And I should take only the baby home, because the mother had to stay in the hospital for a week. She told me all this in Sesotho, the language of the country.

Until a bundle was handed to me all wrapped up tightly with blankets and sheets like a sack of flour, I had not realized that the baby was stillborn. The Basotho people seldom refer to "death" directly in their language. They do it in many ways like "He is very tired". But my Sesotho was not good enough to know exactly what it meant. I drove back and delivered the tiny body. A month or so later, the grieving mother came to thank me. I didn”t know how to deal with a person who was grieving, especially in a language I didn”t know well. But I still remember what she said. " I am still very sad. But I am glad that God honoured me with a visit." Africans are very spiritual people. Whenever I remember an episode like this, I still stand in awe of such faith in God. By comparison, we are by far better off in so many ways than average Africans. But I sometimes wonder if we are as rich as those friends I met in Africa, who had so much respect for life and for each other because of their faith in God who abides with us.

How God can be with us and yet be so much greater than us is beyond our comprehension. We can not define or limit this God”s power to a particular realm in the way that the Greeks did. We must respect this infinite presence in ourselves and in others. Thanks be to God who waits to be discovered within.

 

 

 

 

C: SINGING IN A JAILHOUSE – EASTER 7

SINGING IN A JAILHOUSE

Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, John 17:20-26

May 24, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

A friend of ours, Fran, was an aid worker in Viet Nam during the terrible years of that war. One day when she was having ice cream at a sidewalk café, a beggar woman came by with a baby who had a cleft palate. Fran, being a mother of an infant herself, felt sorry for the mother, and offered to help to repair the deformity surgically. As soon as the interpreter told her that, she took the money and ran away. The interpreter explained to Fran that if the baby became normal looking, it would be more difficult to win sympathy. The end of a career as a beggar. That night, my friend hugged her own infant son, and cried bitterly in frustration. Exploiting other people”s deformity or disability is a terrible thing to do. But some people say that it is a reality of our economic system to always exploit some segments of population.

 

There is nothing more shocking than making profit out of another person”s disability. But that was what the owner of a slave girl was doing in the Book of Acts. The girl was a psychic and a fortune teller. We have psychics today too. They read cards, palms, stars, and tea leaves, and some of them making good money. I happen not to believe in those things. But I have no doubt some people do. I have nothing against those people making a living in that way. But the problem with this girl in the Bible was the fact that she was not free to make her own money with her unique talent. She was only a slave and the owner was making profit. Those people we call ”psychics” were thought to be possessed by the evil spirit, and were treated and abused in the same way as a mentally sick people were in those days. That means the slave owner exploited the girl like a pimp would do to a prostitute. But the fact of the matter is, she probably was not possessed. She likely was a person with an unusual ability to discern the inner quality of people. In the medieval Europe, such women were often accused of being a witch, and were burned at the stake. Anyhow, that”s why she could tell that Paul and Silas were persons of enormous spiritual qualities. So she pointed her finger at Paul and Silas and kept declaring in public, "They will show you the way to salvation."

Those two men were annoyed by her. Why? Probably because they were in an unfamiliar territory and they were not so sure about their standing in that city. They probably preferred to work quietly for the time being. They had been in Europe only a few days. They had managed to attract only a group of a few women so far. This is why Paul and Silas told the girl to keep quiet. She did. We don”t know what happened to her actually. She was no longer ready to be a spectacle and an object of public ridicule. So she fell silent and the slave owner lost his means to make money.

The slave owner was outraged. He appealed to the city magistrate, who also agreed that those Jewish men were disturbing the local economy. The economy based on the slave labour was indeed the foundation of the Roman Empire. Giving human dignity to a slave was an intolerable act of sabotage. As recently as about one hundred years ago, even in the United States of America, they had to fight a serious civil war among themselves resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. Giving freedom to slaves was a grave threat to the economy of the Southern States. But it does not have to be slavery. The exploitation of child labour in sweat shops in Asia and South America, of women in prostitution and pornography everywhere are forms of slavery, too. You will be shocked to learn that the size of economy based on pornography is bigger today than the regular Hollywood movie industry, according to the Economist.

As far as the Roman authorities of the city of Philippi were concerned, Paul and Silas committed a serious economic crime by giving back human dignity to a slave. So the magistrate found them guilty without trial, ordered them to be stripped of their clothes, whipped severely in public, and to be taken to prison. The magistrate did not know that they were Roman citizens, even though they looked like Jews. As Roman citizens, they had every right to a fair trial. In fact, the city magistrate goofed.

So Paul and Silas were wounded deeply in two ways: physically from a severe beating and also psychologically from the humiliation in public. They were sitting in a jailhouse with their feet shackled like a couple of dangerous criminals. I would be furious if I were them. They didn”t do anything seriously bad to deserve that. They did not pursue the slave girl. She was the one who saw them first and pointed her finger at them. They didn”t do anything as serious as deliberately freeing a slave. They merely told her to shut up. It was her decision to stop acting like a mad woman. But worst still, the authorities completely ignored their legitimate rights and did them a grave injustice.

But instead of getting upset, they sat in the prison, prayed and sang hymns praising God. How can anyone sing a hymn in a jailhouse? They sang loudly, and other prisoners were able to listen to them. This is where we are reminded again that our faith is not a cheap religion but is the light to show us clearly the reality of life. If we can see the way clearly, we will know how to deal with hard realities of life. God does not promise to spare us from injustice and suffering. Jesus said, "Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike." There is a danger if we are preoccupied with avoiding difficult experiences at all costs. But unfortunately, we have made comfort and enjoyment our gods, and often can not see difficult and unexpected experiences as God”s way of showing a better way. Our faith is not a cheap religion which promises health, wealth, and prosperity without any cost. God does not promise a trouble free life, but gives us the strength to endure difficulties, and helps us see the God”s way, even through the shadow of the valley of death. Paul and Silas had strength to accept what happened to them as a road sign on God”s highway. This is why they could sing hymns in a jailhouse, even though many things that happened to them were completely unexpected.

The Ice Storm and flood pointed out our human limitations in the face of nature. Yet, in the process of facing those two crises – and having to accept rather than change the course of events – we discovered the kindness of good neighbours which helped us make the best of the situation. God acts with us when we find the serenity to accept what we can not change but show the courage to change things that we can. It is then we can sing even in the darkest prison and hear the message of salvation from the most unlikely voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: TO ERR IS HUMAN, SO IS TO DOUBGT – EASTER 2

TO ERR IS HUMAN, SO IS TO DOUBT

BUT TO FORGIVE IS DIVINE

Acts 2:14,22-22, Psalm 16, John 20:24-29

April 11, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

Sometimes, I am glad that I am not young any more, because I don”t have to pretend that I am perfect and that I am never wrong. I know that I will feel so much better when I say, "Sorry, I was wrong, I made a mistake." I don”t have to pretend any more. I don”t have to try to be a god any more, and can be happy to be a human. Some weeks ago, Ann Landers reprinted a page from a church bulletin in the States. It goes something like this:

"If you can get going without pep pills; if you can resist complaining or bragging; if you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it; if you can overlook it when something goes wrong through no fault of yours, and those you love take it out on you; if you can take criticism-and-blame without resentment; if you can ignore a friend”s mistake and never correct him; if you can face the world without lies and deceits; if you can relax without booze; then, my friends, you are almost as good as your dog."

To err is human, it is useless to pretend that we are perfect. In the Bible, there is no perfect human. King David, for example, the most beloved and revered of all Jewish kings, was once driven by lust and committed adultery. He even murdered an innocent man to cover up his evil act. Even Mary, mother of Jesus, once thought that Jesus was crazy and tried to restrain him. Simon Peter, the foundation rock of the church in Rome, who died for his faith, abandoned his master and denied that he had any knowledge of Jesus, not just once but three times right in the earshot of Jesus. At that moment, Jesus looked at him, and Peter wept bitterly, when he faced his own undeniable cowardice. The Bible embarrasses us by being so candid about the failings of people whom we respect. We must realize that we are not gods. There is only one God, therefore none of us is perfect. We must not be inhibited to be open about our imperfection.

Thomas is one of many unsung heroes of the early church. He wrote a Gospel, known as the Gospel according to Thomas, in the Apocrypha. He went as far East as India, and established the church. It is now known as Ma Thoma Church, the Church of St. Thomas, one of the oldest Christian denominations, probably older than the Roman Catholic Church. He contributed a great deal to the life of the church. But his achievements are largely unknown, probably because what happened in the Eastern church has been largely ignored by Europe. This is why I feel that Thomas has been unfairly treated by history for being known only as "Doubting Thomas." Besides, to pick on Thomas for doubting is very unfair and hypocritical.

To doubt is as normal for us as to make mistakes. Just look around. All human activities are based on faith. Banking, business, family, politics are all based on our having faith in persons or institutions. But we think that it is important to check credibility and reliability of everything and every person before we put trust in them. Likewise, Thomas did not believe the story of resurrection without checking. So he said, "I don”t believe what you are saying. I have to check it out." It was a natural reaction. It was human. Let”s not be too hard on Thomas. Let”s learn about honesty from him. He was not the type to say anything just to be one of the crowd.

Both Peter and Thomas were great leaders of the early church, not because they were perfect, but because they recognized that they were imperfect. When you accept the reality of your imperfection, you will have a chance to grow. But if you don”t want to see the undeniable truth about yourself, you will stay like a puddle of stagnant water and rot. It is like not accepting the diagnosis of your doctor about your health problem, while you keep on taking Tylenol hoping that pain will just go away. You have to face the reality about yourself and accept it. There is no shame in that, because to err is human, and so is to doubt.

Listen to the sermon Peter preached in the book of Acts. He was addressing it to the assembly of Jews, proclaiming his belief in Jesus Christ. It is an eloquent exposition of who Jesus was in a few short sentences. A brilliant work! What a transformation it was for Peter! It was only a few weeks ago, he was so scared of a young slave girl who asked him if he was one of Jesus” followers, and he lied. When he was forced to accept his cowardice, he wept bitterly. But his tears gave God a passage to enter into his spirit. Then he was transformed. Thomas did not accept what everybody in the room was saying. He must have been disagreeable company. But he was absolutely honest. He didn”t pretend to be pious in order to get along with others. That honesty gave Jesus room to enter into Thomas” spirit. So when he saw Jesus, he didn”t have to check out his references. He immediately believed and said, "My Lord, my God."

In our head, we all know that we are not perfect, but we do not accept it in our hearts. This is why it is important for our ego to insist that we are right, and others are wrong. This is why we feel ashamed to admit that we make mistakes, and to admit that we can not believe certain articles of faith that we are supposed to believe. We must learn to be honest about our unbelief. After all, we are not gods. Only God is perfect and right. Unless we admit our imperfection, God will not be able to come to us. There is no shame to admit our humanity.

To err is human and so, too, is to doubt. But as the saying goes, "To forgive is divine." It is amazing that Jesus forgave those disciples who betrayed him and ran away. Because they had to be honest to admit that they utterly failed him, he came back to them. The gift of this amazing grace was and is free. All that is required of us is to say, "Sorry, I was wrong." It is amazing how peaceful you can be, when you know in your heart that you are only human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: WE ARE WHAT WE EAT – EASTER 6

WE ARE WHAT WE EAT.

Acts 10:1-14, Psalm 98, John 15:9-17

May 28, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

One day when I was living in Africa, I found a bowlful of roasted and salted termites in the fridge. My daughter and her friends brought home those winged critters, roasted them alive in the oven, buttered and salted them for snack. They are the favourite snack for the locals, which my daughter and her best friend also loved. This ignorant father told them to throw out the stuff. The native people who live in the Arctic do not like to be called Eskimos, because it means in their language "people who eat raw meat." Europeans called them by that name to insult them, because they thought eating raw meat was disgusting.   Jokes were on Europeans who didn”t know that eating raw meat was the best way to get vitamines where fresh vegitables were noexistent.

It is interesting. Isn”t it? We often consider foods eaten in other cultures disgusting, and forget that our food could also be disgusting to some people. In Japan, eating red meat use to be a taboo – a disgusting behaviour according to the Buddhist belief. Europeans introduced beef and pork into Japanese diet during the nineteenth century. A story has it that the early ones brave enough, or crazy enough, to taste red meat were vulgar bad boys. They cooked it outdoors, because most of the decent people did not allow meat inside the house. This is why the famous Japanese beef dish is called "Sukiyaki", meaning cooking on a blade of a plough. They must have prepared the meat dishes outdoor using something like a spade as a frying pan. It was the nineteenth century Japanese version of BBQ.

We are very particular about food, because food is intimately personal. We keep personal things like personal habits and favourite food private. They can be the source of misunderstanding unless we know each other well. This is why being in a position to share the intimate moments is an important mark of a close personal relationship. Only family members and very close friends share what is private. Food is one of those things. We are very particular about what we eat and with whom. We can now see the meaning of the story of Peter and strange animals as food in the book of Acts. In this story, God gave Peter a lesson about his relationship with a non-Jewish person – called Cornelius. The Bible is telling us in this story that by eating other people”s food, you are accepting other people as your own brothers and sisters.

Throughout the Acts of Apostles, you find one central and important message from the early church. The Church that began on the day of Pentecost was open to absolutely everybody. It was firmly grounded on the belief in One God, the Jewish God of Abraham and Sarah for sure, but through Jesus Christ, it has become the religion for all peoples of all nationalities. On the Pentecost, the Apostles began to speak in many languages, so that all nationalities could hear the stories of Jesus in their own languages. When Paul began to baptize non-Jewish people, he did not require them to be circumcised. In other words, he did not require them to become Jewish before they became Christians. Peter”s vision about food was another sign making Jesus Christ for everybody. Christianity is an inclusive religion. It is a religion that accepts everybody; saints and sinners alike. Accepting others through love is the central belief of our religion.

Unfortunately, insecure people are rigid and self-righteous. They feel they have to protect themselves against any difference. They say, "My way or no way." All of us are like that sometimes. It is easier for us to demand others to change their way, than trying to understand different views and adapt and compromise. The Church in Jerusalem in the first century was a group of such self-righteous people. They insisted that all foreigners become Jews first before baptism. They said that Jesus was a Jew and the disciples were Jews, therefore Christians had to become Jews before Baptism. The Church in Jerusalem did not want change the Jewish customs. So, because of their narrow mindedness, within two hundred years, the Jerusalem church disappeared. But the Church which began with the missionary work of Apostles like Peter and Paul thrived in Europe because of their open-mindedness, and became the foundation of today”s church.

I watched last Monday on PBS an interesting program about the Vikings. The program probed the reason why the once thriving Viking settlements in Greenland completely disappeared. Scientists discovered that when the last ice age came, the Vikings could not sustain their cattle and sheep based agriculture in the ice covered Greenland. Most of the people gradually died out of malnutrition and diseases, leaving magnificent stone houses and churches in ruins. In the meantime, in Iceland the Vikings switched to fishing, changed their diet to sea food, and survived. Greenland Vikings did not learn anything from their Innuit neighbours. Historians speculate that because Innuit were pagans, the church prohibited any contact with them. The result was that the Vikings had no chance to learn the Innuit”s survival skills in the extreme cold climate. They didn”t learn to fish and hunt. Least of all, they never learned to eat fish, seal and whale meat raw. They would have provided plenty of fat and vitamins to protect them in the cold and long winters. They never thought of wearing seal furs and skins like their Innuit neighbours. So when their sheep died, they had no more wool to make clothes. Their fear of pagan practices didn”t allow them to survive in the extreme cold. So they died out. After my episode with angina, I too have to change my eating habit. It is hard to learn. But it is a vital life skill for me.

I am not saying that accepting other people and their ways of life is just a survival skill. Even if loving and accepting others is costly, Jesus” most fundamental commandment to love God and to love neighbours still is our most precious Christian responsibility. But the history often proves that an exclusive and rigid attitude causes disasters, and an inclusive and flexible life-style leads to survival. Remember what Peter heard in a vision? "Don”t call anything God created unclean." We must accept and understand other people”s views and life-styles. It is an act of loving our neighbours, and perhaps the only way for our species to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

A: JESUS AND A SPACEMAN – ASCENSION

JESUS AND A SPACEMAN

Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68, John 17:1-11

May 16, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

During the sixties, the Soviets were ahead of the U.S. in the space exploration. They had shot up a few satellites, and with them, one at a time, a dog, a few men and a woman into the space, long before Americans did. One of the Soviet Cosmonauts had declared that God did not exist. He said, "I went into the heavens and looked everywhere. But I did not see God." Whenever I hear a gross misunderstanding of the Bible like this, I feel strongly that we should be more clear about how we should read the Bible.

None of us take everything in the Bible literally. But we should not be intimidated by an accusation that we don”t take the Bible as the words of God. Even the most ardent believer of the literal truth of the Bible, for example, would not stone his child for speaking against the parents. Although this is prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy, all of us know that it is not be taken literally. None of us have a problem distinguishing between the words to be taken literally and the ones to be taken figuratively. When you say you have something by the "tons", you really don”t mean tons. You mean lots of it. A nice person went to Africa as a volunteer and made many good friends. As she was leaving, she said tearfully, "I love you all. I would love to see you again very soon." Some time later, she got a phone call from the airport. "Here I am, I came to see you." Someone took her words literally, saved all his money and bought a one way ticket to the States. This is a true story. If you don”t know how to use or hear terms of endearment appropriately, you will have big problems in your life. Some people may take it literally.

Our language is limited. When you want to say something you feel very deeply, you can never find the right words to express it. To resolve the limitation of our language, the human race has developed many art forms, such as music, painting, poetry, metaphors, parables, and story telling, etc. to express things for which there are no adequate words. Especially the matters of God and the spirit are so deeply and strongly felt that they were almost always described and expressed in the figurative language. This is why the ancient Hebrews did not feel right to name God directly, for example. God is too great to be restricted by a name. This is also why the Bible speaks of the whereabouts of God in many ways such as one "in Heaven", who "abides with us" or is "in us", even in the dark "shadow of death". God is simply too immense and too majestic for us to name or to locate.

Did Jesus go up into heaven and become a forerunner of astronauts? The answer, of course, is "no". What then did Luke mean when he described the scene of Christ”s going up and disappearing into heaven? There must be more to this story than I can handle this morning. But I will mention two points. The first is the notion of Christ leaving us behind. And the second is that God is incomparable, better, greater, and superior than anybody and anything.

The notion of "God going away and leaving us behind" is a recurring theme in the Bible. The point is about our maturity and responsibility. God is not like a parent who can not let go of her child, not allowing them to grow up and to be independent. God goes away like an landowner leaving his land to his tenant farmers, a rich man who entrusts his stewards to look after his wealth expecting them to invest it wisely, or like a father who lets his son go far away with his fortune. The most loving gift that God has given us is his trust. He trust us so much that he gave us freedom and responsibility. All loving parents must learn from this. They must let their children enjoy freedom, learn to be responsible, even allow them to make mistakes so that they learn, by going away.

So Jesus Christ went away. When the disciples kept looking towards the heaven where Jesus disappeared missing him terribly, two angels appeared and said to them, "Why are you looking towards heaven? He”s gone. He will come back, but in a different form – as the Holy Spirit." Grow up and be responsible. It is now your job to spread the Good News among people everywhere.

Secondly, many cultures possess the idea that heaven represents what is ultimately the best, the greatest, or what is beyond us. It comes from the idea that God is beyond our reach. It does not necessarily convey the notion of location or direction. In China, heaven is the same word for God. There is a famous requiem written by the 6th Century B.C. Chinese philosopher Confucius when he lost his most promising disciple. It opens with a line, "Oh Heaven, why has thou forsaken me! Heaven has deserted me." If the word heaven is substituted by the word "God", it sounds almost like the Psalm 22, doesn”t it? "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!", which was repeated by Jesus on the cross. In Japan and in Southern Africa, the word for God is "Kaki" or "Molimo", which simply means "up". All of those words have the sense of "someone beyond our reach."

The disciples experienced a deep and strong feeling that Jesus they had known intimately was now with God. It suddenly dawned on them that He was indeed greater and superior than any living person or creature. He was indeed God who came to live among them as a man. They must have stood in awe realizing that "I was with God." How else could they say except somewhat inadequately, "He went up into heaven."

I hope that it is now clear that the ascension of Jesus was not a story about the first man in space. It is about the greatness and godliness of Jesus Christ. It is also about our God given freedom and responsibility, and God”s trust in us. Let us thank God that the pioneers of our faith did their best to record their experience, no matter how inadequate their language might have sounded. Let us also learn from them to be bold in our expression of faith without being shy about our inadequacy. And let us trust that future generations will come to understand what we mean.

 

 

 

B: LETTING GO, LETTING BE – EASTER 7

LETTING GO, LETTING BE

I John 5:9-13, Psalm 1, John 17:6-19

May 11, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

One of the difficult experiences for a parent is having to leave your child behind. I once had to leave my own crying two year old alone in a hospital. She was frightened and did not want me to leave her. It was one of the most difficult experiences for a young parent; I wept that night. It must be the same difficult experience when your teenage child leaves home for college or for the first date. There is a fundamental difference between letting go of a loved one and abandoning someone. There is an old saying in Japan: "If you love your child, let him travel." Letting your child alone is a test of your parenthood. Jesus”s prayer in the today”s gospel should be read in the same light.

Jesus knew that soon he had to leave the loved ones – disciples, family, and friends behind. He prayed that they would be strong enough to withstand the difficult time which awaited them. Jesus prayed, "I am no longer in the world, I am coming to you, Father. I am asking you, on their behalf, to protect them." It sounds like a prayer of a parent who is leaving a child behind. I may sound cruel; but if it feels impossible for you to leave the loved one behind, it can mean that you are being too possessive or you are emotionally so attached that you will not let your child grow up. This is not love. It simply shows your immaturity as a parent. Most of us know this in our mind. But emotion does not always move as fast as what reason says it should. Reading his prayer, you can feel the agony and tears of our Lord. Yet, he is trusting God, ready to leave the disciples behind. Letting go of one”s emotional attachment, and going away from one”s loved ones is the test of maturity in love and trust.

I notice three marks of such mature love in Christ”s prayer. They are knowledge, faith, and readiness to risk. Progress towards maturity begins with knowledge of each other, which produces faith in each other. Finally mature love risks fostering independence.

Jesus prayed to God, "I have made your name known to them. I gave them everything you gave me. And they know that everything I gave them comes from you." Jesus was confident that there was complete sharing of knowledge – transparency between him and his disciples. That”s quite some trust. You don”t give all the facts of life to your child at once. As a child grows, there needs to be some progressive sharing of information between the parent and the child. And when your child reaches maturity, there must be as much sharing as possible. But all of us, I am afraid, fail to do that, because it takes quite a bit of courage to be completely honest with your child.

We must realize that God knows everything about us. In the George Burns movie, "Oh God", the first appearance of God to John Denver is in the bathroom. "Don”t worry. You don”t need to be ashamed," says George Burns who plays the part of God, "I know what you”ve got." And likewise a mother knows intimate details of her child, having changed diapers and all that, just like God knows us. This one sided knowledge must be reciprocated. As the relationship matures, there should be progressive increase in the mutuality of the knowledge of each other. There should be as few secrets as possible in a mature relationship. Just as God wishes eagerly for our knowledge of God to increase, a parent must be brave enough to encourage a child to get to know his parents. Ideally, there should come to be a total transparency between loved ones. This is sharing of ourselves.

Secondly, mutual knowledge must transform the relationship to that of total trust. Jesus said to God, "All mine are yours, and yours are mine. I am not going to be with them much longer. Protect them as you protected me, so that they may be one, as we are one." If we can trust each other with knowledge of each other, our faith in each other enable us to share everything. Sometimes, mere sharing of possessions can cover up an unwillingness to share oneself. Only when one is willing to share oneself in total transparency, does sharing of possessions become meaningful.

Because of the relationship based on knowledge and trust, Jesus was ready to risk entrusting the Kingdom of God to the disciples. They would live alone in a hostile world. Jesus” prayer does not sound easy for him. Those sentences make us almost detect his sweat and tears. It sounds like the parent”s agony of leaving a child behind. But Jesus was ready to go, and ready to have them to face the world alone. Jesus said, "I have given them your word, but the world hated them." It”s surprising to realize that Jesus was prepared to put his trust in the disciples, because by many accounts they were not trustworthy people. Still he was ready to leave them behind in the world trusting them to continue the work of the Kingdom. It is quite a risk he was taking. There is an example of total trust. Jesus trusted their ability to learn from the mistakes. Isn”t there a lesson to be learn for us parents?

When I reflect on Christ”s prayer before his departure from the world, I can not help thinking about the state of the church in the Western world. Can you imagine Jesus praying for us as we face a new era, where our accustomed ways are disappearing? We are facing a different kind of the world where the church has to find a new way of continuing its mission. I have no idea what the future of the Christ”s church will be like. It is easy for us to be pessimistic and scared. But one thing I am convinced about: God does not need our protection. I don”t think that we need to worry about God. The work of our Lord Jesus Christ will continue. God”s work does not need our protection. We are the ones who need protection. We have to ask God”s help to remain faithful.

Mothers know their children well. Likewise, God knows us. We must begin there with confidence. And yet, no matter how well mothers know their children including their weaknesses, they must trust them. Likewise, no matter how imperfect we are, God trusts us despite the knowledge of our weaknesses. He is risking a lot. We must live only by being faithful to God in response. He entrusted us with this mission. Worrying has no place in that mission. We simply have to forge ahead.

If you look outside of our small circle, you will realize that there are many signs of the Kingdom of God thriving. There are growing signs to indicate that the spiritual needs of people are insatiable. The churches in Africa are thriving. The churches in Korea have tripled in membership in last three decades. Let us not worry about the Kingdom of God. It will continue and thrive, though possibly in a totally unexpected way. So let”s not worry about the state of the church. Our place is here. God trusts us to be faithful as best as we know how. Like my favourite Sunday School hymn says, "Jesus bid us shine with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night, in this world of darkness. So let us shine – you in your small corner, and I in mine."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: A LIFE WITHOUT FAITH IS A LIFE IN HELL- EASTER

B: A LIFE WITHOUT FAITH IS A LIFE IN HELL

Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 150, John 20:19-31

April 6, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

No one can know absolutely everything. So we must act on trust, believing that people and things are where they are expected to be and do things they are expected to do. Otherwise, life will be impossible. Imagine a life where nobody and nothing is reliable. It is a description of a life in hell. If you must suspect everybody, your life will be full of fear. It is a life so difficult that you might as well be dead. Today”s Gospel tells a story of faith restored, hence life recovered. How did Jesus do it? Let us find out.

When you are gripped with paralysing fear, and lock yourself behind a door, no one can help you. When my daughter was not even two, one night she accidentally locked herself in the bathroom in a dark. She was absolutely paralysed by fear. She kept screaming so loud that she was not able to hear me. I was trying to tell her how to unlock the door. My voice behind the door might have been like a voice of a ghost for her. We had to bring in a locksmith to get her out. Fear was like ear plugs; she could not hear anything that might help her.

Fear and distrust shut off all your senses. The disciples were in that kind of a state on the day of Easter. Many of them saw Jesus alive again on that day. But they could not trust anyone outside to believe that. They were so fearful of other people. Those people welcomed Jesus and hailed him as a king one day, but within a couple of days, the same people changed completely and demanded his death on a cross. The disciples had no trust in their fellow citizens. So they locked themselves behind a door.

A society that distrusts others and refuses to believe in anybody or anything, is a society that does not function. Some cities are coming close to that state. I overheard my friend who was teaching in New York city, talking with his 14 years old son on the telephone. He told him to stay the night with his friend. He could not come to pick him up. It was already 4 in the afternoon and the subway was too dangerous. When people lose faith in other people and institutions, there is no sense of community and a city dies. Western society is in a spiritual crisis as the religious institutions are losing public support. We need spiritual life like we need water. When people don”t know how to get to a spring of clean water, they may end up drinking from a miserable puddle of dirty water. Could that also explain the recent incidents of suicides by cult members?

Another problem about doubt and fear is that once you are in that state of mind, any amount of medicine, psychology, or science can not help you. Doubt and fear are opposite of faith and trust. Faith and trust belong to the spiritual sphere. And no amount of scientific remedy can heal spiritual illness. It is no more inappropriate than trying to heal a broken heart with alcohol.

I suspect also that the disciples were crushed by guilt. Remember what they did at the time of crisis? They could have demonstrated their faith and their loyalty to the teacher whom they loved with some brave acts of heroism. On the contrary, one of them denied him three times out of fear any knowledge of Jesus. Most of them ran away from the scene of their teacher”s death. Because of those acts of cowardice and betrayal, their self-image was in tatters. The result was fear exacerbated by guilt. They had knowledge of the risen Christ but had no faith in the power of that knowledge. So they were immobilized by fear of others.

There was also an element of doubt that robbed them of the power of faith. Thomas had not seen the risen Jesus. So he did not believe what the other disciples were saying. His doubt was to be expected. After all, they were, you must confess, not very reliable friends. They abandoned their teacher at the time of crisis. Why should he believe preposterous things that unreliable people were saying? Once doubt has sunk into your mind, it is very difficult get rid of it. The mere sight of wounds on Jesus would not convince him. He wanted to touch them. It was not facts and sights that changed Thomas.

When the disciples were gripped by doubt, fear and guilt, and locked themselves in, what did bring life into them? What did Jesus do? Jesus came in through the locked door and wished them peace; showed them wounds to prove that it was indeed him; spoke about forgiveness, and breathed on them saying "receive the Holy Spirit." It was those gestures that touched the heart, that reached the depth of human reality on the gut level.

He walked through the locked door. Obviously he was in a different kind of body, though he was the same Jesus as the wounds proved. But what impressed the disciples must have been his forgiveness. He spoke to them as though they did not betray him. He spoke as though nothing happened in their relationship. This is a proof of incredible forgiveness. Their betrayal caused him so much suffering, and yet he came back to them. When doubt and fear were met with such amazing grace and love, they just melted away. No amount of argument, no mountain of facts changed their doubt and fear into faith. But forgiveness and love did.

Another interesting act of Jesus was his breathing spirit into the disciples. The word for spirit in the Bible is the same word for breath, air, and wind. And in the Bible breath, spirit, and life are intimately connected. Life is not complete without air and spirit. Breathing spirit into another person, like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, is such an intimate life giving act. When Jesus breathed spirit into the lives of his disciples, it was clear that his overwhelming love was infusing a true life force into their dispirited bodies. Thomas did not have to touch the wounds as he had demanded. When faith came back to him, he simply said, "My Lord, My God."

Life is not complete without two kinds of gifts from God. We can not live without the gifts of nature, like air. No can we live a full life without the gifts of the spirit like love, joy, mystery and wonder. Jesus gave both kinds of gifts to the disciples when he returned to them after his resurrection. And he offers them again to us in the miracle of Easter.

 

B: CAN ANYONE MAKE A COMPLETE TURN AROUND? – EASTER 3

CAN ANYONE MAKE A COMPLETE TURN AROUND?

Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, Luke 24:36b – 48

April 13, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

In Christianity, we use the word "repent" often and believe that it is a very important element in our faith. The word means a complete turn around – about face, a u-turn. It was one of the first messages the disciples began to give as they came out of seclusion. They urged crowds to repent and to turn around to the faith in Jesus Christ. But repentance takes a great deal of courage. In fact, it is so difficult that one wonders if anyone can ever make a complete turn around. Just look around. How many people do we know who made a complete turn around, in their thinking and in their life-style? Not many.

As you proceed from the four Gospels to the first book of the rest of the New Testament – the Acts of Apostles – you can not help noticing big changes in the disciples. They suddenly begin to appear confident and to sound bold. Look at Peter in todays” reading, for example. People were stunned into silent astonishment, staring at Peter and John, after seeing a miracle they performed at the gate called the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Peter started to berate them: he accused them of murdering the son of God – Messiah. The tone of his speech is so accusatory that Peter sounds self-righteous and even arrogant. When I read this passage, at first I instinctively didn”t like the tone of his speech. I don”t like anybody accusing other people while ignoring one”s own less-than-honourable track record.

Peter was a man of many faults. He was a passionate man. But one trait got him into many embarrassing, if not disastrous situations. Often, he spoke too soon without too much thought, and ended up in great grief. The worst was the predicament he found himself during Jesus” trial. Only days before, when Jesus predicted his arrest and the crucifixion, Peter bravely declared that he would go anywhere with his master even if that would meant his own humiliation and death. But on the night Jesus was tried, whipped, and humiliated in public, Peter could not bring himself to be seen in public. He tried hard to hide himself. But curiosity got the better of him. He was one in the crowd in the courtyard of the building where his master”s trial was taking place. So a young slave girl found him and asked him, "Aren”t you the man who was always with Jesus?" He was not found by a mass of people or by an important official. Nobody noticed him except a slave girl. But he was scared just the same, and said, "No way, I have no idea who that man is." He said that three times during the course of one evening. He was so ashamed of himself, and bitterly cried as a cock crowed at dawn. An interesting thing is that he told this story to others later. Otherwise, how could this be a part of the Biblical story? He did not hesitate to expose his own mistakes and weakness, later. What made him so strong?

So what happened to Peter between those denials and that moment at the Beautiful Gate of the temple in Jerusalem? In between Peter experienced the grace of God shown in the incredible forgiveness of Jesus Christ. After all those acts of betrayal, when Jesus and Peter met face to face after the resurrection, Jesus still treated Peter as he always had, just like a friend. Peter also received the spirit as Jesus breathed over the disciples. In other words, he was met with love and was empowered by the spirit. And the love which was in that spirit gave him power to change. So when Peter charged people with complicity in the death of Jesus, his point was repentance. He was only expecting them to do as he had done. His intention was not to say, "See, you were wrong. And I was right." He was not vindictive. His idea was not to humiliate people. How could he? His own shortcomings were evidence of how weak people could be. But this self-knowledge also meant he could say without hesitation, "See how much I changed? You can change also."

Peter”s call for repentance of others meant he was no longer afraid to expose his past vulnerability and weakness. It took a lot of courage for Peter to expose himself like that. I am sure he was conscious of many people remembering vividly how pathetic Peter was before and after the crucifixion. He was not afraid to face public scorn. Our society has a rather cruel tendency not to forgive people, especially men, who expose their weakness. We discovered only after they were dead for some years that Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill both suffered many spells of depression. Churchill wrote about his "black dog" many times in his memoir. But their psychological problem was hidden from the public, as it would have damaged their credibility. In addition, you must remember those would-have-been good leaders whose credibility was destroyed in the eyes of the public, because they exposed their vulnerability. Edmond Muskie”s chance of being a Presidential candidate was shattered in New Hampshire primary when he cried in public. Jimmy Carter”s credibility was diminished when he confessed that he sometimes looked at women with lust. Thomas Eagleton”s political life ended when he admitted that he once consulted a psychiatrist. It takes courage to say to the public, "I was wrong, I was weak. But I changed. You can change, too.". Because they may not accept you. Peter took that chance.

Do you remember Charles Coulson? He was one of President Nixon”s advisers who was involved in devising so-called dirty tricks. He was found guilty of lying to the Congress of the United States and of obstructing justice. During his imprisonment, he repented and converted to become an evangelist. I don”t agree with his theology, but I do admire his courage to expose his past and publicly changed the course of his life. I wish that more people would follow an example like that in the Somalia Enquiry.

So it is possible to make a complete turn around. It is possible to repent. And the secret seems to be the intervention of the Holy Spirit that convinces you of God”s love. When you have such an experience, you feel empowered to expose your vulnerability and to speak to other people bravely about the need to make a radical change.

 

 

C: TO FORGIVE, FORGET, AND LET GO – EASTER 3

TO FORGIVE, FORGET, AND LET GO

Acts 9:1-6, Psalm 30, John 21:1-19

April 29, 2001by Tad Mitsui

One day, an elderly Bishop dedicated a new church building. The ceremony began outside of the church. Then, an attractive woman walked by on the periphery of the gathered congregation. The good bishop saw her and stopped reading the prayer book, and followed her with his eyes. A few seconds later, he resumed the ceremony. Some people noticed this, and some people didn”t. But nobody said anything about it. A few days later, two young seminarians came to the bishop”s office. They were angry about the old man”s behaviour at the consecration of the new church. They said that the bishop disgraced the name of the Holy Catholic Church. But the bishop didn”t know what they were talking about. He had forgotten about such small details. Afterwards, someone explained to him why those young men were so upset. Hearing this, the kind bishop felt sorry for the young men for their youthful obsession about the opposite sex. Because their mind was so caught up in sex, they didn”t know how to simply appreciate beauty without feeling guilty. Beauty is God”s creation and is a gift and a blessing. But once you become obsessed and enslaved by it, this blessing becomes a curse. Letting go enables you to accept that blessing.

Forgiveness initiates a process of forgetting, and allows you to let go. Forgiveness makes it possible for your life to go forward by allowing you to let go of the past that holds you back. It frees you. Two episodes in today”s lectionary are the stories of our great spiritual pioneers – the harbingers of Christian faith – Peter and Paul. Today, the Bible points out to us that their ministry began with forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there would not have been Peter nor Paul in the history of the Christian Church.

When the risen Christ met with Peter and other disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee, Jesus acted as though he had completely forgotten what Peter did to him on the night before he was crucified and killed. When Jesus was arrested and taken to the court of the High Priest, Peter followed him and sat beside the fire in the court yard with enemies of Jesus. The other disciples were nowhere to be seen. At least, Peter followed his master into a hostile crowd. But he was nothing like the brave man he had previously declared himself to be. When Jesus predicted his suffering on the cross, Peter promised that he would followed the master anywhere, even to death. When Peter was confronted by a mere slave girl who didn”t pose any threat – and she simply asked him, "Weren”t you the guy with Jesus?" – he vehemently denied even the knowledge of the man he had promised to follow even unto death. Not just once but three times! But now on the shore of Lake Galilee, Jesus acted as though Peter didn”t do anything like that. Forgiveness and the appearance of forgetfulness set Peter free. He feared nothing any longer. He followed Christ”s will even unto his own death on a cross. Thus, he became one of the founders of the Christian Church. The Roman Catholic Church even calls him the "Vicar of Christ."

Paul, on the other hand, started out by being truly anti-Christ. He hated the followers of Christ with vengeance. When angry mob stoned one of the first elders of the church to death, young Paul, who was called Saul then, supervised the execution. Many people saw the way of Jesus Christ as a blasphemy. They were angry to hear the early Christians claiming that Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses, and was indeed the Messiah. Saul obtained an authorization from the Temple to arrest and imprison, and in some cases to kill, the followers of Jesus Christ. Christians everywhere heard about Paul”s reputation. This is why Ananias asked God if he was hearing him right, when he was told to help Saul. Ananaias was told by God to forget about Saul”s part in a murder and persecution of Christians. Of all people, God chose a principal enemy of the faith to be a future leader of the church! What is amazing is that Ananias obeyed God. Without his obedience and the incredible capacity to forgive, the Christian Church would not have been blessed by the teaching of a great apostle who brought Christianity to Europe. Forgiveness is the central manifestation of God”s love, and we believe it to be the enabler of life. Without forgiveness, life is impossible.

But it is not easy to forgive and also to feel forgiven. In the Lord”s Prayer, we pray "Forgive our sin as we forgive those who committed sin against us." We rarely forgive, so we don”t feel we can be forgiven. Because we don”t feel forgiven, we don”t know how to forgive. Thus we are stuck in old animosities and bitter memories. When the Cold War ended, we thought that the world would at last be able to enjoy peace and harmony between nations. On the contrary, people scraped the scabs off old wounds, renewing the memories of old feuds, and serious fighting and killings flared up in many places around the world with renewed vigour – in Ireland, in the Balkans, in the Middle East, and in Africa and Asia. Memories mean unforgiveness. Unforgiveness means death. The same thing happens in our personal lives, too. We suffer because we don”t feel we are completely acceptable. We don”t feel we are OK. Therefore, it is so difficult for us to forgive and forget. But the experience of forgiveness helps us to forgive.

I made mistakes too, more often than I want to remember. But I also was blessed by graceful forgiving people, my parents, some of the superiors in my jobs, and friends. When I was younger and had not made many mistakes, I was self-righteous, unforgiving, and judgemental. But the experiences of gracious people who accepted me despite my mistakes made me a more forgiving person.

There was a woman who claimed to have conversations with Jesus Christ regularly. A man who was feeling heavily burdened by guilt asked her to ask Jesus on his behalf if his sins were forgiven. She came back the next day and said, "Yes, Jesus forgave all your sins." He wanted to be quite sure about this and asked her to ask Jesus to list the sins he was freed from. She came back next day and said, "There was no list. Jesus said he forgot all of your sins." Because she could not recite such a list of sins, the man became sceptical and didn”t quite believe her so-called conversations with Jesus. Pity, because this story makes an important point. Jesus forgives and frees you from the past. Our experience of forgiveness makes us more forgiving. If we all can learn to forgive and forget, our world will be a much better place. We will all be happier persons being forgiving and life affirming persons.

 

 

 

 

YEAR C: TWO BEGINNINGS – EPIPHANY 1

Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Luke 3:15-22

January 14, 2001 by Tad Mitsui

Three years ago, Premier Bouchard said at a press conferences that the ice storm was an act of God. Neither the Quebec Government nor Hydro Quebec could be blamed, because the government had no authority to tell God what to do, he said. I don”t agree with Premier Buchard on this. The Ice Storm of 1998 was a result of Global Warming, a result of many years of disregard of environment. We believe in God who loves us. I”m going to suggest, however, that the ice storm was an act of God" to remind us of who we really are. Through the wind and the rain and the ice and the cold, God called us by name and reminded us that we were creatures. We also got to know the love of God through the loving and caring community. In fact, the ice storm was one of my best memories of our life in Howick. We had a good time enjoying good neighbourliness. Difficulties helped us find good friends.

We tend to forget that we were created by God and we have many limitations. We separate ourselves from the world God created, and depend on what we invented and produced – such as electricity and other technologies and provide for our needs. Perhaps the real cause of our trouble in the ice storm of 1998 was our arrogance in believing that we had beaten nature. We forgot that God is in charge. Now we see clearly that science and technology is no match for the power of God”s creation. The best computer simulation program could not predict the kind of severe weather we experienced. Our barriers against the natural world collapsed! We had thought our science and technology had entitled us to the name of "masters of creation", yet the month of January in 1998 reminded us that we are only one of the members of creation after all. When we forget who we truly are–when we forget our God given names–we become arrogant.

In an old Chinese legend, there was once a giant monkey called Song Gohkou. After many years of rigorous training, he acquired amazing, almost supernatural ability and became a super monkey. He could defeat an army single handedly, and could travel thousand of miles in one second. One day he challenged God. He said he could travel so fast so far that he could get out of God”s hand and out of his reach. God said, "O.K. You try." So Song Gohkou ran so fast and as far as he could go. He got to a place he had never seen or heard about before. There he found a giant pole. He put his signature on the pole with big thick bold letters and came back. He told God what he did. Then, God showed him his middle finger, and asked, "Is this what you saw?" There was the super monkey”s signature, "Song Gohkou" written on it in his own writing.

We have made progress at the expense of gifts of the spirit. People do not think that personal spiritual qualities like kindness, patience, and strength to endure hardship are important any more. Instead, we buy more expensive appliances. We have lost a sense of being called by God by our names. A name gives one an identity. People know who you are by your name. Anonymity gives you freedom to go against God. Do you think that those people, who took advantage of the disaster situation, gouged others and profited excessively during the crisis, want their names advertised? Isaiah said, "God called Israel by name." Jesus heard a voice when he was baptized naming him as God”s favourite. Being called by God by your name means that we are basically a spiritual being.

Names are very important in the Bible. A name makes you special, different from others. When you are known by your name, you can not escape from responsibility. You behave irresponsibly when you are anonymous – nameless. This is why tourists often behave badly, because they think nobody knows them. You are called by name through Christ. You are identified as a Christian and an individual. Your first name is a Christian name. It gives you a place in the universe. You are known. You are expected to possess special spiritual quality and to behave in the certain specific ways. So when you want to do something unchristian, you have to hide your name. Thank God for the Christian names. Without spiritual qualities like kindness and love of friends and neighbours, many of us would not have survived the ice storm.

When you look around in the world today, many conflicts are caused by the question of identity, not by economics nor politics. People are fighting and killing each other because they think that their God given names are denied or snubbed. There are serious killings happening in Israel and Palestine between Jews and Muslims and Christians. We have not found the way to deal with the differences of names. The only way we know how to deal with difference is to conquer and eliminate those who bear different names.

Isaiah reminded people that God had called them by name, and he quoted God, "You are special, because I love you. And I will be with you always." You realize that calling people by their names is the same thing as sharing the warmth of a home with friends and neighbours during the ice storm. It is because knowing a person by name means that this person is special. But people have been doing the wrong thing by trying to defeat, conquer, and beat those who bear different names.

We must remind ourselves that we are all called by God. All of us have names. We are all special, because God loves us all by our names. We must remember that everyone has a name and is special. We all learn to behave like neighbours during the ice storm. The world will be a much better place, if we behaved like we did during the ice storm of 1998.

YEAR B : MAKING SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING – EPIPHANY 1

Making something out of nothing

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1:4-11

January 8, 2006 by Tad Mitsui

I was once locked up in solitary confinement for 72 hours. It was during the bad old days of apartheid in South Africa. Racial discrimination was the law. I was going mad not because I was locked up but because I had too much time and nothing else. There was no book nor paper to read, no radio nor TV, not even a window to look out. Each minute felt like hours. I could not cope with having too much time. Time became my torturer. I had been so hooked to print, sight, and sound that without anything to read, listen, or watch, I was going crazy. As a minister, I should have been able to enjoy time meditating or praying. I am ashamed to say that I wasn’t able to do that. I had lost capability to live alone by myself because I was used to living with too much stuff. Today, we are drowned in images, prints, and sounds, and lost the art of memorizing poems and stories; and making things out of nothing.

The book of Genesis says that before God created the world, there was nothing but a formless void in the darkness. God created the world out of nothing. He did not buy the world in the shopping mall, neither did he assembled the world from a kit nor like a dinner from a frozen package. He made it out of nothing. We too can create something out of nothing. God created us according to his image. We are like God to some extent. Our creativity is God’s image in us. Unfortunately, more and more our society is turning us into buyers and clients of things made by some other people. Many of us no longer use our creativity. After God created the world one creature at a time, he looked at it and said, "That’s good!" There is an enormous pleasure in creating things out of nothing.

One of the joys of living in small communities like Southern Alberta is to find people still making things. You bake cookies and pies, and knit woolen mitten and socks. You entertain yourselves playing music and attending concerts by local choirs. But you must admit that likes of a lot of people in our community is rare nowadays. In big cities, many people don’t make things any more. One day in Toronto at a supermarket check-out counter, a woman in her thirties who stood behind me asked me what I was going to do with a sack of flour on my cart. She had no idea that she could make bread, cookies and pies out of flour.

Today many people buy everything ready-made including entertainment and sports. Today, sports for many people are not something you play. Sports is watching other people play sports. Entertainment for them is to sit and let other people entertain them. They don’t entertain themselves any more. They don’t make things any more. They buy everything ready made. They don’t remember the art of creation any more. Many people don’t know what to do with formless void any more. Many of us lost ability to make something out of nothing. We lost God in us.

Inability of many people today to cope with formless void is a very serious problem of our society. We ask what we can get without asking what we can do. Many people take the same attitude towards the church. Prof. Reg Bibby at the U of L found that most Canadians are still religious but they look for spiritual fulfilment in the same way as they go out for a good bargain in the shopping mall. They have no idea that religion is something they work on. They forget that the church is a community that we create. We can create good governments too, if we participate in the political process. That will make politicians more accountable to us. We complain about corruption in politics, but ignore the fact that many us don’t care about it. They don’t even bother to vote in the elections. A teenager said to me once, "The church is fun when you do stuff with friends together." A hockey game is a lot more fun if your child is playing in it than watching it on a TV where a bunch of millionaires fooling around on ice. If you are in it yourself, it can be irresistible – it can be almost like a religion. It all comes down to rediscovering the joy of creating something yourself.

Every morning in a village in Africa where I lived, a long queue was formed in front of a nearby Mission Hospital. First thing in the morning, a senior nurse came out to do a quick triage to make sure the serious cases of illness were taken care of first. Then, a long wait began for the rest of the people. All of them came with food and drink to last the whole day. Yet, I have never seen a happier group of people. Most of them enjoyed visiting each other. Inevitably, some people would start to sing which became chorus when others joined. Some of them would dance with chorus. They knew how to amuse themselves with little. They never lost of the art of making something out of nothing. They never lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company. They might be poor, but richer than we are in creativity. We, on the other hand, lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company.

The closer you get to the way God created the world out of nothing, the happier you will be doing it. We must rediscover the joy of making something out of time you have with friends; of pieces of material, yards of wool, or a sack of flour. God looked at the formless void in the darkness with twinkle in the eyes thinking of all the things that he could create. If we lose sight of that joy of creation, we will all be customers and clients of the society someone else runs – couch potatoes who only know how to complain. We will no longer be citizens nor members. We must repent.

When a group of people, be it a husband and wife or a friends, can enjoy each others’ company with nothing to do in particular, it’s a sign of good relationship. It is time for us to rediscover creativity we have lost on the way to become civilized. God created the world out of nothing and was very happy with what he made. We should do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: How do you solve a problem like Thomas? – Easter

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE THOMAS?

John 20:19-31

April 17, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

Thomas has suffered bad press throughout Christian history, because he did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. He insisted on seeing the wounds in Jesus” hands and side. He is called "doubting Thomas" and thought of as being somewhat among the lesser of the disciples. But I happen to believe that Thomas has been dealt with unfairly by history. I happen to believe that Thomas was merely different from the others. He was honest to express his doubt and stubborn to not change his conviction to join the others. But just like he did for Thomas, the risen Jesus appeared in many forms so that everybody would recognize him. Thus everybody could share in the joy of hearing the good news about the risen Christ, no matter how different they were.

When Jesus first appeared after the resurrection, Thomas happened not to be with his friends. The risen Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to many others in different places. He appeared before two disciples in the village of Emmaus a week later, and was recognized only at the supper table at the end of the day, even though they had spent all day together travelling. He even appeared simultaneously before 3000 people in different places at the same time. Many of them came back to Jerusalem and often gathered together to compare their experiences. At that time, they were still fearful of the public who crucified their master. But they were excited and could not help but talk about the risen Christ incessantly. So they came together but stayed inside, and locked the doors. A few times, the risen Christ walked through the locked doors and met with his followers. Obviously, Jesus in his spiritual body was able to walk through the locked door. But Thomas was not there when all those things happened.

I know what it feels like, when one has missed out on an exciting event. All your friends are very excited about it. But you don”t know what they are talking about. You feel left out. It was like that with Thomas. He said, "I don”t believe it. I”ll believe only when I see with my own eyes the wounds on his hands and his side." I can understand his disappointment in being left out, and how his doubt was caused by unhappiness. I can see me doing that. But there is a difference between Thoams and me. He did not bend because of peer pressure. I am often swayed by the opinion of people who surround me. And I say, "yes" just to be a good sport. But Thomas was stubborn. He said, "No, I don”t believe it. I have to see the mark of nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand on his side." What a rascal! He was an epitome of a spoil sport, a party pooper. How do you solve a problem like Thomas?

What we often miss or do not appreciate in people like Thomas is their toughness. It is not easy to contradict your friends. It takes courage to stick to what you believe and uphold your integrity. Thank goodness for those stubborn spoil sports, who dare to be unpopular for the sake of truth. It is interesting that this doubting Thoams was the one who travelled the furthest among the disciples and started the church in India. In India he was reported to have been murdered because of his faith. Today, the oldest Christian church is in India, older than Roman Catholic Church or any Orthodox church. It is called "Ma Thoma" Church. I have met several people from this church. This church had been largely unknown to the rest of the world for centuries, because the history of Christian Church was written mainly by the Western Europeans, to whom India was beyond the ends of the world. Thomas went to the far East alone, and started that church in the early first Century. It takes courage and stubbornness to do such a things. There is a apocrypha book called the Gospel according to Thomas. The Western Church decided not to include it in the Bible, because it was so very different. It is pity, in a way, that we don”t get to read Thomas” account of the life of Jesus Christ.

We often do not like those people who stick to their guns. We think that they cause trouble by being so stubborn, contradicting what everybody else says. We think that they should compromise for the sake of harmony. We believe that they are bad because they cause conflicts. Shame on us who think that way. Jesus was never angry with Thomas, neither did he scold him for his honest doubt. Jesus appeared in a way which was recognizable to Thomas. He said, "Look at me. Look at my wounds. Touch them with your hands." Jesus was ready to make himself appear in a form comprehensible to a particular person.

We are all different. We all have good attributes and shortcomings. Jesus accepts us as we are, good and bad. Peter was a passionate yet shallow man, for example, who tended to be hasty and thus made many mistakes. He heard Jesus saying that all disciples would desert him when he was going to be arrested and killed. Peter said rather impulsively, "Don”t worry master, even if all others leave you, I would never do that. I would die with you." But that very evening, he denied the knowledge of Jesus three times for fear of being identified as a companion of the man who was being interrogated for blasphemy. When the risen Jesus appeared to Peter, he was on a boat, fishing. He recognized the risen Christ, and he jumped into the lake and swam ashore, leaving the boat, the net, and all the catch behind. It was like leaving the tractor behind in the field with the engine running. John, for another, was a lovely affectionate man. He often leaned on Jesus” chest to hear him speak. But he did not do anything to write home about. He was, what you might call, a "nice" man but possibly weak in character. He lived to be a ripe old age, on a Mediterranean island of Patmos, and became senile. He could not do much except to repeat, "You should love each other." like a mantra. We are all different. But Jesus Christ did not discriminate against people because of their differences. He made himself understandable to everybody, enabling people to engage in different styles of ministry.

However, difference is one of the most nagging problems in human community. We kill each other because of differences a lot of times. One thing we must do is learn that to be different is normal. Thus conflicts are a natural consequence of differences. The Japanese say that we must hide our horns at least on the wedding day. There must be sayings like that in every nationality telling people how to deal with difference. The real challenge is to know how to live with differences and conflicts lovingly. We have to learn to not condemn or reject the differences like we normally want to do, and instead learn to accept them as Jesus accepted his disciples with all their idiosyncrasies. We have to learn to take conflicts caused by differences as natural and somehow find a way to keep loving despite a difference in opinions. We are all created differently but as equals. Conflicts are natural. We must find the way to resolve conflicts peacefully without being overwhelmed by them, without suppressing one side over the other, but through accommodation.

The secret to reach such a state is love. We repeat this again and again in church. The beloved disciple John may have become senile in his old age, but he never forgot the most essential message of the teachings of Jesus Christ, "Let us love one another." So let us love one another. Then our differences will become our wealth – as the differences between Jesus” disciples was a source of richness for the early church – and our conflicts will become friendly games. So beloved friends, let us love each other. Do not doubt this.

 

 

 

 

C: CELEBRATING KINDNESS – EASTER 4

CELEBRATING KINDNESS

Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, John 10:22-30

May 3, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

I have been surprised almost daily by simple acts of kindness around us. I am convinced that the Canadian social programs, which we are so proud of, are in jeopardy today because the spirit of the caring for each other is fast disappearing in Canada. What we can still find in small community like Howick is the exception, not the rule. Everybody asks, "what”s in it for me?" But very few ask what they can contribute. You can not keep milking cows without feeding them. Our society is starving for spiritual feed. We need to affirm today the importance of simple kindness. I suggest that we read the story of Dorcus and Peter in the Book of Acts as a celebration of ordinary acts of generosity.

I believe that the writer of the Book of Acts wanted to applaud the generosity of a very kind woman by telling a story of the her resurrection. I don”t think that the point of this story is the miracle of a dead person coming back to life. You must remember that miracle stories were quite common, until recently when science began to be a popular method of thinking. People loved to remember great and wonderful persons by the miracles that are supposed to have happened to them or they are supposed to have performed.

I am sure that the much loved and respected personalities of the recent years like Albert Sweitzer, Terry Fox, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, or Princess Diana would have been remembered by their miracles, if they had lived a thousand years ago. Miracles stories were a form of literature often adopted to remember beloved and great personalities. We must not dismiss the greatness of those miracle workers, just because such miracles are hard to believe. It is a pity that we have lost a sense of poetry and wonder, and can not appreciate wonderful things beyond scientific facts.

However, I don”t argue with someone who insists that such miracle did happen literally. It might have. I don”t know. But it is not an important question for me. The computer is a miracle to me. I have no idea how it works. But the most important thing about the computer for me is that it does what I want it to do. I don”t want to waste time learning why and how a computer works. But I am grateful for people who like to do that sort of thing, worrying about how it works. So what did the writer of the Acts want to say by including the Dorcus” resurrection story?

According to the Acts, Dorcus devoted herself to good works and acts of charity. Because of her charitable work, she was such a beloved person. So when she died, people thought it was a major tragic event. Two men of the community were sent to Peter to ask him to come, because her death was a matter of great importance. Peter, at that time, was considered to be the head of the Church by all Christians. They said to him, "Please come without delay." We all can understand how great pain would be caused by the sudden death of such special person. There are always some precious persons in our lives, whose absence is felt almost like a disaster. When they disappear from among us, we miss them so much that we are not shy to ask for a visit by a very important person. When Princess Diana died, people did not hesitate to expect the presence of the Queen and the whole Royal family at her funeral. It was unprecedented and an unthinkable break from the tradition. But people felt it was appropriate. People in Jaffa must have felt the same about Dorcus” death. The head of the church had to be there.

So what did Dorcus do to be missed so much by so many people when she died? The Bible says that when Peter arrived, many widows were weeping and showed him "tunics and other clothing" she had made for them. It looks like Dorcus spent a lot of time sewing clothes for the widows and doing many other good works. It could be a scene from Howick. Knitting mittens for the mitten tree, and collecting clothes for some unfortunate people, so they can keep their dignity and warmth. What Dorcus was reported to have done sounds so ordinary. And that precisely is the point. This passage is a celebration of the ordinary and simple deeds of kindness, and the persons who do them. Today, people feel that what they do is so insignificant in the face of enormous social problems. We feel powerless to affect any change. But we must not underestimate ourselves. I believe that this spirit of doing simple good deeds is and must be the core of the all, larger scale social programs. The backbone to the health care and the welfare system must always be this spirit of care and kindness for each other, not money nor power.

If the church is used by ministers or others to gain power and acquire wealth, it will be a corruption beyond redemption. It should be the same with the health care and welfare systems. Selfish people who cheat and exploit the health and welfare systems can destroy our social programs. No matter how developed and sophisticated our society has become, the spirit of caring and generosity must remain the core of the whole system. Otherwise, our health care and welfare systems will be like a concrete high rise building without steel reenforcement. It will crumble in a short time.

Another important point of the story is how kind Dorcus was to the widows. Widows were in bad predicaments during those days. The word "widow" in the Bible was synonymous with the people at the bottom of society. In those days, the only way for a woman to live like a human being was to have a husband. When a wife lost her husband, she became nobody: a fate worse than being a mere unmarried woman. In other words, the widows and the orphans were the worst off people in the society. They were often sold as slaves. Dorcus was a very kind person. Her kindness extended absolutely to everybody; to the rich and poor, to the saints and sinners, and especially to the people who were on the bottom of the scale in society.

The resurrection of Dorcus is a continuation of the Easter story. Peter said to Dorcus, "In the name of Jesus Christ, get up." Jesus Christ was the first person to defeat the power of death. His amazing love enabled him to overcome death. Through Christ, we will also be able to attain the kind of life that never dies with mere biological death. The generosity and kindness Dorcus showed in her life came from the love Christ freely gave away. Let us not be confused by those big words used by politicians and professionals, who make our simple acts of kindness look insignificant. It just isn”t so. Let us celebrate the simple acts of kindness, knitting mittens for the mitten tree and visiting lonely persons. Let us heal the sick world through such ordinary and simple deeds of kindness.

A : SHOULD ANYONE DIE FOR ONE”S BELIEF? – EASTER 5

SHOULD ANYONE DIE FOR ONE”S BELIEF?

Acts 6:8-15, 7:54-60, Psalm 31

May 5, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

Stephen was the first Christian martyr recorded in the Bible. He was killed because he did not lie about his belief. He was killed by those who valued institutions more than human lives. Often Stephen”s martyrdom is celebrated as the supreme sacrifice of one who is faithful. But this morning, I want to take a different tack and warn us about the danger of a culture of death, rather than emphasizing the heroic nature of martyrdom. And to answer the question I posed in my sermon title, I declare categorically that no one must die for one”s belief. The vision of the Kingdom of God is where all beliefs are respected. If anyone is forced to sacrifice one”s life because of what one believes in, our task should be to reject whatever forced death on such a person and to vow to change such conditions.

It is important for us to recognize today that our Christian faith is definitely against culture of death. There is today a culture of death that praises suicide for one”s beliefs, or justifies killing for the sake of a cause. Suicides by some cults, such as the Solar Temple recently or the followers of Jim Jones some years ago, and killings of any kind for the sake of beliefs, such as the assassination of Prime Minister Rabine or the bombings in Oklahoma City and in Palestine: They are all part of the culture of death and must be rejected by us. This is not the message of the martyrdom of Stephen. We believe in life.

Neither Jesus nor Stephen sought death. They believed in life. In other words, they were committed to more abundant life but their efforts were interfered with by those who believed that life could be expendable. There have been many people whose lives were sacrificed because of love, just like Jesus or Stephen. In those cases, we must distinguish an act of love from a death wish. They had to die not because they wanted it, but because forces of death wanted to destroy the power of love. When you hear about those mothers in Hiroshima and Rwanda, where many babies were found under the bodies of mothers who died protecting them, you can see the point very clearly. Those mothers wanted to live, but even more than that, they wanted their children to live. They fought back with the naked force of love. It was not suicide. It was the stubbornness of love. Love was the true life force, that made death redundant. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the proof of that.

Some people conclude quite wrongly that because we believe in resurrection and eternal life, this life here and now does not matter all that much. They believe that we should all give up the comfort and joy of this life and look forward to the life hereafter. They often believe that there are two kinds of life; spiritual life and physical life, one is superior and everlasting but the other is lower a form of life. This type of belief is called "dualism", and must be rejected. We do not believe in the dualistic view of life. The life God gave us is one and the same. When God created the world and all that lived therein, God looked at them and said, "This is good." Jesus turned water into wine, so a wedding reception could continue. Thus Jesus affirmed the pleasure of life.

Eating, sleeping, and all other physical pleasures are good in the eyes of God, because they enhance quality of life. Of course, you can turn those pleasures into a curse, by compulsive and destructive over-indulgence, which often comes from a lack of self-respect. Then the quality of life diminishes. In principle, we must reject the idea that somehow pain and suffering are good for spiritual life. We don”t condone masochism, and we reject suicide as a way to enter into a better life. Stephen did not wish to die. He wanted to tell people about a better way of life, by speaking about the life of Jesus as a completion of all prophets and teachings of God.

The tradition to admire martyrs for not compromising and dying for the beliefs has been very strong in Christianity. This was often misunderstood as the worship of pain, suffering, and death. Many people wrongly believed that pain and death themselves are virtuous and thus we all should look for them. We must reject this. This is not what Jesus preached. Ours is a life affirming religion.

A Catholic Japanese writer by the name of Shusaku Endo struggled with this question about martyrdom and wrote a novel, "Silence" which is about a priest who rejected senseless death. The story goes like this: during the sixteenth century, a Jesuit by the name of Francisco Xavier went to Japan and planted the seeds for the Catholic Church in Japan. He was very successful and gained many converts very quickly: about 200,000 in a few years. But the ruler of Japan – the Shogun – thought that it was a dangerous invasion of a foreign idea which could eventually erode his authority. He began a brutal persecution against the Christians. Many were forced to convert back to Buddhism, and many more were crucified or thrown into the craters of active volcanoes. The Shogun eventually closed the whole country to outsiders for four centuries just to keep the foreign ideas out.

The method adopted by authorities to track down Christians was a forced desecration of the image of Mary and the Holy Child. An inspector and his party would arrive at a village, and every villager was ordered to step onto the carved wooden image. Anyone who hesitated was taken in and was tortured until they renounced the Christian faith. Those who refused were executed. Endo”s novel was about one Portuguese priest by the name of Rodrigues, who stepped on the wooden image to save other Japanese Christians from death. He had watched many faithful people die. He was tortured by his own conscience and he asked God a question. "Is it your will that they suffer so much, because of a man-made image?" Even though it was the official teaching of the church at the time not to desecrate the image, this priest decided that it was against the will of God for people to die for it. And to set an example, he stepped on it, so that many would follow his examples and save their lives. This priest became known as an infamous figure of a traitor in the history of Japanese Church like Judas of Iscariot in the Bible. But Endo”s novel disputes this idea and poses a question to us.

The question is whether martyrdom is for life or for an institution. When an institution imposes sacrifices on people, we must always ask a question; "Is it for the love of human life or for the protection of the institution itself?" Slave owners always encouraged slaves to go to church, because the church emphasized the blessing of the afterlife rather than rewards in the present. The church also encouraged the belief that suffering in this life helped to accumulate virtues in heaven so that the slaves would not complain about the terrible conditions of their lives. We today must firmly renounce such life-negating beliefs.

Jesus was executed by institutions; because those organizations like the temples and the Roman authorities felt threatened by the idea of the supremacy of love which Jesus preached. In their mind, spiritual qualities like the love of life were dangerous, because they made people feel free and not fearful of customs and traditions. Some of them were obsolete and oppressive. They needed to rule people by fear. This was why the joyous messages of love and life had to be snuffed out. Thanks be to God, they were not successful. The martyrdom of Stephen proved that they were not.

I still have a letter from a widow of an old friend. This friend was found dead twenty years ago in a prison in South Africa. He was an accountant for an organization the United Church supported. I was in a job where I sent the money and received accounts from him. We still don”t know why Mapetla Mohapi had to die. The organization he worked for was doing things like giving small loans to small businesses, like the organization in Montreal that our church gave money to last year. Probably the idea that black people could help each other was dangerous to the South African Government at the time. It could undermine the banks. His wife, Nohle, with whom I corresponded for a while after Mapetla died, was the first witness to appear in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which held its first hearing a few weeks ago in the city where Mapetla died. I am so happy that she at last had a chance to tell her story. This proves that the life that Mapetla loved so much finally won out in that country. Life goes on despite death. That is the message of the life of a martyr like Stephen.

B: ALL MY GLORY IS SHOWN THROUGH THEM – EASTER 7

ALL MY GLORY IS SHOWN THROUGH THEM

John 17:6-19, Psalm 1

June 4, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

I love our cat. I think she is the most beautiful cat in the world. But all the cat lovers say that their cats are the most beautiful cat in the world. Some of them are ugly. Cats mess up the house. But it doesn”t matter. When you love a cat, you love it even if it is not good looking or does all sorts of naughty things. But when we love a cat, it doesn”t matter even if it is absolutely useless. We love to love someone we love. Love itself is a joy and a reward, even if it is useless. That”s what love is.

Think about a baby in a family. Everybody loves a baby. Does a baby do dishes, clean the house, or helps you doing the chores in the barn? A baby is usually nuisance. It cries at night and keeps you awake, makes a mess, and gets sick. Babies don”t earn money but cost a lot of money. Babies are useless. But we still love the baby, a lot. Why? It is because love has nothing to do with being good or bad. Love does not come as a reward for being good.

Jesus prayed to God thanking him for giving him the friends he had during his life. He said, "All my glory is shown through them." He was saying that all the people he spent time and worked with were wonderful people. He must have loved them very much, and he must have been very proud of them. But if you think about the kind of people Jesus was speaking about, you will not understand why he said that. Many of them didn”t understand his teachings and often they completely misunderstood them. When he needed their help very much, all of them ran away, and Jesus was left alone. They were not dependable at all. One of them even betrayed him. How can Jesus be proud of them? How could they be the source of his glory? Jesus must have loved them very much. He could love them, because his love did not depend on whether they were good. It is just like our love of a baby. Love does not ask question like "Have you been a good boy?"

I remember the day when I did not do my home-work and went to school. I tried very hard to hide behind the friend who was in front of me, so the teacher would not find me. Sometimes we wonder if our parent still loves us even when we did not do as we were told. We don”t have to worry about that, because love has no relation with being good or bad. You are OK. Jesus loves you no matter what. God loves you no matter what.

C: ON THE WAY TO DAMASCUS AND BEYOND – EASTER 3

ON THE WAY TO DAMASCUS AND BEYOND

Acts 9:1-19, Psalm 30, John 21:1-19

April 26, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

My great grand mother was a convert, so was my father. However, I can not think of any recent convert otherwise. Conversion does not happen very often because it is costly. A complete change of ideas or religions upsets people close to you. Suppose, one day your daughter comes home and announces that she is a converted Mormon. A convert can lose jobs or end up being a lonely person. When my great grand mother decided to become a Christian, she was disowned by the family and had to leave home. My father was also disowned by his family. He was in a medical school, when he became not only a Christian but also decided to go to a theological school. This is why I never met many of my father”s family.

Saul”s conversion was an story of a radical change. Earlier he hated Christians. He was convinced that they were blasphemous people deserving death penalty. According to the book of Acts, Saul was filled with threats and murderous intent towards the Christians. When Stephen was stoned to death for blasphemy, Saul oversaw the execution. His zeal to keep the purity of faith was so strong that he went to another country to arrest and jail the Christians. He obtained the Arrest Warrant from the Chief Priest of Jerusalem. It was not a valid document in Syria. But that didn”t bother him. He was ready to risk overstepping the jurisdiction. He was a fanatic.

I think that there is nothing more dangerous than religious fanaticism. I am against the kind of religious fanaticism, that places purity of faith before people. Saul murdered Christians to keep the Jewish faith pure. We see the same travesty of religion in many places today. Shooting the doctors and bombing abortion clinics is an example of such religious fanaticism. You hear about the same kind of fanaticism in Algeria, Iran, Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, and the U.S. They kill in the name of God. Those fanatics are more dangerous than the common criminals, because they are convinced that God is on their side and that they are absolutely right.

So, Saul was on the way to Damascus with armed men to arrest the Christians. It was about three days ride on a horse back. He had some time to think. He must have reflected on what he had been doing recently. He must have thought about those Christian whom he jailed or killed. Surely Paul must have remembered how Stephen died, whose execution he himself supervised. Before Stephen breathed his last breath, Stephen cried out and said, "Father, forgive them. They don”t know what they are doing." He must have remembered those things. Suddenly, a blinding light struck him. He fell off the horse. The shock made him blind. He heard a voice, "Why do you persecute me?"

All of us have the Spirit of God within us. In other words, God lives in all of us. Paul called our bodies "God”s temple". If you give God in you a space to work; a time for the Spirit in us to work its way, you will come to senses. God spoke to the prodigal son, when he was feeding pigs and he came to himself. Fanaticism is a temporary insanity. Likewise, when we are infatuated, obsessed, lose temper, or sink into despair and hopelessness, we are also temporarily insane. We lose common sense that God has give us. Give yourself time; count ten and calm down. A day or a week will be better. God will speak to you. But if you have not given yourself time and not given God a chance to speak to you for a long time, the voice will come like a lightening bolt. It knocks you out. Because when it comes, it makes you realize how crazy you had been and how long. When it comes, you lose a sense of direction. You don”t know where you are and what to do any more. You become blind like Saul. You need help.

Help came to Saul in the person of Ananias. Ananaias knew who Saul was and what he had done to Christians. He himself could have been one of his victims. But he went to help him. Can you imagine? What kind of a man was he with such a huge capacity for forgiveness? If fact, this part of the story has the most important message about the conversion of Saul. If Ananaias was full of indignation, he could easily have decided to revenge all the Christians who died or suffered, and could have given Saul what he deserved. But he forgave him and helped him. Ananaias showed Saul forgiveness and love of God by his deeds.

Fanatics who hate people contradict themselves in the most fundamental way the principles of all religions, no matter how much they say they love God. You can not love God while hating people, in any religion. Most of the religions are based on the belief in the merciful God and the divine love. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, or Protestantism all have the common ground in this belief. As John said, "If you say you love God and hate people, you are a liar." The voice of Jesus asked Saul after he fell off the horse, "Why do you persecute me?" Saul was not persecuting Jesus Christ. As far as Saul was concerned, Jesus was dead. He was going after his followers. But Jesus said that persecuting people was the same thing as persecuting Jesus Christ himself.

God is loving and forgiving. Jesus Christ forgave, while being still on the cross dying, those who caused so much pain and suffering. Ananaias put into practice the forgiving love of God. He forgave and accepted Saul. When Saul was touched by this amazing love, he recovered the sight. No longer was he blind. He now could see the direction of his life.

I heard this story from Stephanie Hankey, Minister of the Presbyterian Church in Delaware at a meeting last year. It was about a kind and gentle couple who adopted a troubled young man who spent many years in prison for attempted murder. They were the members of the church my friend ministered to. They visited him every week. When he was released, they took him to their home and tried to help him find a job. He couldn”t find any. The world is unforgiving. He became more and more frustrated and began to behave like an angry young man. One day in a fit of rage, he took a gun and shot and killed the kindly adopted parents. The challenge for my friend was whether she should visit him in prison. "How could I?" said my friend. No longer was there Betsy who played piano at the evening service. No longer there was Jim, who was an elder serving as a liaison with the Scouts. "How could I visit such an ungrateful beast?" said my friend. But that”s what Ananaias did, who visited Saul and helped him find the direction of life. Otherwise, the church would not have had the Apostle Paul.

A: THE CHURCH”S HONEYMOON – EASTER 4

THE CHURCH”S HONEYMOON

Acts 2:42- 47, Psalm 23, John 10:1-10

April 28, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

In the beginning of married life, we only think of our spouse and do romantic and silly things. We call this period the honeymoon. Most of us move beyond it in a few years. But some people never do. Secretly we may envy them, because it is kind of nice. But we know that we all have to grow up sometime. Ideally, the initial love matures, and we grow wiser to avoid excess and to start looking outward. The Christian Church went through a phase similar to a honeymoon after the first Easter. But the church in Jerusalem never matured beyond the honeymoon phase and consequently almost disappeared, and the active Christian church developed outside of the Holy Land.

After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his followers were so excited and happy that they got together all the time and talked about their encounters with the risen Jesus. It soon became their custom to come together weekly on the day of resurrection. This is how the Christian Church began to meet on Sundays, the day after the Jewish Sabbath when Jesus rose from the dead. When they met, they followed the custom of the Synagogue: reading the Scriptures, singing Psalms, and listening to the followers of Jesus tell stories of Jesus Christ. After that they always had a meal together to remember the last supper Jesus had with his followers.

In the beginning, they did not think that they were starting a new religion. So they met in the synagogues, and called themselves people who followed "the Way". Soon it became difficult to meet in the synagogues, because other Jews began to suspect that the people of the Way were practising heresy. Some fanatical scholars, like Saul – who later became Paul – began to persecute the Christians by harassing them, putting them into jails, and sometimes executing them for advocating blasphemy against Judaism.

So those who followed "the Way" began to live in the new way of life especially in and around Jerusalem. They began to live in the communes eating together and making each meal like Holy Communion, and sharing all earthly possessions. Archaeologists dug out the ruins of similar communities in Palestine. One of them was called the Essenes and is well known today, because of its likelihood of being a community where John the Baptist or even Jesus himself might have lived. The Essenes located their communities in the mountains and deserts, in order to safeguard the purity of their belief.

This communal living might have been necessary. It was too dangerous to live alone as Christians in a hostile environment. But it was not just due to a need for security that they lived like this. It was mainly because of their enthusiasm and passion for their belief. Perhaps it was excessive, but they were so happy to be together, sharing the knowledge that Christ had risen. They lived in ecstasy. It was their honeymoon in their new faith.

They believed that the way of loving that Jesus taught could only be put into practice through a total sharing. They believed that if they loved their brothers and sisters in faith, they should share everything they owned. So they abolished private property. Some people kept a few possessions for themselves secretly instead of giving them all up to the communities. But they were made to feel ashamed. The Bible recorded the story of a couple who did not give everything away and secretly kept a portion of their money. They died of a heart attack because their deception was exposed. Some people stopped working for living, and devoted themselves to a life of charity and prayer. Some of them even stopped paying taxes, because they believed that Christ would come soon and establish a new kingdom of God. So they were prosecuted for tax evasion by the Roman authorities. They may have been idealistic and their devotion touching, but they were naive and not very practical.

This is why the first Christians who lived in Jerusalem became very poor and destitute. Those Christians who lived outside of Palestine, in Turkey, Greece, North Africa, and in Italy had to support them by raising funds to help them. But many of the Jerusalem Christians remained the same and stubbornly stuck to their ways. They did not fully accept those later converts who were not Jews. They insisted that these Gentiles convert to Judaism first through circumcision before they became the people of the Way. They became a cosy little group, never changing their ways and not wanting to welcome newcomers. Because of this obstinate attitude, the Church in Jerusalem nearly disappeared. The active Church, in its stead, developed in North Africa – in Egypt and Ethiopia, in Asia Minor – in Turkey, and in Europe – in Greece and Italy.

This is a classic case of people who never grew up. They never moved beyond the honeymoon. They remained inward looking and exclusive, like a newly married couple. They did this in the name of Jesus Christ. Love that does not mature becomes stale and poisonous. Their "way" became a huge boulder that blocked the road to growth rather than a highway on which to journey to maturity. The way, like a road or a street, is useful only when it allows you to move and go somewhere. The Christian way is an avenue for a movement. It challenges us to grow and move with change.

There are two lakes in Palestine, Lake Galilee and Dead Sea, which are connected to one river system – the River Jordan. One is alive and the other is dead. One can drink water out of Lake Galilee; fish are plentiful. But the Dead Sea has no visible life form living in it. One can not even stay in the water more than a few minutes, because water is too salty. The lake, as its name implies, is dead. What makes them so different though both of them get the water from the same river? Lake Galilee takes water in and lets it flow out. So fresh water moves through it continually. On the other hand, the Dead Sea is located below the sea level, and water has no place to go; it sits stagnant and evaporates leaving chemicals behind. So the lake died and killed other living things. Christ”s way of life, the way of loving is like a flowing water. It involves constant movement – that movement allows life to grow and thrive. Change allows love to become more mature.

But how? John”s Gospel today gives a very interesting hint. A true guide who leads you to safety is compared to a shepherd, but the one who leads you astray is called a thief and a bandit. Shepherding and thieving are both ways to make a living. But a shepherd makes a living by looking after others. A shepherd lived with the animals rain or shine: the welfare of the animals was the welfare of the shepherd. Shepherd made a living by caring, loving, and sharing. We know a lot of people like that. They make decent living, but equally they give well. Thieves on the other hand make a living by exploiting others without giving back in return. They certainly aren”t concerned with looking after the welfare of the victims. Their goal in life is to look after themselves, and nobody else. Others are all potential targets for exploitation or enemies. Their goal in life is strictly taking, and absolutely no giving. This kind of living will eventually leads you to self-destruction.

Just like the love life of honeymoon eventually dies and becomes poisonous unless it matures, the church that remains inward looking concerned only with itself also dies. I believe that, like the hymn we used to sing in Sunday School, "There”s a church in the valley by the wildwood" language of the church says too often "Come, come, come," and not often enough "Go, go, go." It is good to create a lovely caring community. You have in large measures succeeded in making such a community in Howick United Church. I would much prefer to be here than in a large and prosperous downtown church with bells and whistles, a paid choir and a large salary. But we must keep growing up. We must remember to consider what to do and how to do it when we leave the church building, just as much as remembering to come together for worship and fellowship. Do not forget, our guide and our teacher is like a shepherd who calls us out to journey through green pastures and dark vales, as often as he brings us back to a comfortable home through his gate.

It is he who shares the honeymoon with us as well as calls us forward to a more mature love.

A: JESUS THE CAREGIVER – EASTER 4

JESUS THE CAREGIVER

Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, John 10:1-10

April 25, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

I imagine that losing one”s memory with Altzheimer”s disease is like being lost in a strange place and finding yourself among total strangers. Every time I go to see my mother these days, she first looks at me puzzled. But then she extends her hand to take mine as she does to all visitors. I take her hand firmly and say, "Hello, Mama." She breaks into a big smile, "Oh, Tachan! (that”s how she calls me.) Thanks for coming. How is your mother?" Obviously she doesn”t quite know who I am yet, but somehow knows that I am someone very close to her, and she can trust me.

It is amazing what a mere touch of someone”s hand can do. We surround ourselves with all sorts of chemical and technological wonders that are supposed to banish all anxieties and discomforts. But I observe that we are not as happy as we could be. We in fact may have become lonelier and unhappier, because machines keep people away from each other. We still find that a smile, kind words softly spoken, or the touch of a friend works wonders where even pills fail to heal a wounded soul.

According to the church calender, today is designated as "Good Shepherd Sunday." It is the day to highlight Jesus as a kind and caring leader. However, "shepherd" is not a familiar image to us. In our culture, not very many people know what it means to herd the sheep in the badlands. I wondered what would be another image for us today that would fit the character of a shepherd of old. I decided to suggest the image of a caregiver. I am suggesting that Psalm 23 can be paraphrased something like "The Lord is my nurse in the recovery room." Or the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John could be, "I am the wife of a terminally ill person, who always stays with him, feeding him and changing him, holding his hands."

There are many images for God in the Bible. The Creator, the Righteous One, the Holy One, the Merciful One, the Redeemer, the Shepherd, the Spirit, the Lord, to name a few. God can never be known by us totally. So people described their particular relations with God using different images that fit their experiences. The most frequently used image, however, was the "Lord". It was an image of the powerful king. But Psalm 23 qualifies that image by saying that, "Yes, God is the most powerful king, but he is also gentle and kind like a shepherd." Like the hymn says, "Saviour like a shepherd lead us." And this is the image Jesus chose for himself too: "I am a Good Shepherd."

We believe in God who is the king – the powerful leader. But also this leader is like a shepherd who is kind, helps us find security and comfort, and stays with us even in the dark shadow of death. By adopting the image of a shepherd, Jesus clearly described himself as the kind of a leader who would not abuse his power for his own benefit. This leader is not like a despotic king you heard about in history, or a dictator like Hitler or Milosevic, who thinks nothing of sacrificing human lives to stay in power. One hopes that our political leaders are not like those despots and dictators. But watching political scenes around us, I sometimes wonder if even our politician”s top priority is to be re-elected and to stay in power. In a perfect world, you run for an office in order to serve people. But I have not known very many political leaders who have put people”s interests before the prospect of their own re-election. The image of the shepherd as the king makes it absolutely clear the true nature of Jesus” leadership. He leads like a caregiver who puts the wellness of people before all other concerns. We must recover the image of Jesus as the compassionate man who was not afraid to touch lepers, and washed disciples” feet like a slave.

Professor Rodney Stark is a well known specialist in the Sociology of Religion. He has studied the rapid growth of the Christian Church in the first four centuries. The speed with which the number of Christians increased was phenomenal. Beginning as just a handful of followers of Jesus, increased their number so fast that they overtook the Roman Empire within a few centuries. It is even more remarkable when you consider the fact that the Jesus movement grew so fast while banned as an illegal religion and the Christians were persecuted severely. Stark was particularly impressed by the fact that, when two devastating waves of plague (probably small pox) reduced the population of the Roman Empire by a third in the third century, the number of Christians increased even more rapidly in the same period of time. Stark attributes this incredible phenomenon to Christian charity.

During those days, people did not know anything about bacteria or viruses. All diseases were considered to be caused by evil spirits. So sick people, especially those with repulsive skin conditions like leprosy, small pox, and boils were thought to be cursed and were often abandoned and isolated as untouchable. But the Christians followed the example of Jesus, and stayed with the sick and took care of them, while even the doctors did not go near those who contracted plague for fear of the wrath of gods. In fact Stark quotes the diary of a doctor, who went away for holiday because everybody in his care got sick, and there was nobody he could care for. For sure, many Christians contracted the disease and died. But because the sick people were well looked after, a larger number of them survived in the Christian community compared to the population at large. Many outsiders thought that the Christians were practicing powerful magic, and joined the church in droves. But it was not magic nor miracle, not even medical science. It was simply the touch of a friend, kind words softly spoken, and the warm company of concerned people that gave the sick courage to live on. They were following the example of the Christ the caregiver, God the shepherd.

The power of Christ the king is not the force that conquers, it is the courage to love. That”s what the image of God the shepherd means. That”s why I think that the image of Jesus as a caregiver fits very well.

 

 

 

 

 

A: WHY WE DON”T LIKE TRUTH – LENT 4

WHY WE DON”T LIKE TRUTH?

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, John 9:1-41

March 14, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

The other day, someone asked me about a meeting I attended last Sunday. She had a second hand report about it. What she heard sounded like quite wrong to me. According to this person who reported it to my friend, the result of one particular vote was a complete opposite of what I thought it was. When you run into a situation like this, you realize that truth can be so elusive.

Jay Ingram is a science reporter, who used to host a science program on the CBC Radio. He recently wrote a book about human brains. In it, he quotes an interesting market research done by a women”s clothing manufacturer. Volunteers were led into a room with a pile of pantyhose, and were asked to pick one pair of pantyhose they would buy. After careful examination, every volunteer picked one best pair they would buy. They were asked to give reasons for their choices. They mentioned such things as superior materials, more comfortable, more agreeable colours, etc. But unbeknownst to them those pantyhose were exactly the same; knitted by the same machine, in the same size, of the same colour, and using the same material. Objectively speaking, none of the reasons they listed could possibly be true, because all of them were exactly the same. But Jay Ingram was sure that all of those women were sincere and truly believed that everything they said was right. Could this be one reason to say that there is no such thing as the universal truth? Is it all in your mind? It is up to you. Is it? But we believe that there is truth. Truth from God. Trouble is that we can not handle truth. We can not even agree on a simple fact. The story of healing of a blind man in the Gospel according to John is a typical example of human behaviours that always manage to make truth all muddled up.

One day, Jesus healed a blind man. He had been born blind, but now he could see. He had had to beg for living, but now he had a chance to make his own living. Healing is not just a matter of restoring the eyesight or of correcting physical problems. It is a deed to restore dignity and wholeness. The blind man, when he gained sight, discovered faith in God and in himself. He was not afraid to tell the truth any more. But what a furore this simple episode of healing provoked! Neighbours did not believe that it was the same blind man who was healed. They began to say, "Surely this is not the same man, who was blind and a beggar." Many of them saw what happened with their own eyes. But they did not believe what they saw, because they didn”t see what they didn”t want to see, and they forgot what they didn”t want to remember. So they asked the parents of the man if it was the same man, and they said it was. So they turned to the man who was blind and asked him if he was truly the same man who had been born blind, and he insisted that he was. They could not handle the truth they did not want to believe. But he was not afraid to tell the truth, and he did not shut up. Healing gave him courage to tell the truth no matter how much it annoyed people. So in the end, they ran him out of town. They banished the man, when they saw the truth and didn”t like it.

Pharisees had other problems about the truth. Jesus healed the blind man on Sabbath. According to the laws of Moses, nobody should work on Sabbath. But what is work? It was left to the lawyers to figure out those details of the law. Healing was work as far as the Pharisees” interpretation. They tried hard to perfect the laws by defining fine points of the laws. But sometimes lawyers forget the spirit of the law, when they try to figure out the meaning of the laws. That”s how they grab more and more power over people. That”s how they can tell people, "It”s all complicated. Leave it to me." For Pharisees, Jesus violated the Sabbath law, and he was not a qualified person to perform healing either. So the Pharisees scolded the man for allowing himself to be healed by a sinner. They told him to "Give glory only to God. We know that the man who healed you is a sinner." But he said, "I don”t know whether this man is a sinner. Only thing I know for sure is, though I was blind, but now I can see." He didn”t know the fine points of the law, but he knew the truth that counted. The laws are God”s instruments. They are there to help us to know God and to live accordingly. God is not bound by those instruments. God is bigger than any of them. But if your job is to maintain those instruments, you are tempted to guard them as though it is more important than God. This is how you get trapped in a folly, "My mind is made up. Don”t confuse me with facts."

The Church, too, have made the same mistake many times as the Pharisees did with Jesus and the blind man. It is only recently, the church at last admitted that the mistake was made by the church, during the sixteenth century, when it condemned those scientists, including Galileo Galilei, who said that the earth went around the Sun. The church used to say that the earth was the centre of the universe and the Sun and stars went around the earth. Some of them were burnt at stake as heretics for speaking contrary the church”s teaching. Many women were also burnt at stake during the medieval ages and as recently as two centuries ago in Americas branded as witches. Often their crime was their knowledge of herbal medicine, which they acquired while looking for edible plants. They were looking for herbs and spices for flavour and taste in food, they discovered healing properties of some plants. But medicine was reserved for men. So those women had to be punished for stepping on to men”s toes, even though their herbal medicine worked and must have cure diseases. We know today that herbal medicine works sometime better than the chemicals.

We too keep repeating the same mistake over and over again, and reject truth, because sometimes it does not suit us or threaten our vested interests. You can see how Jesus, as good and loving as he was, could end up being crucified as a criminal. During this season of lent, let us admit our prejudices and vested interests that cloud our mind. Let us start all over again and again with open mind. That is one way to know the truth about Jesus Christ, and how good and loving he was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: GOD LOVES THE WORLD, NOT JUST NICE PEOPLE – LENT 4

GOD LOVES THIS WORLD, NOT ONLY NICE PEOPLE

Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107, John 3:14 – 21

March 9, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

In early years of the church, there were many rumours about Christianity. Some people even accused Christians of practising cannibalism. Disturbing and incredible as it may sound, there were many good reasons for outsiders to misunderstand some Christian customs. You see, Roman authorities banned this new religion because it did not recognize the divinity of Caesar. Even those, who did not like the Romans, the Jews and the Greeks alike saw Christians with suspicion. So Christians had to often meet secretly at night in places like underground cemeteries called "catacombs". When people met, they often observed Communion in which they broke bread saying, "Take eat. This is my body. Drink of this cup. This is my blood." Remembering the broken body and spilt blood of Christ is the essence of communion, which to this day is the most important and cherished sacrament of our faith. Of course, cannibalism was a totally false and unfair accusation. And yet the wording of the liturgy could sound upsetting to many people who did not know the Christian faith. We too have to come to grips with the language of sacrifice in our faith.

In order to understand the meaning of sacrifice, it is necessary for us to remember the ancient Hebrew belief about God”s justice and love. People of the Old Testament believed, as we still do, that God was just and loving. However, often justice and love, or righteousness and mercy could run into conflict with each other. What do you do when someone you love is unjust? Do you forgive and condone evil? Or would you fulfil the requirements of justice and deny the impulse of love? The notion of sacrifice emerged to solve this dilemma. To commit sin is like owing God a debt. The idea that someone could pay the debt for another person evolved into the idea of sacrifice. In the old Hebrew traditions, animals without blemish were sacrificed to pay that debt to God, so that injustice was properly dealt with. The innocent animals gave up their lives for the sinners. This was how the debts were paid and the books were balanced. The innocent one who was merciful paid a huge price. But through its sacrifice, justice was done. This is how the notion of Jesus being the ultimate sacrificial lamb evolved, to explain the love of God expressed in the death of Jesus on the cross. It was an first theological attempt to explain, in our limited human vocabulary, the mystery of God”s amazing grace in Jesus Christ.

When the Gospel says, "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son.", it said "the world" without qualification. God loved the world of nature and human beings, the world where good and bad, material and spiritual, beautiful and ugly, are all co-existing. It does not say that God separated them and loved only the good people, only the one belonging to the spiritual world, and only the beautiful things. It says that God loved them all, as though they were all mixed up as one entity. This is a constant reminder for us who come to church. Yes, God loves us. But God loves those who are not in the church, also. Not only do we need to remind ourselves that we are not the only ones who are loved by God. We have to treat those outside of the church also as ones who are equally loved by God. We must never hold an "us v.s. them" attitude, because God doesn”t.

One of the difficult situations I, as a minister, face from time to time is the expression of guilt on the part of people who don”t come to church. Whenever people see a minister, inevitably some people begin to explain why they don”t come to church. I always have an urge to say to these people, "I don”t care. I like you anyhow." I understand some people don”t want to or can”t come to church. I did not go to church for a period for different reasons. For many of you, and for me, going to church is extremely important like breathing and eating. We get to show our faith in a safe place, and get fed with spiritual nourishment. But we do not have right to say that other people must feel the same as we do. God does not make a distinction between church goers and non-church people. God loves us all.

I like the attitude of medical doctors and nurses in this respect. They don”t judge people for their conduct. They treat saints and sinners alike. They do their best to treat a person even if the patient is ethically a hopeless case. Doctors and nurses do not discriminate about patients nor pass judgement about them. Likewise when God loves the world, and he does not discriminate. The difference from the medical people is: God is also the God of justice, who hates evil. In this context, it becomes all the more important to remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus Christ was the God”s way to love the world without compromising the principles of justice. When justice demanded retribution, God paid off our debts through Jesus Christ once and for all.

 

When I was a child, I heard a story of a dedicated and caring government official in Taiwan. Let us call him Mr. Song – a common Taiwanese name, because I forgot his name. He was sent by the central government into a remote region where mainly Aboriginal people lived to oversee its governance. He was a good man, and people came to love him dearly. Over the years, people came to regard Mr. Song as though he was the father of the tribe. But there was one problem even this good man could not solve. This particular people used to practice human sacrifice in times of great distress. They raided other tribes when plagues struck or crops failed, captured a prisoner, and made a human sacrifice and dedicate the head of the prisoner to appease angry god. The Government, of course, prohibited the practice of such a cruel custom, and meted out severe punishments whenever this happened and was discovered. But the barbaric practice never stopped. Once there was a great famine, and Mr. Song could tell that people were again ready to go back to their old barbaric custom. So he decreed that the government would overlook the practice of human sacrifice one more time – but henceforth after that, the practice would be met with an unimaginable and severe punishment. There was also a condition. Fir this last sacrifice, they would not be able to stage a raid into another people”s village: they would have to take whatever stranger who happened to pass the village. So the villagers captured the first stranger who came into the village. It was only after they beheaded him that they found this human sacrifice was their beloved Mr. Song in disguise. People wept for many days regretting their stupidity. As the story goes, from that day forward the barbaric practice of human sacrifice was never repeated in Taiwan.

For us, Christ was the final and ultimate sacrifice who paid the price of all of our transgressions once and for all. All we need to do is to believe this, and pledge to be forgiving and charitable to all of our neighbours. The sacrament of Holy Communion is our symbolic act to remember Christ”s final and ultimate sacrifice that paid off all our debts of past and future. Let us celebrate it joyfully and go out of this place as happy free people.

B: SNAKE – AN AGENT OF HEALING OR OF DEVIL – LENT 4

IS A SNAKE AN AGENT OF HEALING OR CORRUPTION?

Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107, John 3:14-21

April 2, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

I used to take a group of boys to camping in Lesotho, Africa. There was a 11 year old bully called Morgan Archer, who was a son of a Canadian Professor of Education. He could sustain one burp long enough to sing "Twinkle, twinkle little star." Naturally, other boys respected him. They followed him everywhere. He took them on a snake hunt. They all pretended that they were not scared. They carried their catch in cotton bags. In the middle of the night, a fight broke out. They were fighting over snakes. It seemed that some snakes crept into the wrong bags. So, I had to keep all the snake bags in my tent to keep the peace. Everybody managed to sleep a little that night, except me. Fifteen years later, I ran into Morgan Archer in Toronto. He was a manager of a Second Cup Coffee outlet near the church office on St. Clair Avenue. I asked him if he still loved snakes. He said he never did. He just pretended that he liked snakes. What a price to be a bully!

The snakes have a bad reputation. They are often seen as a symbol of evil. They bite and kill people. This is why today”s scripture lessons surprise us. A bronze figure of a snake was lifted up by Moses as a symbol of healing and salvation. The Gospel according to John compares Jesus Christ, who was lifted up on the cross, with the bronze snake. It sounds puzzling. A snake first appeared in the Bible as an animal who tempted Eve into eating a forbidden fruit, thus caused the first rebellion against God. This incident branded the snake as evil ever since.

Careful reading of the Bible, however, shows that this characterization of the snake as an evil creature is incorrect. Take the first account of the snake in the Genesis. It says that the snake was the most cunning animal God has created, but does not say that it was evil. Snakes appear 58 times in the Bible. But only two times in the Book of Revelation, the snake is called Satan. Even there, it speaks about a huge dragon referred to as "an ancient snake". The Revelation was speaking about a different kind of creature, not a normal snake. All other references to the snake characterize them as cunning or clever, though it may have to crawl on the ground and eat dirt. Christ even commanded us to be like a snake saying, "You must be wise like a snake, and gentle like a dove." A snake as a model of wisdom certainly is a different image from what we used to think of it as a creepy and crawly vermin.

Back in Lesotho, Morgan Archer and the boys knew that most of the local snakes were harmless through Prof. Thelejane”s research project. He was a biologist doing a research on the snakes in the region, and had a huge collection of them in a tank. Most of the poison snake bites happen when people accidentally step on them. In fact, snakes are the ones who avoid people. We are the most dangerous enemies for snakes. When you walk on the grass in a snakes infested country, you should wear heavy boots, cover the legs, and always carry a stick and beat the grass ahead of you as you walk. Snakes do not attack you, if you give them enough warning. Generally speaking snakes are safe, if you know how not to bother them.

It is interesting to notice that the people of Israel were bitten by snakes, after they started to complain to God and Moses about hardship that the life of freedom brought to them. They said, "Did you have to bring us out of Egypt to die in the desert? We have to find water and food here. In Egypt, we did not have freedom but at least we had lots of food." Food was more important for them than freedom. They had not yet understood that dignity which freedom gave them was the most important gift from God. That was a sure sign of immaturity. We expect babies to want milk without worrying about their nakedness or wet bum, because they are babies. But if adults do not see the value of dignity, they have a serious problem. The problem with addiction, for example, is the fact that things like alcohol, drug, gambling, money, or even work take over their lives, and dignity is forgotten. They become slaves of substance or habits, and abandon the marks of adulthood such as dignity and responsibility. If such immaturity dominates adult”s life, anything, even the good things in life can become poisonous.

This is why I think the image of a snake as a metaphor for salvation as well as poison is very meaningful. Venom from poison snakes makes serum – a remedy for snake bites. We know that all drugs are poison, if we abuse or misuse them. They are medicine, because we know how to handle them. A mature adult knows how to remain in control of our environment, things we consume, and our habits. A snake meant disaster for immature Israelites, because they couldn”t handle responsibility therefore couldn”t appreciate freedom. A child can not handle freedom, so do not understand why one has to take responsibility. An immature person hates freedom and responsibility, like darkness hates light. The immature people never understand the value of dignity. They do not understand what healing and salvation mean. The Gospel according to John spoke about the coming of Christ and said, "The light came into the world, but the darkness rejected it." This is why those who did not see the true meaning of healing and salvation killed Christ on the cross. They thought that Jesus Christ was a disaster – a traitor to their dream, like the Israelites who thought that God and Moses were killing them by giving them freedom.

Life is a life long process of learning. We never stop growing and learning until the end. When you stop growing, you become a living dead no matter how young you are. Let us keep growing towards maturity without stopping at any instant gratification of a superficial pleasure. When you can see infinite possibilities that freedom of the wilderness offers, and when you can see healing beyond the frightening appearance of a snake, you will appreciate the meaning of salvation Christ brought to all of us.

 

 

 

A: WE ARE BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS – LENT 2

WE ARE BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS

Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3:1-17

February 28, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

One day, a man asked me in a cafeteria, "Are you saved? Are you born again to Christ?" I said, "Yes." The he said, "When?" I said, "Everyday." It is a pity that some perfectly good expressions like "born again" get used as labels and the original meanings are changed or lost. "Evangelical" and "Born Again" are expressions that have become labels for some particular groups of people. But if we believe the Bible, we are all born again Evangelical Christians. I feel that we must reclaim those names as ours as they are used in the Bible.

The Christians, who live in the so-called non-Christian countries, have a tendency to idealize the countries like Canada which are considered to be "Christian" countries. A Japanese Christian came to Canada to attend an interdenominational meeting. He was shocked to see quarrels between "Evangelicals" and "Liberals", Presbyterians and United, Catholics and Protestants, etc. He was disappointed to find that Christians fought in Canada too like Japanese do at home. Someone asked him, what he was. He said, "I”m a Christian, and I thought you all were."

We are Christians before we are Baptists, Catholics, United, Presbyterians, or whatever the label we put on. Furthermore, we are "Born Again" Christians according to today”s Gospel reading. In the Gospel according to John, you find that the expression "Born Again" was first used by Jesus. He said that no one could be his follower and enter the kingdom of God unless one was born again. By this definition, we all are, or should be, born again Christians. The story has it that one night a prominent Pharisee leader by the name of Nicodemus came to see Jesus. He said, "Teacher, I know you come from God. No one can do what you are doing unless one comes from God." Jesus said to him, "If you really want to follow God”s way, you must first be born again." This really threw Nicodemus off balance, because he was a man of reason. "Born again? I am a grown up man. I can not go back to my mother”s womb." He was a man who used the brain to think. He was a scholar. Reason was the faculty he valued. He was not used to be confronted with things that made no logical sense. But he came face to face with the fundamental fact of faith; faith is the matter of both spirit and mind. He had to integrate reason with passion to start afresh in the life of faith – to be born again in spirit.

It is not easy for a person who has a superior mind to give oneself to emotion or passion. One is afraid to look silly. This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night. He was the leader of the scholarly and righteous lawyers who took it upon themselves to be the watch dogs of the nation”s moral standards. He knew that Jesus was a very special man. He could tell that Jesus had to come from God, because Nicodemus was a God fearing righteous man. But his cool reasoning prevented him to make a leap of faith. He could not be seen as acting in a hasty manner, especially about a matter of national importance; people were calling Jesus the Messiah – the true king. He had to be careful. So he came secretly. But faith must involve a whole person. The whole person includes feelings, emotions, passion, and can be creative and impulsive, in addition to a cool mind that calculates and reasons. Faith requires both attributes, because faith requires a whole person. A whole person is a person who draws on both mind and spirit.

Dr. Helen Caldicot is a paediatrician who became famous in a movement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons during the height of the cold war in the eighties. She was once asked why she was so emotional when she spoke about the danger of nuclear weapons. The insinuation was that "Emotional people are not credible because they are not reasonable. Women are often emotional. Therefore they are not credible. If you want to be heard, stay cool and speak with reason. Be like a man." She answered that ”Yes, I am emotional about this. I am a woman and a mother. If my patient does not get emotional about the future of her child, she is mentally ill. I ”ll send her to a Psychiatrist." Any good parent is both emotional and reasonable about one”s own child.

This also means that faith is not complete if passionate belief does not seek reason. Our minds are God”s creation, as much as our spirits are gifts from God. Faith has to grow in mind and spirit, even when faith comes into our life through emotion and passion. And faith has to be fed with reason as it grows. Faith does not stay alive by passion alone. Sometime those who believe with passionate faith criticize those people who study the Bible scientifically, and examine our beliefs systematically. But those people too must be born again to integrate their passion for God with reason and scientific logic, because faith involves the whole person. And a whole person is a person with both passion and reason.

Abraham was already a rich man when he was still in the land of Haran, the present day Iraq. He had tens of thousands of heads of livestock of all sorts and an army of workers within his household. He was almost like a head of a nation. But one night, he had a vision. God spoke to Abraham and told him to pack up all his household and move. God did not tell him where to. He just said, "Pack up and go." The Bible says that Abraham went without knowing where he was going. Perhaps it was because he didn”t know where he was going, that he went so far. It was a totally irrational thing to do for a successful farmer and businessman who made virtually billions of dollars. It was not a rational decision. It was a decision made from the heart, out of his passionate trust in God. He was ready to start afresh. At that point, Abraham was born again into faith, both in mind and spirit.

We are also called upon to be born again. Made afresh today, tomorrow, and many more times to be born anew. There are some people who can pinpoint the time and the day when he/she was born again. But we are all very different. For many of us, like me, the process of being "born again" is a quiet process that repeats itself many times. I try to live everyday like a new person, refreshed by the belief that God loves me. We have to be born again, again and again. Sometimes, God will help us with an inspirational or emotionally high experience. After those experiences, we must settle down and become stable with reason, like a bowl of hot jelly cools and settles in a fridge. At other times, our cool rational belief system has to be shaken, perked up, and refreshed with stirring hymns or by the love of a friend. In either case, we are born again as a new Christian person.

 

A: THREE STRIKES AGAINST JESUS – LENT3

THREE STRIKES AGAINST JESUS

Romans 5: 1-11, Psalm 95, John 4:1-42

We don”t quite understand why the disciples were so shocked to find their master with a Samaritan woman by Jacob”s well, as it is described in the today”s Gospel. John said that the disciples were so astonished when they found who was with Jesus. They were too embarrassed to ask a question. Jesus must have had a knack of doing things wrong. He angered, annoyed, astonished, and disgusted many people. This is why the leadership of society, and even the public who used to follow him, demanded his death after only a few years in his ministry. And this episode in Samaria epitomizes Jesus” ministry that drove him to the death on the cross. It must have been pretty shocking incident. As far as I could gather, Jesus made three big mistakes.

The first mistake was that he spoke to an unaccompanied woman in public. She was a stranger, too. That was a very serious breach of etiquette. According to the custom of the time, no man is permitted to speak to an unaccompanied woman in public, unless she was his daughter or wife. This still is the case in many cultures even today. Worse still, Jesus asked for a drink of water. You can do it only in an intimate relationship. You don”t do that even today, unless you know the person well. According to the custom of the time, you might be permitted to ask a stranger for water. But you must bring your own container. Jesus had none. The woman said, "But sir, you don”t even have a bucket." She would have had to offer it to him with her own bucket. This could happen only between intimate friends or between family members. If you ask for a cup of water without your own cup, your are asking for relationship. And they had never met before. So you know how an outrageous act that was.

So the woman was surprised. But she did not run away, because she was a woman of experience with men. Anyhow, she was a Samaritan woman. That was the second strike against Jesus. It was a serious breach of Jewish customs. Samaritans had been despised and loathed by the Jews for nearly one thousand years. People even took long detour to avoid travelling through Samaria. Samaritans were an artificially created nation. King of Assyria defeated Kingdom of Israel in 900 B.C., drove the people out of Samaria, and like deportation of criminals to Australia, forced massive immigration from five different nations. They eventually intermarried and became a nation of mixed blood people. The king of Assyria did this out of spite to humiliate the Jews.

The Jews considered the Samaritans to be not only bastards but also pagans who desecrated the Hebrew religion. Samaritans brought in a Jewish priest to learn about the religion of the land they inherited. But they ended up mixing the Hebrew religion with their own and created a hybrid religion. So Jewish people at the time of Jesus despised and deeply hated the Samaritans for a religious reason, also. Jesus not only spoke to an unaccompanied stranger woman, but also to a Samaritan woman. A disgusting thing to do.

Thirdly, this Samaritan woman was a person of ill repute. She had five husbands, and currently was living with a man but not married to him. Jesus did not hesitate to be friends with women of ill repute, even with prostitutes. They were eager to learn the truth about God and spiritual life. He did not discriminate people who followed him. That was bad enough for his reputation. But this woman was a Samaritan. He had gone too far. I would be reluctant to be seen in a company of certain kind of people, especially discussing an intimate subject like history of sexual relationships.

What is interesting is the fact that nobody asked whether her misfortunes in her married life were because of her failings or were they due to circumstances beyond her control. But it was assumed that her many failed marriages indicated that she was not a good woman. Isn”t it possible that she was simply unlucky? She might have been widowed a few times. And yet, she was ostracised in society. She had to come to the well in the heat of the day – noon. Noone wants to go outside in the middle of the day in the Middle East, when the Sun is too hot. Temperature could be more than 100 degree F. Besides, it was a common custom in many cultures for women to socialize and to exchange useful information as well as gossips at the well or by the river. It was a good time for women. Why would this Samaritan woman come to the well at noon, when nobody was around? There must have been some serious reasons why she had to avoid more comfortable part of the day and pleasant company of friends. It was all because of her unfortunate marital past, which might not have been her fault at all.

It is the same with the status of the Samaritans. The origin of the Samaritan nation might have been a shameful event for the Jews. But that was not the fault of the Samaritans. Samaritans did not cause such an abnormal beginning. They did not even exist when such disgrace was forced upon the nation of Israel. The Samaritans were also the victims.

We have an appalling tendency to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators. We blame the poor and say it is their fault that they are poor. We blame the victim of sexual violence and say she must have been insolent. It is like beating your baby for not stop crying at night, only to discover that the child was in a terrible pain because of a broken bone. Jesus could see injustice in such treatment of victims. He did not hesitate to have a conversation with a Samaritan divorced woman. Jesus saw that she happened to be a person of profound spiritual insight. Jesus did not discriminate in the choice of his followers and friends. He did not see the labels on people, but saw spiritual quality in them.

You see, what Jesus said in the beginning of their conversation was enigmatic, if not totally puzzling. He spoke about living water. He said that it would make people never to thirst again. The woman was sceptical. She was not convinced until Jesus switched the subject of conversation to her personal life. He guessed about her failed married life. Then she immediately realized that this man was not teasing her or making a pass at her. It is to her great credit that she recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the one who would bring salvation. It showed that she was a person of some spiritual depth. Also it is, of course, due to Jesus” extraordinary spiritual capacity to recognize that, beyond a appalling reputation in society, this Samaritan woman had a inner gift of understanding in the spiritual matters.

For Jesus Christ, the labels on people had no meaning. A woman, a pagan, a half breed, a loose woman, all these were just the labels, some of which might have been false. Even the religious questions, such as whether to worship God in the Samaritan mountains or in the temple in Jerusalem, whether you kneel or stand to pray, or you are Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslims, Jews, or United Church; those are questions about labels and often are meaningless distinctions as far as God is concerned. He spoke about worshipping God in truth and spirit. He was not interested in discussing the difference between Jewish religion and Samaritan beliefs. He was only interested in salvation of all people.

This is why Jesus was a very disturbing element for those people, for whom religious differences, national distinctions, and social statuses were more important than God. This is why the ministry of Jesus had three strikes against him, in this story of Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Because some people are more concerned about keeping out other people, in order to preserve the purity of institutions. In the same token, we can say that the suffering and death of our Lord are the signs of his integrity and of his uncompromising love. He did not allow superficial labelling interfere with the matter concerning salvation of people. Jesus loves, and is ready to die again and again for us because he does not stop loving.

YEAR C: THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ARE OFTEN FREE – LENT 3

THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ARE OFTEN FREE

Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63, Luke 13:1-5

March 15, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

We often consider cash as a measure for value; and this is a serious spiritual problem. Often we don”t know what real value means, and treat ourselves and each other poorly. Lord Beaverbrook, one of the richest men Canada has ever produced, was quoted as saying, "Everybody has a price… I would even go to hell if the price is right." A comedian, Jackie Mason, had a similar line about patriotism. It goes something like this: "I love America. I would give up anything for America. I would give up even my wife for America. But money? No! That”s different." We too often measure the value of things by looking at the price tags, and forget what is truly valuable does not cost money. This is why we call what is truly preciously "priceless", because we can not buy it.

Lent is the season to repent. The colour purple in the church is the symbol of repentance. To repent means not just to say sorry for what we did wrong, but also to change our mind and make a u-turn. Today”s scriptures suggest that we change our attitude and to start seeing the real value in what is freely available but priceless. Then, we will see what is truly important in our life is spiritual and free. We will understand the meaning of Isaiah”s words, "Those who thirst, come to the water. Those who are hungry, come to the food without money. Why spend money for things that are worthless. Why labour for things that do not satisfy. Come to me, says God."

Think about what you miss when you are way from home for a period. You miss people and things you have at home for free. You miss the baby who keeps you awake at night, and the kids who never stop to demand your attention and your time. You miss your wife who knows you a little bit too well. You miss your home and those messy rooms where you know exactly where things are. You feel comfortable when you are surrounded by those who love you and with things that are familiar to you. I attended many international meetings held in luxury hotels, with swimming pools, and good food, all paid for by somebody else. But always within a few days, I became homesick missing my family, my messy house and the home cooked meals.

They are the most important items in your life. And they don”t have any price tags attached to them. Also those freely available items in our lives are essential. Our life will be seriously in danger, if we do not know the affection and care that people give us freely in our homes and our communities. I was listening to the report on the sexual exploitation of children last week. Most of those children who end up on the streets, come from dysfunctional homes where they did not receive affection nor attention. Instead, they often received abuse and rejection, and their emotional growth had stopped. They are like a baby crying out for any kind of attention, even though they have the bodies of adolescents. We do not survive very long physically, if we do not receive affection.

A lack of emotional care affects us not only spiritually but physically; even animals can not survive very long without daily dose of attention. There was a well known experiment with mice. Two groups of mice lived under exactly the same conditions; same food, same environment, etc. But each mouse in one group received a head to toe rub everyday, and the others didn”t. The effects were quite definite. Those who received daily attention grew fatter and healthy looking, and lived longer. The others, though they were just as well fed and well provided for physically as the other group, but without daily rub they were less healthy and died earlier. A constant assurance of love is as essential to us as food and water.

It is well known fact that if we are emotionally secure in the knowledge that we are accepted and loved, we can stand up to difficult conditions longer than those who feel insecure. Misfortunes and tragedies hit all of us from time to time. Those who feel secure can take them as challenges, fight back, and survive them. But those who feel alone in the world because of experiences of rejection in the past, take such difficulty as a punishment. They end up bitter and often resort to self-destructive behaviours. What love gives does not cost any money. But it is far more valuable and long lasting than what money can buy.

Money represents only a part of us. Giving money is an manageable sacrifice. We can even pretend to be a good person by giving up a certain amount of money we can afford to throw away. We will look good, even though we are mean spirited inside. But in reality we can not get away with it. We must realize that the most important things in our lives, although they have no monetary value, are also very costly. It is because love demands a total commitment. There is no such thing as a partial commitment. It is just like there is no such thing as half pregnant; a commitment is always total. Therefore you can not buy love with money. Money can actually makes it cheap, and there is no such thing as cheap love. Love is always priceless. If you can buy it, it is not love; it is travesty of love, like prostitution. Love is priceless. It is so costly that it takes only a total commitment, but not in terms of money.

Loving God is a total commitment. We love God by loving our neighbours. To love God and to love people are one and the same thing. It is just like the Apostle John said in his letters, "If someone says that he loves God and does not love people, he is a liar." There are many ways to love. You can love people with money, too, if it is a genuine expression of what is inside of you. But if there is no love inside, money can be an indication of deceit.

When I was working in Africa, sometimes I saw people stuffing the coffins of their deceased family members with the receipts for the giving to the church. I appreciated their desperate attempts to make sure that their loved ones went to heaven. But money could not buy entry into heaven. Salvation is given freely. Christ sacrificed his life on the cross without demanding any payment from us. He did that because he loved us. So it was free; there was no precondition nor advance payment required. All we need to do is to accept his love and love him in return. Just like Isaiah suggested, "Come and drink the water and eat the food without money." Jesus is inviting us to come to a banquet. His table is always overloaded, the cups run over, the flour and oil never diminish, milk and honey are plentiful. You don”t need to pay, as his banquet is always free. What is it required of us, then? Nothing. Just love him. Then we will know how to love our neighbours. It is a total commitment to love. But it is a happiest commitment, because love is a great joy as we all know.

C: A GLORIOUS MISUNDERSTINGING – PALM SUNDAY

A GLORIOUS MISUNDERSTANDING

Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 31, Matthew 21:1-11

March 28, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

It was fun watching the Academy Awards last Sunday night. I was happy for those people who received the awards. To a large extent, I thought they deserved the honour. But I felt bad for those people who were nominated and, in my opinion, deserved them, just as much as those who won, but didn”t. Commentators keep saying that it is an honour to be nominated as much as receiving awards. They say that to think winning is everything is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the Academy Awards. But the fact is that it is all about receiving awards. So those equally deserving excellent artists, who don”t win those silly statues, think that they are losers. It is a cruel fact of life that such a misunderstanding makes losers out of those talented people who have made tremendous achievements.

Palm Sunday is also about misunderstanding. Thousands of people cheered Jesus, as he entered a gate of Jerusalem, because they thought Jesus was somebody else. He made it clear who he was by riding a donkey. But they didn”t see the point, because they didn”t want to see it. If he was a king, as people had expected the Messiah to be, he would have been on a chariot, or at least on a horse like a general. It was like riding a beat-up old rusty pick up truck, instead of a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. But it didn”t matter. Once people misunderstand something, they don”t see contradictions in details, and they don”t realize what a big mistake they are making. It was a misunderstanding. They believed that the Messiah would be a powerful king, like the one they remembered – like the King David. They thought that, with a mighty army, the king would lead them into a victory over the Roman Empire and re-establish a powerful Jewish Kingdom. It was a glorious misunderstanding.

So when they discovered that Jesus was not such a king, their expectation turned to anger. The same crowd who had cheered him in the beginning of the week, turned into a crowd who cried "Crucify him! Kill him." They decided that Jesus betrayed them. They didn”t think that it was their misunderstanding. Jesus made it quite clear about his mission. He was riding a donkey – an animal that carried the kind of stuff we load our pick up truck with. It”s low, so is easy to load and unload. So a pregnant woman rode it when she was too big and heavy to walk. Children rode the donkey too. It was not an animal of prestige. It was not good looking but it was tough. You don”t park a pick-up with a load of hay in front of the Ritz Carlton Hotel nor drive it to a state dinner at the Rideau Hall. Jesus wanted to demonstrate that the real Messiah was humble, was like any ordinary person. He wanted to show that such humility was a sign of God”s love. God does not seek glory. That”s why Jesus chose a donkey to ride into Jerusalem.

What a misunderstanding! The disciples enjoyed their master”s popularity as people cheered him. They just loved it. That meant they didn”t understand Jesus either. They thought that their leader was finally recognized and going to be declared a king. He would rule the whole country. No more wandering around country side like a band of outcasts, no more being thrown out of town; no more eating whatever was offered like beggars. The disciples expected that people would admire them: They would wear fine clothes and live in luxury. They completely misunderstood Jesus. This is why they ran away when Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified. That was the time when Jesus needed the show of love and faithfulness more than any other time from his disciples. They did not understand that the purpose of the ministry of Jesus was to demonstrate humility and the love of God. They had in mind majesty and power, fame and popularity. They were pole apart from the path of humility, love, and sacrifice on which Jesus was treading. They just didn”t understand.

We suffer from the similar misunderstanding today. Our misunderstanding is called Christendom. It was a misunderstanding from the fourth century. It was a glorious experience. The church enjoyed it enormously just like the disciples did when Jesus was welcomed with cheers by people. In Christendom, everybody went to church. Remember those days? The church was powerful and wealthy. Many fine buildings were dedicated for the work of the church. The church leaders were respected and feared. They were powerful. Those were the good old days. Many of us still remember those days and are nostalgic about them.

Christendom began during the fourth century when the Roman Empire made Christianity an official state religion. The church dominated Europe for sixteen centuries, expanding its influence sometimes even by force. It did a lot of good work, for sure. The church spread the spirit of love around the globe. But expansion and increasing its power still was a more important goal than creation of the caring community. Consequently the church caused many conflicts and deaths as it tried to expand. Such conflicts still continue in some parts of the world. In many ways, the current conflict in Balkans stem from the old religious rivalries. The church misunderstood its mission just like the disciples did Christ”s mission at the gate of Jerusalem.

The church is going through a difficult period of time. But I am not disappointed. We are going through the same experience as the disciples did when they watched their master crucified. But let us not run away like the disciples did. We know that the mission of the church is the same as Christ”s mission; that is to love and to be humble for the sake of love. Let us not misunderstand our mission ever again. Our mission is not to be big and wealthy. It is not to become influential and powerful. Our mission is to be humble, riding on a donkey, in order to love others as we love ourselves.

C: THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ARE OFTEN FREE – 3RD SUNDAY OF LENT

THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ARE OFTEN FREE

Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63, Luke 13:1-5

March 15, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

We often consider cash as a measure for value; and this is a serious spiritual problem. Often we don”t know what real value means, and treat ourselves and each other poorly. Lord Beaverbrook, one of the richest men Canada has ever produced, was quoted as saying, "Everybody has a price… I would even go to hell if the price is right." A comedian, Jackie Mason, had a similar line about patriotism. It goes something like this: "I love America. I would give up anything for America. I would give up even my wife for America. But money? No! That”s different." We too often measure the value of things by looking at the price tags, and forget what is truly valuable does not cost money. This is why we call what is truly preciously "priceless", because we can not buy it.

Lent is the season to repent. The colour purple in the church is the symbol of repentance. To repent means not just to say sorry for what we did wrong, but also to change our mind and make a u-turn. Today”s scriptures suggest that we change our attitude and to start seeing the real value in what is freely available but priceless. Then, we will see what is truly important in our life is spiritual and free. We will understand the meaning of Isaiah”s words, "Those who thirst, come to the water. Those who are hungry, come to the food without money. Why spend money for things that are worthless. Why labour for things that do not satisfy. Come to me, says God."

Think about what you miss when you are way from home for a period. You miss people and things you have at home for free. You miss the baby who keeps you awake at night, and the kids who never stop to demand your attention and your time. You miss your wife who knows you a little bit too well. You miss your home and those messy rooms where you know exactly where things are. You feel comfortable when you are surrounded by those who love you and with things that are familiar to you. I attended many international meetings held in luxury hotels, with swimming pools, and good food, all paid for by somebody else. But always within a few days, I became homesick missing my family, my messy house and the home cooked meals.

They are the most important items in your life. And they don”t have any price tags attached to them. Also those freely available items in our lives are essential. Our life will be seriously in danger, if we do not know the affection and care that people give us freely in our homes and our communities. I was listening to the report on the sexual exploitation of children last week. Most of those children who end up on the streets, come from dysfunctional homes where they did not receive affection nor attention. Instead, they often received abuse and rejection, and their emotional growth had stopped. They are like a baby crying out for any kind of attention, even though they have the bodies of adolescents. We do not survive very long physically, if we do not receive affection.

A lack of emotional care affects us not only spiritually but physically; even animals can not survive very long without daily dose of attention. There was a well known experiment with mice. Two groups of mice lived under exactly the same conditions; same food, same environment, etc. But each mouse in one group received a head to toe rub everyday, and the others didn”t. The effects were quite definite. Those who received daily attention grew fatter and healthy looking, and lived longer. The others, though they were just as well fed and well provided for physically as the other group, but without daily rub they were less healthy and died earlier. A constant assurance of love is as essential to us as food and water.

It is well known fact that if we are emotionally secure in the knowledge that we are accepted and loved, we can stand up to difficult conditions longer than those who feel insecure. Misfortunes and tragedies hit all of us from time to time. Those who feel secure can take them as challenges, fight back, and survive them. But those who feel alone in the world because of experiences of rejection in the past, take such difficulty as a punishment. They end up bitter and often resort to self-destructive behaviours. What love gives does not cost any money. But it is far more valuable and long lasting than what money can buy.

Money represents only a part of us. Giving money is an manageable sacrifice. We can even pretend to be a good person by giving up a certain amount of money we can afford to throw away. We will look good, even though we are mean spirited inside. But in reality we can not get away with it. We must realize that the most important things in our lives, although they have no monetary value, are also very costly. It is because love demands a total commitment. There is no such thing as a partial commitment. It is just like there is no such thing as half pregnant; a commitment is always total. Therefore you can not buy love with money. Money can actually makes it cheap, and there is no such thing as cheap love. Love is always priceless. If you can buy it, it is not love; it is travesty of love, like prostitution. Love is priceless. It is so costly that it takes only a total commitment, but not in terms of money.

Loving God is a total commitment. We love God by loving our neighbours. To love God and to love people are one and the same thing. It is just like the Apostle John said in his letters, "If someone says that he loves God and does not love people, he is a liar." There are many ways to love. You can love people with money, too, if it is a genuine expression of what is inside of you. But if there is no love inside, money can be an indication of deceit.

When I was working in Africa, sometimes I saw people stuffing the coffins of their deceased family members with the receipts for the giving to the church. I appreciated their desperate attempts to make sure that their loved ones went to heaven. But money could not buy entry into heaven. Salvation is given freely. Christ sacrificed his life on the cross without demanding any payment from us. He did that because he loved us. So it was free; there was no precondition nor advance payment required. All we need to do is to accept his love and love him in return. Just like Isaiah suggested, "Come and drink the water and eat the food without money." Jesus is inviting us to come to a banquet. His table is always overloaded, the cups run over, the flour and oil never diminish, milk and honey are plentiful. You don”t need to pay, as his banquet is always free. What is it required of us, then? Nothing. Just love him. Then we will know how to love our neighbours. It is a total commitment to love. But it is a happiest commitment, because love is a great joy as we all know.

B: DAVID AND BATHSHEBA – ADULTERY AND MURDER – FOURTH SUNDAY OF JULY

DAVID AND BATHSHEBA

II Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21

July 27, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

 

 

The story of David and Bathsheba makes me wonder if all the people in the Bible are good people? The answer obviously is "No." This story is so sordid that it makes one wonder, when children are present, if the Bible should be read selectively. The story tells of a woman bathing nude on a rooftop, of adultery, and of a murder. How do you read a Biblical story like that? There have been two popular but contradictory interpretations. One makes the woman a seducer, a temptress who used sex as a way of becoming a queen. It makes King David a victim of an ambitious and conniving woman. The other interpretation makes David an immoral king, who committed adultery and subsequently a murder to eliminate the woman”s husband. Bathsheba becomes a victim of a forced sex by a man who abused power to satisfy his illicit desire. I totally reject the first interpretation. I believe that the second one is much closer to the mark. I believe, however, that the story in the Bible is not so much to warn us about adultery as it is to warn us about the abuse of power.

 

Let me begin with Bathsheba. A woman was bathing on a roof-top. The first interpretation that I spoke of assumes that she knew that she could be seen from the palace, and she wanted to seduce the king. This sounds like a typical misogynist” excuse to view women as seducers. It is her fault that she was raped. But we must remember that Bathsheba was bathing according to the religious law. A woman was supposed to take a ritual bath on the eighth day of menstruation, according to the book of Leviticus, which defines this purification rite. Bathsheba was going through a religious act, just like baptism.

 

Also, anyone who has been to tropical countries can easily acknowledge that this interpretation which makes Bathsheba a loose woman is off base. It is not uncommon sight to see people bathing in public in hot countries. They do it in rivers and lakes, as well as in their back yards. They know how to present themselves discreetly to maintain dignity and modesty even when they are naked. We must realize also that our idea about nudity is different from people in other countries. In Europe, topless sunbathing has been a common sight for decades. Even in my life time, I remember the day when the American occupational forces prohibited mixed bathing in the hot springs in Japan. We did not wear bathing suits in the hot springs. Many of us did not understand why mixed bathing was immoral, because such nudity was without sexual overtones; thus it did not present a moral problem.

 

If anybody was a culprit in this story, surely it must have been King David. According to the law of Moses in Leviticus, it was taboo to even share a roof with a woman who was not completely cleansed after menstruation. David knew why Bathsheba was bathing; every adult woman did it in a particular manner after her monthly period. And yet he sent for her. He knew that he was violating twice the religious law in one act. There is no denial that David did something terribly wrong. But the question is; what kind of wrong did he commit? Of course, adultery is not commendable conduct. But that is not the main point of this particular story. It was how adultery was committed. It was primarily an abuse of power that is being condemned here.

 

You see, if you consider the accepted practices in those days, and even as late as a hundred years ago, for a king to take women other than his own spouse was usually accepted as a tolerable royal indiscretion. King David married many wives and took many more concubines, according to the II Samuel. Solomon took more than one thousand wives and concubines according to the I Kings. Even after the Christianization of Europe, though the church allowed only one wife, it still closed its eyes on kings taking concubines. Remember Henry VIII? And the practice continued until even more recently. What is known as "le droit du seigneur", where dukes and marquis had the right to take the new brides of their subjects to bed before the rites of marriage, was carried on even in the last century in Europe. The Opera, "Marriage of Figaro", or the story of the famous Scottish hero of the "Braveheart" referred to that barbaric but accepted practice. I am not saying that what David did was acceptable. What I am trying to say is that the kind of thing that David did was nothing extraordinary for the king in those days. So what is the point? For what reason did the Bible take exception and give this story such an important place. What was it trying to tell us?

 

I believe it is a warning against the abuse of power. No one is allowed to use power in order to exploit other persons for one”s own benefit. You see, this was the first time that David did not go to war. He was getting old. He had a need to feel that he still had some kind of power in ways other than in the battle field. It is common knowledge that sex crimes are committed by people who otherwise feel powerless. For them preying on the weak – women and children – is the only way to feel that they still have power over someone else. The prophet Nathan skilfully gave that message in his story of a poor man”s sheep and a rich man”s greed. You see, our religious tradition has never been comfortable with the idea that any person should wield power over others. We recite "for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever" in the Lord”s Prayer, because we believe, since the time of the Old Testament, that ultimately only God has power. The power any human being holds is given in trust on a certain number of conditions. Power is defined as a force that obliges others to follow one”s will. According to our religious tradition, no one has the birthright to hold power over others, because we believe that we are all children of God, hence we are all equal. Power is given to some people on the condition that they do some of the God”s work. If anyone abuses the God given power for one”s selfish purposes, one is committing a grievous sin.

 

We must realize how poignant the moral of today”s story is. All of us have power over other people in various ways. As parents over our children, as owners of assets and properties, as holders of offices and positions of many kinds, we all have power to oblige others to do what we want to some extent. Particularly, politicians and business executives have tremendous power to determine the fate of other people. For all of us, the story of David and Bathsheba gives us an important lesson. It is, "Don”t ever use power to exploit others." We must remember Jesus Christ as the ultimate role model of a power figure. Though he was the son of almighty and all powerful God, he exercised his power only to care for and heal others, even though that attitude cost him his own life. That should be the model of a person with power. Not like David who used his power to satisfy his own selfish desire at the cost of another person”s life.

 

 

 

YEAR C: THE OTHER PRODIGAL SON – LENT 4

THE OTHER PRODIGAL SON

Luke 15 : 11 – 32

1. Jesus told a story about two sons. One of them can easily be us. Of the two, one demanded freedom. So father divided all assets between the two. The younger one took off with all the money he inherited and had good time and spent it all. The older one stayed home and continued to work for the family business. The younger one became destitute and nearly starved. But he decided to go home and ask for father”s forgiveness. The father forgave him and welcomed him. The one who stayed home got very angry seeing such soft-heartedness in the father, and did not go into the house to join the homecoming celebration.

2. The problem of the younger son is easy for us to understand. It is a good story to speak about incredible love of God, to speak about his generosity and forgiveness. But those of us who come to church usually manage to stay away from the kind of temptation that younger son succumbed to. I think that we are more like the older son.

3. He stayed home and remained a good boy but got angry about the father”s generosity and forgiveness. We hear the story of the older son less often, because he can easily be us. It is easier to think that other people have problems, but not us. And we don”t want another person to point out unpleasant truth about ourselves.

I was once completely surprised by a person who came to me after the service and declared that he would never come back to church. He said that I spoke about him in my sermon. I didn”t. In fact, I did not know him.

Now then, what were the problems of the one who stayed home? I want to mention three. There can be more.

4. First is the question of how you look at another person in a community. When the older son complained about his own brother, he basically disowned him. When speaking to his father, he refereed to his younger brother as "your son". It was the father who reminded him that the one who came back was also his "brother", his own flesh and blood. When does a man you grow up with, a brother becomes "your" son, not my brother?

When a community of people is bound by mutual affection and respect, everybody should be everyone else”s concern of everybody else”s. When that sentiment disappears, a person becomes somebody else”s concern, not "mine". It is a subtle switch but a significant change in the way of looking at another person. You can not deny a family tie for convenience. But he disowned his own brother. The trouble of this world often comes from our tendency to look at other people, when it is inconvenient, as though they have nothing to do with us. But they suddenly becomes great friends when they suit our needs. Certainly the older brother remained good and honest, a hard working man. But like St. Paul said, "even if I give away all my possessions for good causes, if I do not have love, I am nothing." That was his first problem.

5. Secondly, the question of what your family means to you. When the older brother complained about his father”s soft-heartedness, the older son said, "This is not faire. I worked for you like a slave, but you have not killed even a billy goat for me." But the father said, "What are you complaining about, son. You have always been with me. And you know very well that what is mine is always yours." Here is the man who stayed home and helped his father in the business, while the other one wasted his inheritance and nearly ruined himself. He could not see how lucky he was for being able to resist temptation; he always had a job, ate well, kept his dignity, and stayed within the loving family. We too often forget how blessed we are for not having been away from God.

There is also a question of the quality of the relationship. Are material things more important than human relationships? If you have enough money, don”t you still need a family who loves you? This is a very important question today. I believe that our society is in trouble, because increasingly people believe that wealth is more important than people.

One of my sisters was once nearly adopted by the more affluent aunt and uncle. They had no child of their own, and one of my sisters was their favourite ever since she was born. My sister liked them, too. They lived better because of their wealth. They proposed adopting her, when my sister was ten. Legal adoption between relatives is not unusual occurrence in Japan. It did not look like a permanent separation, we could see her anytime. We did not think that it was a bad idea. But after a few months of trial, my sister came home. I still remember what she said: "I don”t need anything. Can I stay with you?" So the adoption plan was off. We were never rich, ( what do you expect of a family of a clergyman?) but we have remained a close knit family.

The shape of the families may be changing today. But I believe that the basic need of human beings to live in a community of supportive people remains, be it a family, a circle of friends, or caring neighbours. When that need diminishes and the materials things take over in our order of priority, our society will be truly ruined.It would be a truly sick society where a child would say to the parents, "I don”t need you, I”ve got enough money."

6. And the most important mark of such a caring community is readiness to share. As the father said, "What is mine is always yours." It is such a comforting thought, isn”t it? This is God”s world, and he says, "What is mine is yours." You see, the problem of both sons was that they did not acknowledge that.

The one who got away thought, "all I have is mine and mine alone." He began to enjoy freedom without responsibility. "It”s mine, it”s mine. I don”t have to say anything to anybody about the way I spend this money." He forgot that it was once his father”s money. There was no sense of appreciation. Where there is no appreciation, there is no responsibility.

The problem of the older son, on the other hand, was the fact that he took responsibility only as a burden. When one sees an act of love only as a burden, one forgets about the blessing and joy that comes along with the responsibility. Love is both blessing and responsibility, give and take. It creates a sharing community where what God has given us is yours and mine, where everything is ours.

A: HOPE BEYOND HOPELESSNESS – FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT

HOPE BEYOND HOPELESSNESS

EZEKIEL 37:1-14, PSALM 130, JOHN 11:1-45

March 21, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

 When I think of the disasters and tragedies that some people, including some of you, have managed to live through, I am astonished that they had courage to endure it all and to come out smiling. Today”s Scripture lessons deal with the kind of despair that defies any notion of hope. And yet, the message is very clear; that there is hope beyond hopelessness. What else is there that can symbolize utter hopelessness than a pile of dry bones or a four day old decomposing corpse? Prophet Ezekiel was told to start preaching to the pile of dry bones. He could not believe what he was told to do. It ignored all common sense. But he did, and spoke the words of the living God to the bones. Lo and behold, bones began to put on flesh, sinews, and skins, and came back to life. Four days after his death, Lazarus was a smelly heap of decomposing flesh. But Jesus told him to walk out of the tomb. And he did. In both cases, life came back through words. Words from the mouths of God”s agents conveyed amazing power of spirit proving that there was hope beyond hopelessness.

 

I read about a minister who had served as a military Chaplain for the U.S. Marine Corps, who was a witness to the power of the Gospel story. The war in the Pacific was finally over, and he and his regiment were on a troop ship going home. Veterans who have seen action know that going home is not always a happy process. Surviving the battle field leaves one with so much anxiety and trauma. Many of them come home psychologically sick. It is called "Post Trauma Stress Disorder". One such Marine came to see the Chaplain. He was in a deep depression. He was a well educated man. When he was called up into the service, he was in the midst of articling after completing his law degree. But now he was in a state of absolute despair. He had never been able to bring himself to tell the chaplain what had been troubling him; what kind of experience he had gone through, what he had seen, had done, or had been done to him. At any rate, he did not want to go home, he did not want to see any one back home, and he had no more courage to live on, but did not have courage to kill himself either. He was a living dead man. But one morning, the young man came to see the chaplain, a completely transformed man. He said that he had been so excited that he could not sleep that night. The story of Lazarus was the Gospel read at the evening prayer. There was no explanation of the passage nor any sermon on it. It was a simple service of a lesson and a prayer. The message of the son of God telling someone he loved very much to come back to life touched him deeply. In the battle field, soldiers often had to live with sight and stench of rotting corpses. The power of the words loaded with love that defied utter hopelessness had moved him. He gained strength to come face-to-face with his psychological scar.

 

Resurrection stories are not uncommon in many ancient cultures. The resurrection of the Sun goddess who gave birth to Japanese archipelago is one example. A man who saw her dead, and thus became the first witness of her resurrection, was severely punished, because no human was allowed to know that the goddess could be so vulnerable and died sometimes. There are numerous similar stories of the dead coming back to life in every culture. From this, we know that resurrection stories were a form of ancient literature teaching people the meaning of life and death. So, to try to prove the uniqueness and divinity of Jesus by the stories of miraculous resurrections which he performed does not succeed, because there are many other similar stories in other religions. I am not criticising those people who believe that that was the exactly the way it happened. They must believe what they feel right for them. But the important thing to remember in reading a resurrection story is that each story is different. We must find the uniqueness in each story and identify a distinct message.

 

What then is the point of the story of Jesus bringing life back to Lazarus? Let us make sure first that we know what it is not. We can all agree that this story is not same as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lazarus came back to life, but to become an old man, and to eventually die. Jesus, on the other hand, came back to a different kind of life to live forever. We believe that he lives among us even today. He lives a life that never dies. This is the fundamental difference. In fact, what happened in the story of Lazarus was a story of resuscitation not resurrection. Lazarus did not solve the problem of death; he came back to the same perishable flesh. But Jesus Christ by his resurrection demonstrated that his life was more than physical reality. His life goes on beyond death. His life is more than mere flesh and blood.

 

What is the meaning of the resuscitation of Lazarus? What is different about this story from other stories is the gruesome details John went into to say that Lazarus was truly dead. In other resurrection stories, of which there are at least four, the dead persons all died immediately before Jesus” arrival, making one wonder if they were only in a coma. But for John”s Gospel, when Jesus asked people to remove the stone that entombed Lazarus” remains, his sister Martha warned that he had been dead for four days and the stench would be unbearable. What could be more hopeless than a decomposing body? Why did John tell the story in such a graphic manner? I believe that John wanted to convey a sense of absolute hopelessness and the ugliness of despair. Remember also, the Jews during those days believed that body and spirit stayed together for three days after death. But on the fourth day, the spirit would depart from the body, allowing it to start decaying.

I think that John is trying to tell us that despair is not only dark and stormy and suffocating, but is also so smelly and ugly in a metaphorical sense that repels relationships. When you fall into such a deep depression of despair and hopelessness, you will not be able to climb out of it by yourself. You need help. But you can not seek help yourself, because you are not in a state to see how help from the outside could do any good. So the one who truly needs help looks hostile, unapproachable, and unlovable. We must remember that often the person who is hostile, spiteful, and difficult to love is lonely and in need of love more than anyone else.

 

Jesus loved Lazarus. He and his sisters, Mary and Martha, often provided Jesus with hospitality. He stood in front of the tomb where Lazarus was laid, and wept. He wept so much that everyone could tell that he loved Lazarus very much. Then he spoke, despite the ugliness and stench of despair. He spoke forcefully to Lazarus to get up and walk. And Lazarus got up and walked. I don”t want to analyze the power of words of love. But this story has made it clear to us that love intervenes forcefully in the situation where all hope had gone. It tells us that the words of love always give us hope where there is no hope, even in the tomb of our despair. Love brings life back to us, and calls us back to life.

B: WHY LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD – EASTER

WHY LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD

Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118, Mark 16:1-8

April 23, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

A few days ago, my sister and I had a telephone conversation about our visit this summer in Japan. She told me about a party being organized for us by an old friend of mine. Apparently he recently started a Bible study group at his home. This surprised me, because the man I remembered was more interested in making bucks than religion. Apparently, he had a near death experience. His heart stopped. While the medical team was busy trying to revive him, he was outside of his body watching himself on the operating table. He also saw his family and friends huddled together outside of the operating room, and he felt much loved. My sister says that this experience spurred his quest for his spirituality.

This is not an unusual experience. We heard a similar story experienced recently by the leader of NDP in Alberta. She resigned from her seat and began a new life in search of spirituality. Books were written about that kind of near death experiences. There are two common features in those stories: an experience of leaving one”s own body, and an intimate and warm feeling towards the loved ones who surround the body. These stories may not satisfy scientists who demand material evidence, but they do point to the direction towards some kind of existence beyond this material and bodily life. In fact, our belief that Jesus Christ defeated death and came back to life again is the foundation of Christian faith. We do believe in life after death and believe that Christ was the first who came back.

However, there is no scientific evidence to prove that a physical body survives death. Scientists say that all those life after death experiences are the result of brains” momentary glitch caused by a powerful surge of despair or wishful thinking. I believe that this kind of arguments with science is pointless, because we are asking the wrong questions. When someone says that he loves you, you don”t ask him how much money he has right off the bat. It”s simply a wrong question at a wrong time. The message of Christ rising from the dead is not about the fate of our earthly bodies. It is about our life with God. Our life with God goes on beyond death. It is the belief that "Love overcomes death."

The significance of our physical body in our spiritual life will have to be asked sometime, but that is not the most important question to ask on Easter. The Easter message of the Bible is "God will destroy death and wipe away the tears from everybody”s eyes" as Isaiah said, and as an angel said to three women who came to look for Jesus in a tomb, "He is not here. Why look for the living among the dead?" The message of Easter was not about the physical aspect of life and death, but about hope and love that overcome despair.

For the writers of the Bible physical facts were not the point they tried to put across. If you are looking for some physical evidence of resurrection in the Bible, the facts are very confusing and often contradictory. Jesus sometimes had a very physical presence after resurrection in some accounts; eating breakfast of BBQ fish with Peter and Andrew on the beach, and showing Thomas the wounds on his hands. But in other parts, he appeared as a spiritual existence. He went through the locked doors without opening them, could disappear into the thin air after breaking bread in Emmaus, and could appear to three thousand people at the same time. These stories obviously mean to tell us that the risen Christ was in a spiritual body.

Instead of trying to make sense out of contradictory evidence, we should pay more attention to the main theme of the life of Jesus Christ. Because God loved us, Jesus Christ came to the world to live among us by being like us humans. He came to demonstrate his commitment to the love of God by living by it. He could have saved himself from humiliation and the painful death, had he compromised a little. But he didn”t. So, he had to die because he was totally committed to love. The people who do not believe in love get their kick out of defeating others. To them, other people”s death is an ultimate victory, because they believe that death marks the absolute end. But for the people who live by love get their satisfaction in life by sacrificing themselves for others, even at the cost of one”s own life. In the world of love, a grain falls on the ground and rots as it empties itself to bring forth sprouts – a new life. In a world of love, even death can be a sign of victory, because it shows an uncompromising love. We believe this because Christ showed us that death is not the end. The tomb was empty, because he went away to continue his ministry of love.

Christ transformed the meaning of life and death completely. True life is a living by the rules of love. It goes on beyond the end of the physical existence. Life has conquered death in Jesus Christ. In the meantime, death can occur while a process of physical life is still in progress. The life without love is the death appearing to be physically alive. Leo Tolstoy, in one of his children”s stories, spoke about people who breathed death. They were the people without love. They were the "living dead."

Three women went to the tomb where Jesus was laid, discovered the body missing, and ran away. But one of them came back. Her name was Mary Magdalene. She had nothing left in life. Life without Jesus was empty – as good as she was dead, so she came to join the dead at the grave. She did not recognize the living Christ, because she came to find the dead Jesus. It was only when he called her name, she saw the living Jesus. Love is intensely personal. You can not love without a name. And love never dies. So when she felt this intensely intimate moment of love, she could recognized the life which conquered death.

Let us, on this Easter day, renew our resolve to live by love as God commanded. We will taste eternal life, if we know the art of love that never dies. We will feel the presence of Christ who live with us when we believe that.

 

 

 

 

 

C: EASTER AND STAR TREK

EASTER AND STAR TREK

John 20:1-18

A week ago last Saturday, two very important things happened on the new Star Trek series : Voyager. When two ugly but very scientifically advanced life-forms were beamed up and arrested, Captain Janeway was ready to kill one of them in order to recover the lungs which they stole from one of her crew members – Neelex and had used in a transplant operation. But she discovered that these life-forms were being driven to extinction, because of some virus which was destroying their organs. So what did Captain Janeway do? She decided to let him live and go. I don”t know what she was going to do with the dying crew member, who was being kept alive on a life-support system. The story never said. The second clip was about a crew whose lungs were stolen, thus he was on the verge of certain death. He was prepared to die, but didn”t because a woman offered to give one of her lungs to save his life. The story never made it clear but she had some special attachment to this particular crew member.

What did I get from those stories? Compassion and love win at the end of the day. Despair and hopelessness do not say the last word. We don”t know how it works, but love leads us to go beyond what looks like the end of all possibilities.

Mary Magdalene loved Jesus dearly. The Bible makes it quite clear that for Mary, Jesus was her life. So when he died on the cross, her life was also gone. She was in despair. Nothing mattered any more, there was no hope. Anyone who lost a loved one knows this. When my father died suddenly when he was 50 and I was in early twenties, I thought that the whole world came to an end. It simply was not possible to think of any future without him. Death in this case was more than physical end of brain or heart activity, and the beginning of the process of decomposition of our physical bodies. Death here means an absolute hopelessness.

So Mary was sitting outside of the cave where the body of Jesus had been brought in, and crying. What else was there to do, there was nothing in her life any longer. She asked two men to come, hoping that they would do something to recover the remains of her beloved teacher. But they went away as though they could solve the emptiness in their lives by being busy. We men often do that. But Mary stayed by the empty grave. What was she hoping by doing that? Nothing. She had no other thing to do, because life was impossible without him.

And he came, Jesus. She saw him. But she thought that he was a gardener. A person without any hope can not see what really is. She looked at him, and they even exchanged a few words. But she could not recognize the man in front of her as the dead beloved teacher, who came back to life. Despair inhibits the ability to see reality. Then he called her name. A very personal way to remind her of the nature of their relationship. And at last she recognized him. We parents all know that there is some unexplainable but special quality in the way your child calls you. My daughter is a grown woman. But she still calls me, "Daddy". Maybe its childish. But every time any body calls his or her father "daddy", I always have hard time controlling my tears.

There was no more despair. He was alive. How? We don”t know. We may never know how Jesus came to life again. I don”t think it matters. The main thing is that for those who loved him and owed their lives to him, they saw him and believed that the evil did not have the last word on their beloved teacher. He is risen, and lives among us.

It was obvious that Jesus came back from the dead beyond what we normally understand as physical realities. Perhaps, He came back in a spiritual form. So he walked through doors without opening them, appeared in many places at the same time. But you can not dismiss it, simply because it can not be proven scientifically, or does not fit our normal definition of what”s possible. That”s nonsense. The problem of today”s world is that many believe that spiritual world is less real than the scientifically provable world of facts. I believe that our society is sick because people dismiss the spiritual world less important than the world of science. We dismiss affection, love, beauty, joy and despair, goodness and evil as less than real. We must realize that this kind of common sense is the core of our problem.

But because Jesus loved each one of them, he came back and showed his love in a very personal way. For Mary it was calling her name. For a scientist like Thomas, he offered a physical proof. Thomas is a very modern man. He doubted everything, until it was proven with undisputable evidence. So Jesus said to Thomas, "Touch me, if you don”t believe me". For other disciples, that was not necessary. They sensed he was alive and this alone gave them new hope. Why should anybody need further proof? If you have to keep on giving expensive gifts to prove your love, love in that relationship is dead. True love does not need proof, it only needs to be expressed. So Jesus was sorry that Thomas needed proof. Jesus said, "Happy is the person who can believe without seeing and touching." But because Jesus loved each one of them in uniqueness and in their idiosyncrasies, he offered Thomas proof of this victory of love.

Mary saw risen Jesus beyond despair. Thomas saw Jesus which should have been impossible according to common sense. Star Trek may seem like a long way from the Easter story. But in both cases, Easter and Star Trek, we come to the same essential truth. Love leads us to go beyond what looks like the end of all possibilities.

Christ is risen! Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C: SEARCHING THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD – EASTER

SEARCHING THE LIFE AMONG THE DEAD

I Cor. 15:20-26, Psalm 118, Luke 24:1-12

and John 20:1-18

April 19, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

 

There was a man, a lonely man. He was a senior civil servant in a city hall. His burning ambitions, passionate love, and sweet dreams all failed him, with nothing but bitter disappointments, a broken heart, and cynicism. He now lived by the recipe for a successful civil servant: "Never miss work. Never late to work. Do nothing." At forty-eight, he was only looking forward to retirement and time looking at his stamp collection. One day a doctor told him that he had only a few months to live. Despair and hopelessness overtook his life; he became pickled in alcohol.

 

One morning after a night in town, he found himself waking up on a strange bed in what looked like a shabby rooming house. A child brought him a cup of coffee. She was selling roses in the bar last night. Her mother had already gone to work, she said. He watched the girl playing with a cheap stuffed monkey he gave her. He picked it up somewhere in his drunken stupor. He was moved to see how the girl was absorbed in the play with the cheap dollar store stuffed animal. She looked utterly happy talking with a monkey in her pretend home. She looked so much alive. It was her very first toy in her entire life. He realized then that he was with people who lived in a slum area of town. A few years ago, the residents of this area asked the city to provide a playground for children. Their petition was sitting in his file for years. He had had no intention to do anything about it. But that morning, he became a changed man. He was late to work, because he had to look at all possible sites for the playground, before he got to the office. He ordered the Parks Department to draw up a plan and make a cost estimate, immediately. He encouraged the residents of the area to organize themselves and start lobbying the mayor and the key city councillors. He pestered his superiors to move things faster. He stepped on far too many toes and annoyed everybody. They thought that his thus-far-safe career in the city hall was ruined.

 

On the day of the official opening, the mayor came, gave a speech and cut the ribbon. After everybody went home, the now-very-sick man and the girl were on the swing, swinging back and forth, singing the old Japanese favourite, "Life is short, let us fall in love." Everybody remembered "that man" in the city hall, whenever they came to the park. Death made him more alive in people”s mind. But nobody remembered anything he did during his twenty-five year career in the city hall before the playground.

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that there are some dead people though may be dead, can still be very much alive and continue to communicate with the living. On the other hand, a person may be biologically alive, but is, in truth, as dead as the dry bones. We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ was the first person who died physically, but is very much alive among us today.

 

The Jewish people believed that at death absolutely everything was over. Many people do not realize that the ancient Jews did not believe in the life after death. Life after death was an ancient Egyptian belief. Read the Old Testament carefully. You will not find the notion of life after death in it. At death one entered into nothing – void. This is why the Hebrew word "Hell" in the Old Testament is the same word for "Death – sheol." Because life ended with death, they treasured this life very much. They tried to live life – here and now as fully as possible, because to them this life was their only chance. So, they tried very hard to live this life in the best way possible. They enjoyed all the pleasures of life with gusto. But also they tried to do it right so as not to waste it. This was why the law became the very important guide to them.

 

This was how they came to the conclusion that the life that was wasted without joy and without purpose was not worth living; you might as well be dead. Also they decided in the same logic that sin was the same as death. Life is so precious that it had to be lived correctly and fully. Authentic life and death were not the same as biological life and death. Jesus Christ was the first fruit of the authentic life that did not die with biological death. He loved people completely. He enjoyed life, too. You notice how many times the Bible mentions about Jesus at the banquets, and about a dinner in his parables. He knew how to live fully and joyfully by loving people absolutely.

 

It is ironical. Isn”t it? Because he loved people unconditionally, he had to die. The society could not tolerate such love. So the people who had vested interest in the existing system had to kill him. People who hold power hate changes. But because Jesus truly lived by loving others, death did not have the last word. We can not prove this scientifically, but we know he is alive today. In Jesus Christ, we find a genuine life that travels back and forth between the biological divide of life and death.

 

There is not much point looking for the living among the dead. Mary came to the tome to embalm the dead body. But she did not find it. She was weeping by the empty tome. She didn”t know what to do; she was lost. It was only when she turned around in the direction of the voice of an unknown person, she saw a life truly living – the life that was not defeated by sin which tried to exterminate love; she met the risen Christ.

 

In the desert of the Western Sudan, many women and children were trying desperately to eke out meagre living on the perched dry sand. Their husbands and fathers are either missing or dead during the two decade long civil war. But life goes on despite the stupid greedy and power hungry men who don”t want to make peace. Men, who are determined to keep fighting for power, caused the two decade long civil war, which gave people nothing but misery, poverty, and death.

 

Women used to cultivate land when they were living among the green lush hills and fresh water lakes of the Southern Sudan. Now the dry sand of the refugee camps in the Sahara desert does not allow them to grow food as they used to at home. Only way they know how, to make a living in such a situation was to make beer out of sorghum and sell it. There are many thirsty men who buy it, though it is illegal under the Islamic law to consume alcohol. The prisons are full of women who were caught selling beer. So the church has been teaching them the different ways to make living; making soap out of palm oil and crushed lime stones, tie and dye cotton material, and sewing clothes. The church has a rotating loan fund providing them with money to buy sewing machines and start up their own businesses. Some of them started to crush peanuts into butter while waiting for customers and sold them besides dresses and materials. Others collect frankincense in the desert and sell it besides their tie and dye. Their children are now fed and have change of clothes now. There is life in the desert. Children are laughing and running in the dry land.

 

Jesus conquered death, not in the battle ground or in the forum of politics, but by loving people absolutely. That”s why Jesus is alive today, tomorrow, and forever. Hallelujah!

 

A: HE IS NOT HERE – EASTER

HE IS NOT HERE

Matthew 28:1-15

Tad Mitsui, Easter, 1996

One day, I ran into a crowd of people who were watching a dead person being dragged out of the water. It was a long time ago. I was on the way home from school. At first, I was afraid to look. But curiosity got the better of me, and I joined the crowd of spectators. It was not a pretty sight. Suddenly there was a shriek. A woman was running down the river bank. She grabbed the body and hugged the lifeless figure, while she cried aloud. She could have been the mother, or maybe the wife. Whoever it was, it was obvious that the drowned person was someone special to her. I felt ashamed, watching this tragedy as though it was a spectacle. For those who did not know the man, it was just another dead body. But for the woman who loved him, it was an entirely different experience. It was the body of a person she loved, from whom separation was an impossible nightmare.

We can not understand resurrection, unless we love someone dearly. We can not understand resurrection unless we know that there is difference between the spiritual body and the mere physical body. We can not believe in resurrection, if we think that we are just flesh on some bones. But when we recognize spiritual elements of our existence as reality, we will be transformed into another being. When I became a father, for example, it was a spiritual experience. When I saw my daughter for the first time, she honestly looked to me like an ugly lump of flesh. But soon a something hit me inside. The realization engulfed me; it was my own child. That same lump of flesh was transformed into a being with an entirely different significance. She had become someone who would always remain an integral part of my being and for whose safety I would even exchange my life.

When we speak about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are speaking about this special aspect of life, which turns a mere physical entity into a precious being with infinite significance. When two women, both called Mary, came to the tomb to put spice and ointment on Christ”s body, they found it empty. An angel told them that Jesus was not there. He had risen and went to Galilee. The angel also told them that there was no use looking for the living person among the dead.

When you love someone, there is an added dimension to the physical body of the one you love. That extra dimension goes beyond this visible world. When someone you love dies, for you, this person changes appearance. It is difficult to adjust to the new manifestation, because your love has been attached to the physical body you became familiar with. But soon you will know that a spiritual existence lives on, even though it is not visible in this world. Even if your memory fades, spiritual life goes on in God”s love. This is how we believe in eternal life. Eternal life is the life that lives on in the realm of God”s loving care. Science says that there is no evidence to prove that there is spiritual reality, and that life goes on in another form. It does not matter what science says, because science deals only with the physical aspects of this visible world. We know that there is a lot more to our existence beyond the mere touchable and visible reality.

So if you look for loved ones only in this visible world, there is no end to grief. The angel said to the women at the tomb, "He is not here. He went to Galilee." In other words, there is no use looking for the living person in this perishable world. He went ahead of you to your home in Galilee. Some students of the Bible suggest that Galilee traditionally meant a frontier, beyond which there is an unknown territory. It was not the known world of politics and religion like Jerusalem. He went to the frontier, into the future, in his new form of life. Jesus was the first one to put on this new life. When Mary said to the dispirited disciples, "I have seen the Lord.", she was testifying to the new form of reality. It was a spiritual experience but real. I can say it was real, because that is the only explanation for how a group of people in absolute despair suddenly turned into a band of brave, even reckless, evangelists, people who dared to talk about the one executed for blasphemy as Messiah.

You can not mourn the dead for ever. You have to get on with your life and venture into the future, into an unknown territory of living. Then you will find your loved one there – in the future. He has preceded you to Galilee – to your future. It is difficult to forget the body which the loved one used to wear, because that is what you knew. But the real person you loved has simply changed into another attire and has preceded you into the future.

When risen Jesus appeared before Mary Magdalene, she first thought that he was a gardener. It was only when he called her name, she realized that it was her master, the one she loved dearly. The shriek of a woman changed an ugly drowned body into someone”s loving husband or son. When I saw my own daughter, first I only saw a lump of flesh, until magic of love triggered a whole chain reaction of mind and emotion to make me realize that it was my own flesh and blood. It is only when a gardener changes into Jesus Christ, that the spiritual body becomes visible to us. Death is not the end. It is a door into another reality, into the spiritual world. Jesus Christ is not here. He is no longer with us in this perishable domain. But He is risen and lives with us for ever.

A: LIFE IS NEVER SAME – EASTER

LIFE IS NEVER SAME – EASTER

Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118, Matthew 28:1-10

April 4, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

The changes that happen to human bodies between twelve and sixteen years of age, are exciting ones. Boys are transformed into young men, and girls into young women. Voices change, beards start to sprout. Curves develop where there was none before. Some changes may be embarrassing or even scary. But we know those physical changes are normal – not just normal but they are exciting and wonderful, because they tell you that you are growing up into a whole new world. We must celebrate those and many other signs, because your bodies have begun the preparation to join the grown-up society.

There are other big and normal passages into different stages of our lives. A fetus leaves mother”s body and changes into a baby, a child into an adolescent teenager and into full adulthood, and an adult into a senior and eventually into a next stage of life through a passage called death. There are also small changes that happen all the time in the normal course of life. New cells are born and old ones die in our bodies every second by the billions. We get rid of dead cells little by little, whenever we take a shower. Butterflies, dragonflies, and snakes shed their old skins only a few times in their lives, but we get rid of old selves bit by bit every second, everyday. Our bodies are completely new every three months, if you speak about them only as cells and their chemical components.

Life is like a river. It is never the same, and that”s normal. You wish that an adorable and cute a year old baby stays the same forever. Never mind, it will soon turn to be a little devil of a terrible two. When your daughter – a little princess – treats you like you are the most precious thing in the world, just wait a few years until she turns to be a teenager. She will treat you like a public enemy number one. But that too will pass. Life moves on.

When two women, both of them called Mary, went to the grave where Jesus had been laid, they could not find the body. They were told by the angels, "He is not here." Don”t look for a live person at the same place. He is not there. A live person moves on. That is the message of Easter. Jesus went through the passage of death, and moved on to another phase of his mission. And he showed us that we have nothing to fear from change; transformation is always about discovering new life. Death is never the end of the story. So, let us not mourn the passing of the old. Let us celebrate new phases of life, even if it is old age, or even death, because it is a normal passage of life.

This is why the church has a celebration for every passage of life: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, and Funerals. I personally think that there should be more, maybe once in every ten years, because all of us keep changing through out our lives. We welcome babies into a community through Baptism, and promise to support the parents to bring up the new born in the best way possible, the way of Jesus Christ. We welcome adolescents into the adult community by receiving them into full membership of the church. We mark those passages of life and celebrate them as a community.

But life goes on. It means there will be many twists and turns, ups and downs, happy and sad, easy and difficult. Children leave home, and people may quit the church. But you must remember, Christ is alive and lives within you and me. No one will ever be able to be separated from the love of God in Jesus Christ. God bless you.

B: PASSAGES – METAMORPHOSES – EASTER

PASSAGES – METAMORPHOSES

Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118, John 20:1-18

Easter Sunday, 1997 by Tad Mitsui (Confirmation Service)

They say, cats have nine lives. But when we think of the changes we go through in our life time, we also have many lives. We may not change our appearances as much as an egg does when it hatches into a yellow baby chick, and then grows into a full grown chicken. But when you pull out some old pictures of yours, you realize how much you have changed. These big changes in life are called metamorphoses. Those people who confirmed their faith and joined the church today are making a lot of changes. They may not realize it, but even in those five short months of confirmation class, they grew up so much. From birth to death, all of us go through many transformations, almost as often as once in every ten years. And we call each period of time of change a passage. The message of Easter is that death is also a passage, not an end to life but a metamorphosis. Jesus showed us the way through a difficult passage called death, making our transition from mere physical existence into a state of spiritual being.

Passages often feel like difficult tight spaces to go through, which we must pass. When I am not well, I often have a nightmare of a dark, endless and narrow passage like a tube where the air is tight and suffocating. I awake gasping for air. It is frightening not only due to the fear of suffocation but also for the fear of unknown at the end of the tunnel. I don”t know what”s out there, and that”s scary. Psychologists suggest that at some level we remember the first passage we go through in our journey into the world; from our mother”s womb through the narrow, dark, and suffocating tube into open air. We usually do not consciously recall this because it is too scary to remember. We forget something we don”t want to remember. But our body remembers – so it comes back in bad dreams. After the birth passage, we go through other difficult new experiences in the first few years as a baby. Babies cry a lot, because often they don”t know what”s happening. And that”s frightening. When they are hungry, they cry because they don”t know why their tummies hurt. When they are wet, they cry because they don”t know why they have that yucky feeling on the bottom. When a baby cries, it is calling you to pay attention. It is a God”s call to love.

Puberty is another difficult passage of life. Between the ages of ten and fifteen, we go through incredible amount of change, in our bodies and in our mind. I remember I stumbled a lot because I had not realized how fast I was growing up. Friends begin to look more important than parents, though we are still very much dependent on them. Suddenly you become aware that people begin to pay more attention to you. You don”t realize that you are more attractive in appearance. You are like fresh bread just out of oven. And the attention people give you is not necessarily the kind you want. It is a difficult time.

When Jesus was twelve, he proved to the parents that he was growing not only in height but also in spirit. The mind begins to work differently at that age. Jesus and his parents went to the big city of Jerusalem for the spring festival of passover, which for us is the same time as our Easter. When they started to head home, they lost Jesus. But they did not worry. He was a big boy now. He had begun to spend more time with friends and grown-ups. They travelled looking for him among friends and relatives who were also going home. They could not find him for three days. Now they were really worried. So they went back to Jerusalem. After a frantic search of the city, finally they found him in the temple. He was talking with teachers of the Bible and the law. They were so fascinated by the young Jesus who had so much to say about religion, that they kept him in the Temple for three days talking with him. Jesus said to the parents, "Why are you worried? Don”t you know I am in my father”s house?" When you reach twelve or older, mere facts and figures alone are not as interesting as they were when you were younger. But now you want to know the meaning of things. The factual world is not enough. Also openly or secretly, you begin to be more interested in the other sex. Relationships are suddenly very important. Your interest has shifted to what is emotional and spiritual. So you ask "why" more often. You are now ready to enter into adult world just like Jesus was when he was twelve.

This is why in many cultures, the special training period for young people entering adolescence is important to prepare them for the shock of adulthood. The end of this training period is celebrated with gusto. It is important to mark this period of passage, because it is important for them to feel welcomed by a community of people who care for them. The adult world they are preparing to join is not an easy place. They must know that there are people beyond family, who have same values and same outlook in life. They must know that there are people who share happiness, and help you and support you in times of trouble. It is a way of God to tell us that he loves us. Schools do not do this.

I wish there were more celebrations of our lives” passages. Not only baptisms, weddings, and birthdays, but also occasions to acknowledge and show support for our friends and loved ones when they go through a mid-life crisis, or serious illness, separation, or retirement. They are difficult times and important times. In all those passages, we change, just like a butterfly in its different stages of development. We must have a community to celebrate together and affirm together the fact that God loves us. The community of faith is a group of people who stick with you no matter what. When we live in such a community, even death can become believable as another passage of life just like it was for Jesus, who came back from death and promised to live with us forever.

 

 

B: FRUSTRATION AND JOY OF IN-BETWEEN TIME – OCTOBER 1

LOOK UP. WAY UP. THERE IS A RAINBOW.

GENESIS 9:8-17, PSALM 25, MARK 1:9-15

October 1, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

 

I moved quite a few times in my life, and worked in different places and in several countries. From that experience, I can say that it takes two years before one can start working effectively in another place. In the first year, you notice and only hate the differences from the place you lived before, and remember how good things were. In the second year, you begin to forget the old and begin to appreciate the new place. The third year is the time to start functioning effectively living in their language and loving the food. You don”t have to hate or forget the old ways. Your past is what has made you what you are, and without it you lose your sense of identity. The secret to a successful transition is seeing beauty in both the past and the future. Rainbow is a fitting metaphor for such a time.

 

A rainbow appears in an in-between time, as the sun comes out when the rain is not quite finished. It is beautiful, because the interaction between rain and the sun brings out all colours of the sun separately. After the flood, God showed Noah a rainbow as a sign of hope. Today, we are living in between times. We are still living partly in the past, though it is passing. And we are moving into a time zone we have never seen. It is not an easy time. However, the message of the rainbow is that the time in between times can be beautiful, bringing out the grace of the past and the hope of the future. It is a time to remember and appreciate the old times and hope for the better times in future. Old ways do not work any more and new ways are so new that we are not quite comfortable with them. Often we hate the new ways or are scared of them. Religion seem to be on the way out and the church seems to be on the decline. Families do not look the same any more. However, we must realize that the notion of the "good old days" were not always so wonderful. If we remember how we used to live and work, we are living better today and enjoying things that we had never believed possible even a few decades ago. Times are definitely better today in many ways. We suffer today because we live in a time between times, and not so much because we don”t live in the so-called good old days. The good old days were not as good as we want to brag about.

 

Noah and his family lost everything they owned in the terrible flood. But eventually the rains stopped and land became dry. Standing in the middle of vast devastation, Noah and his family were lost and asked themselves, "What now?" They did not see that the future was theirs to make. All they saw was enormous uncertainty. They could see only the vast wilderness of chaos and wrecked humanity, and could not look up to see a beautiful rainbow of hope and possibilities of the future. Noah was a good and righteous man. But he had difficulty coping with a normal life after the experience of terrible calamity and trials. Noah had difficulty coping with an enormous potential offered by future. After the first harvest, Noah became uncontrollably drunk. He lay naked on the ground and fell asleep. His sons were so ashamed of their father and walked backward towards him trying not to see their father”s nakedness in order to cover him. Time inbetween times was difficult for Noah. Even he had a hard time coping with the first bumper crop.

 

It is important to remember the past, appreciate it and learn from it. But also it is equally important to let go of the past and move forward into the future, hopefully, and joyfully. Neglecting either of those times will cause disasters. When the past is good, one wants to remain in the past, basking in nostalgia, and does not want to look into the future. This situation creates a person who refuses to grow up. On the other hand, when the past is bad, one wants to forget it as fast as possible and run as quickly as one can into the future. Such a person is condemned to repeat the mistakes that caused the disaster, because this person does not know how to learn from past mistakes.

 

Jesus saw the rainbow of the covenant of God, when he was tempted in the wilderness. Satan offered some self-serving options for him. Money, power and popularity were attractive options for many past leaders. Jesus rejected those options. He saw God”s options differently. Jesus lived the life dedicated to others. The other end of the bargain for us in this covenant was our pledge to take care of God”s creation by loving our neighbours and taking care of this world. Let us come together to renew our promise to build and maintain the community of caring and sharing. Let us see a rainbow and celebrate it.

 

 

A: WE ARE BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS – LENT – 2

WE ARE BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS

Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3:1-17

February 28, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

One day, a man asked me in a cafeteria, "Are you saved? Are you born again to Christ?" I said, "Yes." The he said, "When?" I said, "Everyday." It is a pity that some perfectly good expressions like "born again" get used as labels and the original meanings are changed or lost. "Evangelical" and "Born Again" are expressions that have become labels for some particular groups of people. But if we believe the Bible, we are all born again Evangelical Christians. I feel that we must reclaim those names as ours as they are used in the Bible.

The Christians, who live in the so-called non-Christian countries, have a tendency to idealize the countries like Canada which are considered to be "Christian" countries. A Japanese Christian came to Canada to attend an interdenominational meeting. He was shocked to see quarrels between "Evangelicals" and "Liberals", Presbyterians and United, Catholics and Protestants, etc. He was disappointed to find that Christians fought in Canada too like Japanese do at home. Someone asked him, what he was. He said, "I”m a Christian, and I thought you all were."

We are Christians before we are Baptists, Catholics, United, Presbyterians, or whatever the label we put on. Furthermore, we are "Born Again" Christians according to today”s Gospel reading. In the Gospel according to John, you find that the expression "Born Again" was first used by Jesus. He said that no one could be his follower and enter the kingdom of God unless one was born again. By this definition, we all are, or should be, born again Christians. The story has it that one night a prominent Pharisee leader by the name of Nicodemus came to see Jesus. He said, "Teacher, I know you come from God. No one can do what you are doing unless one comes from God." Jesus said to him, "If you really want to follow God”s way, you must first be born again." This really threw Nicodemus off balance, because he was a man of reason. "Born again? I am a grown up man. I can not go back to my mother”s womb." He was a man who used the brain to think. He was a scholar. Reason was the faculty he valued. He was not used to be confronted with things that made no logical sense. But he came face to face with the fundamental fact of faith; faith is the matter of both spirit and mind. He had to integrate reason with passion to start afresh in the life of faith – to be born again in spirit.

It is not easy for a person who has a superior mind to give oneself to emotion or passion. One is afraid to look silly. This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night. He was the leader of the scholarly and righteous lawyers who took it upon themselves to be the watch dogs of the nation”s moral standards. He knew that Jesus was a very special man. He could tell that Jesus had to come from God, because Nicodemus was a God fearing righteous man. But his cool reasoning prevented him to make a leap of faith. He could not be seen as acting in a hasty manner, especially about a matter of national importance; people were calling Jesus the Messiah – the true king. He had to be careful. So he came secretly. But faith must involve a whole person. The whole person includes feelings, emotions, passion, and can be creative and impulsive, in addition to a cool mind that calculates and reasons. Faith requires both attributes, because faith requires a whole person. A whole person is a person who draws on both mind and spirit.

Dr. Helen Caldicot is a paediatrician who became famous in a movement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons during the height of the cold war in the eighties. She was once asked why she was so emotional when she spoke about the danger of nuclear weapons. The insinuation was that "Emotional people are not credible because they are not reasonable. Women are often emotional. Therefore they are not credible. If you want to be heard, stay cool and speak with reason. Be like a man." She answered that ”Yes, I am emotional about this. I am a woman and a mother. If my patient does not get emotional about the future of her child, she is mentally ill. I ”ll send her to a Psychiatrist." Any good parent is both emotional and reasonable about one”s own child.

This also means that faith is not complete if passionate belief does not seek reason. Our minds are God”s creation, as much as our spirits are gifts from God. Faith has to grow in mind and spirit, even when faith comes into our life through emotion and passion. And faith has to be fed with reason as it grows. Faith does not stay alive by passion alone. Sometime those who believe with passionate faith criticize those people who study the Bible scientifically, and examine our beliefs systematically. But those people too must be born again to integrate their passion for God with reason and scientific logic, because faith involves the whole person. And a whole person is a person with both passion and reason.

Abraham was already a rich man when he was still in the land of Haran, the present day Iraq. He had tens of thousands of heads of livestock of all sorts and an army of workers within his household. He was almost like a head of a nation. But one night, he had a vision. God spoke to Abraham and told him to pack up all his household and move. God did not tell him where to. He just said, "Pack up and go." The Bible says that Abraham went without knowing where he was going. Perhaps it was because he didn”t know where he was going, that he went so far. It was a totally irrational thing to do for a successful farmer and businessman who made virtually billions of dollars. It was not a rational decision. It was a decision made from the heart, out of his passionate trust in God. He was ready to start afresh. At that point, Abraham was born again into faith, both in mind and spirit.

We are also called upon to be born again. Made afresh today, tomorrow, and many more times to be born anew. There are some people who can pinpoint the time and the day when he/she was born again. But we are all very different. For many of us, like me, the process of being "born again" is a quiet process that repeats itself many times. I try to live everyday like a new person, refreshed by the belief that God loves me. We have to be born again, again and again. Sometimes, God will help us with an inspirational or emotionally high experience. After those experiences, we must settle down and become stable with reason, like a bowl of hot jelly cools and settles in a fridge. At other times, our cool rational belief system has to be shaken, perked up, and refreshed with stirring hymns or by the love of a friend. In either case, we are born again as a new Christian person.

 

 

 

 

 

B: IT”S A MATTER OF HEART – LENT 5

IT”S A MATTER OF HEARTS

Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 119, John 12:20-33

April 9, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

I have had some fabulous jobs in my life. That does not mean, I got all the jobs I wanted. I received more rejections than acceptances. But in retrospect, I can now say I am glad that I did get those jobs. When I sent in my résumé, I had often followed my heart not my mind. My life could have been very difficult, even disastrous, if I had those jobs that I did not get. There is a saying, "Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck."

We see in retrospect more clearly than in prospect. That”s why when we make decisions about future, we tend to follow our hearts, and they do not always tell us what is wise. Life would be a lot easier if we could see the future as clearly as we see the past. I often wish that our hearts and minds would speak in one same voice, so we have less grief. Often, I know what should be done, but I don”t do it, because my heart is not where it should be. I am completely in sympathy with Paul, who said in his letter to the Romans, "Even though I know very well what is good, I can not do it, and I do what is not right. What a wretched creature I am!" This is where Jeremiah”s "New Covenant" comes in. With the old covenant, God had to guide the people by the hand, but the new covenant would be written on the hearts of people.

Jeremiah lived at the time when the whole Jewish nation was facing a total disaster. Soon after, the Jews would become a nation without a country for three thousand years. Jeremiah said that it was the price they had to pay for breaking their covenant with God. They ignored his laws. But Jeremiah said, God would forgive them, and give them the new Covenant, which would be written on their hearts. Their minds could follow their hearts. Reason would be a tool for passion. They would want to do what was just and right.

The Bible uses the word "covenant" often. It is an important word to understand the relationship between God and people. A covenant is a solemn agreement like a contract. But there is a difference between a covenant and a contract. A covenant is a personal commitment. However, a contract is a legally binding agreement, that is enforced with the threat of a penalty, if it is broken. Lawyers say that a mere commitment without a penalty clause is meaningless, because it is not enforceable. But religion is a covenant with God, which is an agreement of hearts without the caveat of a penalty. In religion, mind should be an instrument of the heart. When the heart decides the destination, the mind will find the best way to reach it. Love is a matter of the heart, and the law is a matter of the mind.

The old covenant that God gave through Moses was often broken by people, because it had remained a matter of the mind – mere knowledge. When the rules remain only as knowledge, you will soon find how to break them because there is no commitment to abide by them. As a saying goes, "When you know the rules well, you know how to break them properly." All of us want to know the laws so as to find loopholes, which is the kind of thing that makes lawyers rich. Laws and rules without a commitment to the spirit behind them do not make sense, like following a map without having a destination.

The basis of the laws of Moses was the right relationship between God and people, and among people. We believe that the only right relationship is the one based on love. If there is no commitment to love God and others, then laws are meaningless. God demonstrated his love through the laws of Moses, because the laws showed the best way to live. People could return God”s love by obeying the laws. That was the covenant. But they broke it, because the laws had remained in their minds as mere knowledge. There was no heart in their understanding of the laws. There was no passion in their desire to keep a good relationship with God. They saw God only as a big scary guy in the sky with a stick, not as a loving parent.

So through Jeremiah, God offered a new covenant. In the new covenant, "the laws would be within them, because they were written on their hearts." God began by "forgiving their sins and no longer remembering their wrongs of the past," as the verse 34 put it. With the new covenant, the laws will be within people”s hearts, hence doing justice and righteousness will be their passion.

This does not make sense to the lawyers. To write a new contract by forgetting the past infractions and by allowing the offenders go free with impunity? Forgiveness does not make sense in law. But in a matter of the heart, it makes perfect sense. A father forgives and embraces a son, who wasted half of his fortune recklessly in a binge and on prostitutes. The father, like God, loves the son. Is this a sign of God”s incredible capacity to love or soft-hearted stupidity? In the new covenant, all the laws, all just and right things to do, are the protocols for love and caring. Then, what better way to make such protocols a matter of the heart, than demonstrating such love in an act of forgiveness? Foolish? Perhaps. Again Paul said in the letter to the Romans, "should you be wise in the eyes of God, you must become a fool in the eyes of the world."

When the laws are illuminated under the light of incredible love shown in forgiveness, your passion and knowledge become one. The knowledge of whatever pleases God becomes your desire. A psychiatrist once said to his friend, "I can help you find the source of your guilt. But I can never make you feel you are forgiven. Only God can." Jesus Christ fulfilled the promise of God”s new Covenant. He would finally performed the ultimate act of his divinity by forgiving those who made him suffer. This is why the crucifixion of Christ was the climax of the life of Jesus; the occasion of his glorification. When we can see clearly the cross as the climax of Christ”s life, we will be able to see justice joining love, and our hearts and minds speaking in one voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR A: TEMPTATION OF JESUS – LENT 1

JESUS WAS TEMPTED LIKE WE ARE

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Matt 4:1-11

By Tad Mitsui, February 25, 1996

Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. This begs some questions, because our sense of Jesus being a divine "son of God" is stronger that of him being a human "son of Mary". In other words, we don”t think of him as human like us. Somehow in our imagination Jesus was a god most of the time, who didn”t even go to bathroom. But the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness brings us back to reality of his humanity. Yes, he was tempted like we often are.

First of all, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days. Forty was in Hebrew language a symbolic figure for a long testing period. Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years before they went into Palestine. Jesus was tested in the wilderness for a number of days for his suitability in God”s mission. The wilderness is an unfamiliar place, where nothing resembles what you have known. When we face a new situation in our life, we are led into a wilderness. A new job, unemployment or retirement, a new baby, a political change, or even death are all wilderness for us. It is an uncomfortable and unpleasant place, but it can be a gateway for a new future and opportunity. The wilderness is a metaphor for a place to learn God”s plan.

Some of us have to learn that there is no easy way to learn the art of living. We can be seduced into believing that there is a cheap way to learn. I don”t know how much money I wasted buying "How to" packages, "French in one week", or "Learn to drive a car with a book, and save money on Driving Lessons", etc. Learning is always hard, it is a wilderness experience. Jesus had to go through that to switch his career from a carpenter to the messiah. And it wasn”t easy.

After forty days of fasting, Jesus became hungry. I suppose one does after forty days. Satan asked him if he wanted to turn stones into bread. This first question was about choosing a priority, between material and spiritual goals. Of course, it is important to feed the hungry. But is it more important to solve the problem of hunger than it is to know the will of God? Which is more important? Jesus chose spirituality. To use religion to turn a stone into bread shows lopsided values, said Jesus. It is the word of God that has to come first. Then desire to solve the problem of hunger comes naturally out of obedience to God”s will. It is a warning to the United Church of Canada, in which one tends to overemphasize the importance of social action. Some of us do it at the expense of spiritual life. What suffers sometimes in our church is the knowledge of the Bible. Jesus clearly chose knowledge of God”s plan as a matter of priority. He believed that acts of charity would follow when we learn the will of God.

Without spiritual resources, our good works and social action are like a journey without destination. It can be a total waste. Many times I saw the cost of unwise acts of charity, when I was working on the famine relief in Africa. People can lose self-respect, for example, if they are treated without due dignity. Persons without self-respect do not have the will to support themselves. The word of God is like a water tap. Without a water tap, you can waste water, because there is no adequate control which can adjust to the need. By the time there is a genuine need, there may not be any water left. The word of God tells you what is needed, and when and where it is needed. The word of God comes first.

Then Jesus was taken to the top of a temple tower. Satan said, "Throw yourself down. Angels will catch you and bring you down to the ground level without any harm." Jesus said, "No thank you. I don”t have to test God." This second test was about the nature of his relationship with God. Jesus refused to use God to promote himself and save himself. You can make money and win a fame if you jump off a tall tower without a safety net and live. But by doing so, you turn God into a mere tool. If we believe in God merely to pray for success, God is only a means to achieve our goal. If we come to have something else more reliable, then we don”t need God. There are unfortunately many so-called Christians who perform healing for fame and money. This was not the way Jesus chose. He performed many miracles, but he always told those who were healed to keep quiet about what happened. And most importantly, he did not save himself on the cross by a miracle. Many people taunted him saying, "If you are the son of God, call on Moses and Elijah to save yourself." But he didn”t.

For Jesus, God was not a means to a goal. God was his goal. He obeyed God”s commandment to love, and thus healed the sick. But he never used God for his own purposes. There is something drastically wrong in a relationship, if a child says to the parents, "Now I am educated, have a job, a family, and a house. I don”t need you any more." In an authentic relationship, no one is a tool.

Finally, Jesus was taken to the mountain top and shown all the riches and splendour of the Kingdom of the world. Satan said, "All you see will be yours to take, if you worship me." To this, Jesus simply said, "Go away, I only worship God." This final test was about compromise. Jesus was offered the whole world on a plate, if he would combine two opposing views of life. He could conquer the whole world, if he would combine a little bit of evil in the God”s work. What a temptation! There have been so many people in this world who could not resist it. It is a very strong temptation. Imagine. What if I promise that the whole of Canada would turn into United Church members, filling the churches every Sunday, if we adopt the "right" strategies. You just have to promise not to ask questions about the morality of such a strategy.

Wouldn”t this be wonderful – we could be a powerful lobby group with such a large membership – pressuring the government to deal with child poverty, the homeless, etc? We would just have to ignore the initial compromise – the one that would give us power over so many people, rather than respecting religious diversity and the individual”s right to freedom of belief.

Power corrupts unless one refuses to compromise. I can offer one example where someone refused to compromise. As soon as Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, Archbishop Tutu accused him of taking too big a salary. Mr. Mandela did not increase his own salary. He simple adopted what was normal for all presidents at the time. But Tutu said that if Mandela won the election with a promise to create a more just society, he should begin clean. So Mandela, to his credit, cut his salary by 30%.

If Jesus compromised a little in his journey to Jerusalem, he might not have had to be hung on a tree and killed. But he didn”t. Therein was his power. It was power of integrity, even thought he seemed powerless in the normal sense of the word.

As we begin Lent, we begin an intense period of reflection and learning. We are called into the wilderness. Today”s Gospel offers us 3 essential lessons to carry with us. The story reminds us of the importance of spirituality over material needs; of having to choose a relationship with God as our goal rather than just as a means to an end; and of integrity over compromise.

It is a sign of Jesus” humanity that he faced the temptations that he did. It is a sign of his divinity that he made the right choice. But above all, it is a sign of his closeness to us in love that he took the steps through the wilderness which now offer us a path to follow.

A: LIFE AFTER THE APPLE – LENT 1

LIFE AFTER THE APPLE

Genesis 2:15-17, Psalm 32, Matthew 4:1-11

February 21, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

I was so glad that at last Americans are ready to move from sex onto other important issues.* I am sure I”m not the only one who feels relieved. The fact that this scandal drew so much attention shows that sex is an obsession in our society. That”s why sex sells. It is a lure of a forbidden fruit. Sex is a wonderful gift from God, but we are ashamed of it. Without it, human race will become extinct, and yet we are inhibited to speak about it publicly. So we are condemned to enjoy it behind the thick curtain of hypocrisy.

 

* President Clinton’s sex scandal occupied the media for some time that year.

You can blame Adam and Eve and an apple for this double standard. But before going into the meaning of the story, there is one problem we need to settle once and for all. The question is: Did the Biblical stories like the Garden of Eden happen exactly as they were written, or were they made up? Personally, I think it matters very little whether it is a fact or a story somebody wrote. The important question is, why our ancestors chose to record it to tell us about God. What is the meaning of the particular event or of the story? That”s the question we should ask.

What then is the point of the story of Adam and Eve? For many centuries, Christians have been led to believe that Adam and Eve ate an apple against God”s command, and sex appeared as the result of disobedience. Therefore sex has become some thing to be ashamed of. After this, all humans are sinful by nature at conception, because no one is born without sex. This is why some people still believe that the baby who dies without baptism will not go to heaven. This notion is called Original Sin. We must realize, however, that this interpretation came from one man who lived in North Africa. His name was Augustine.

I don”t doubt that Augustine was a sincere Christian. He was born a very rich man in the city of Hippo in Carthage – today”s Tunisia. He was a play boy as a young man, had many mistresses, and had done almost everything sinful. When he was converted to Christianity, he had a serious problem dealing with his past. He had gone through a long period of time tormented by guilt. He wrote a thick book called "Confession" describing his sordid life before he became a Christian. Because of his deep sense of guilt, he became convinced that sin was imbedded deeply in human nature and sexual desire was its most obvious expression; only the sacrifice by the Son of God could redeem humans from sin. No doubt Augustine was sincere about his conclusion. Nevertheless, I must point out that it was one man”s interpretation of the Bible passage.

If you read the accounts of the Book of Genesis without any preconceived idea, you will find many aspect of the story do not quite fit with Augustine”s interpretation. For example, when God created the world including humans, he looked at his work and saw that it was good. He blessed all and said, "Be fruitful and multiply." The Bible was speaking about Original Blessing not sin. How can sex be the result of an evil act of disobedience, if God wanted us to be fruitful and multiply? Why could the fruit that gives wisdom to know good and evil be something to be forbidden? Did God want us to remain children? There are many other questions which don”t fit neatly with Augustine”s notion of Original Sin.

Without denying Augustine his right to interpret the story of Adam and Eve to make sense out of his journey of faith, we should look at the story with fresh eyes to find what it means to us today. One advantage many of us have over Augustine is the fact that we are parents and watched our children grow up. He never had. I suggest that we read today”s Genesis story, from the perspective of a parent watching a person growing up from childhood to adulthood.

 

Like young children, Adam was free and innocent in the beginning. He could do anything as he pleased and did not have to pay for what he took. Likewise, young children are allowed to do anything freely without taking any responsibility for their action. In those days, however, God told Adam not to go near the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Likewise, it would be unwise to let children exercise their discretion, because they can not be responsible. This is why parents must put restrictions on what a child can watch on the TV, and on how old a child should be before he can drive a car or sign a mortgage. That”s called responsible parenthood. Also young children are not shy to run around naked. But once a boy begins to feel lonely and a need for a companionship of opposite sex, he is ready for clothes, and other privileges and responsibilities. So, God provided a life companion, Eve. Adam was so happy, just like a teenage boy who fell in love for the first time.

But when he fell in love, he also had to face all sorts of risks. First, a snake appeared, and his sexuality was awakened. A snake has always been a symbol of male sexuality. But sexual awareness has to come with wisdom – a fruit that had so far been denied. As the young people grow up, they would want a right to use their own discretion, and for that they need wisdom. So they ate the apple. Incidentally, reference to "apple" is not mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis, it simply says, "the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil". Now that Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they were ready to enter the adult world. No privilege comes without risks and responsibility. They had to work with sweat and blood to earn the living, and have to go through anxiety and pain of childbirth. God warned them about hazard of the real world. God sounds like a worried parent whose grown child was ready to leave home. But you must notice also that the God of Genesis is the God who takes a walk in the garden when cool breeze ended heat of the day. God is described like a human, like any parent.

I believe that the message of the story of Adam and Eve is this: "Life is good and beautiful, but it is also full of hard work and pain. You are fully responsible for your life, and for that the knowledge of good and evil is essential." But, of course, this is only one of many interpretations, as much as Augustine is another one. For the fact that much of the Bible is written in the forms of stories, parables, and poems without giving away definitive interpretations, I believe that God is allowing each one of us to read the Bible in the way meaningful to us so long as we are absolutely sincere in that belief, and are humble and respectful of other people”s views which may be different from ours. That is why the Bible is so rich. Thanks be to God.

 

C: HOW CAN THIS BE A SIGN OF HOPE? – FOURTH SUNDAY OF NOVEMEBR

HOW CAN THIS BE A SIGN OF HOPE?

– REIGN OF CHRIST SUNDAY –

Jeremiah 23 : 1 – 6 Luke 23 : 33 – 43

The Church Calender helps us to remember important events in our faith. Today is the Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the day to highlight our belief that Jesus Christ is ultimately in charge of the world. Isn”t it strange, however, that today”s scripture reading is the story of the cross on which Christ was being executed; a sure sign that he failed in his mission? It completely betrays the expectation of some Christians that the Christian church eventually will dominate the world in the belief that Jesus Christ is the king of kings. This is because the message of the Gospel is that Christ rules the world but with humility and love, not by power and conquest. Paradoxically his death was the sign of the ultimate victory of love over hatred and self-centredness.

In the last two weeks, we have witnessed the violent deaths of two brave campaigners for justice and peace: Yitzhak Rabin and Ken Saro-Wiwa, an Israeli and a Nigerian, a Jew and a Christian. Rabin was a professional soldier, a General, a war hero turned a peace activist. He successfully fought the British, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Palestinians. He ruled the occupied land of Palestine with an iron fist as Minister of Defence. But in the end, he realized that no matter how much blood was spilt, peace would not come. He realized that security of his people could never be guaranteed with the power of arms, and that violence would cause more violence. Security could only come with peace and reconciliation. So he decided to shake the hands of his arch-enemy to reconcile with him and his people. He became a stubborn peace maker. And ironically, he met a violent death on his way not to a war but to reconciliation . He died not in a battle but for peace.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a successful Nigerian poet and writer. He could have lived in a safe haven like Switzerland to continue his lucrative writing career. But he went back to his people in the Niger River Delta area, and organized a peaceful protest. His people belong to the minority Ogoni tribe whose livelihood was completely destroyed by an oil company which polluted the river and killed the fish stock. The military dictatorship tried him in a kangaroo court, found him guilty of a trumped up charge of murder, and hanged him. He was bad news for the country”s economy, which depended on income from oil exports.

I had a couple of friends who died in the South African prisons in the 1970”s. When I met them during the late sixties, they were students in a university Christian movement; one was studying medicine and the other Social Work. They tried to help their people to acquire self-confidence, by providing credits for small businesses through a credit union. They were arrested for allegedly inciting violence, and were murdered by the Police while in custody. The story of one of them, Steve Biko, became a Hollywood movie a few years ago.

They were not the only ones who paid for their work towards justice and peace, their wives and children lost their loving partners, fathers and a grandfathers. Saro-Wiwa”s family were not allowed even to mourn with their friends. The Nigerian dictator feared political violence by emotional admirers of the dead hero, and prohibited a memorial service in the church. Even a mention of his name is cause for arrest.

When someone becomes a martyr, the family of the martyr suffers just as much if not more. They become living martyrs. When Jesus was crucified most of the disciples ran away. But his mother Mary sat at the bottom of the cross in agony watching her son suffer. Jesus told some of the disciples who remained at the foot of the cross that Mary was now their mother, and asked them to take care of her. Unlike the disciples, Mary had never understood exactly what her son”s mission was all about. A few time, she tried to stop him in his ministry for fear of his safety. Of course, she was right. The pursuit of total love was a dangerous career.

I corresponded for several years with one of the widows of my dead South African friends. Her name was Nohle. She lost her house for lack of income, and became near destitute trying to raise her children. She often wondered why she had to be the one who married someone who would give his life to the people. Her husband”s suffering ended when he died, but Nohle”s suffering has continued.

At the state funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, 16 year old grand-daughter, Noa Ben Artzi, read the most touching piece, more memorable than any other given by the heads of states. "Excuse me," she said, " I do not want to speak a piece, but to speak to my grandfather…. Grandpa, you are the pillar fire in front of the camp, now we just have the camp alone. Dark. and we”re so cold and alone. I know that people are speaking in terms of national tragedy, but how can you comfort a whole nation and involve them in your personal pain when Grandmother cannot stop crying. We feel the incredible open space without you. Very few people really knew you. They can speak about you, but I feel like they really don”t know anything about how deep the pain is… Grandpa you are our hero. I want you to know, that in everything I did, I saw you before my eyes. Your love, appreciation took us with every step, every path and will be a light to us forever. You never abandoned us, but we are abandoning you now. I cannot do anything to help you. People bigger than me already eulogized you, but your caress, your great caress, your warm hug, that was reserved just for us. Your sort of semi-smile, that great smile doesn”t exist anymore. The pain is so great. The ground is slipping out from under our feet and we”re trying to deal with the vacuum."

This is a cry of a young suffering woman who lost a loved one for the sake of peace, which continues. It is like agony of Mary”s excruciating sadness, who lost her son to the salvation of the whole of humanity. Jesus never looked for such suffering, or for such painful death; neither did many other martyrs who followed him. Furthermore, they never intended their loved ones to suffer so much. But the families” agonies were inevitable because of their uncompromising pursuit of justice, love, and peace. Even as he was dying, Jesus forgave those who were responsible for his suffering and death. His pursuit of love continued even on to the cross.

When a just person suffers by the hands of an unjust, iniquity of the unjust is exposed. Like the snow which melts in the sun, evil can not withstand absolute love. When the good are killed for doing good, the iniquity of the power that kills the good becomes clear. As the darkest of the night is the sign of imminent dawn, the suffering of the just is the sign of hope of the end of the dominance of evil and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

When my friend Steve Biko was murdered, that was the last straw that broke American patience. The U.S. Congress immediately passed an arms embargo against South Africa. Iniquity was exposed in the bright light. The end of Apartheid began as the direct result of the death of one 31 year old medical student. Those who loved Steve carried the torch in their suffering as living martyrs. The death of Yitzhak Rabin caused so much anger in the Israeli society, that the movement for peace is now unstoppable. The word for martyr in the original Greek language (marturion) means simply a witness. Some of the witnesses for Christ died for their testimonies, but many continued to live. For every martyr, there are many living martyrs who continue the task of building a just and peaceful world in their grief.

It is a sign that the Kingdom of God is still incomplete, when the good people suffer and die for doing good. However, it is a sure sign of heaven on earth and the presence of Christ that there are brave lovers of humanity who never stop loving, even if it costs them their lives. The victory of love is achieved not just through the deaths but though the living cloud of witnesses that remembered them. The death of Jesus Christ is a sign of hope, because it means the victory of love.

 

November 26, 1995

Tad Mitsui

Howick, Quebec

C: THE MARK OF LEADERSHIP – CHRIST THE KING

THE MARK OF LEADERSHIP – CHRIST THE KING

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 103, Luke 23:33-43

November 22, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

We will vote in a Provincial election in a week from tomorrow. I suspect that many of us are anxious about this, because our votes at this election may be crucial for the future of Quebec. However, the most unfortunate aspect of our election is the fact that we have to choose a party not a person. It is the party that decides in our system. So too much attention is given to the leaders of the parties, and many of us do not bother to find out who the candidates in our riding are. This is unfortunate. We have lost the practice to hold each of our representatives accountable. We are voting for a person who might as well be a dummy. We have to make each one of them responsible to us again rather than to their party leaders.

Traditionally, today is the last Sunday of the church calender year. It is called "Christ the King" or "Reign of Christ" Sunday. It is the last Sunday before the Advent – the season to prepare for Christmas. Today, we remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is the true King. It is he who demonstrated all the marks of authentic leadership. If we think of Jesus Christ as the ideal leader, we will learn how to choose a good leader by examining political figures according to the standards of leadership Jesus Christ had set.

We must first notice the significance of the Scripture passages chosen for today to celebrate Christ as King. The Jeremiah passage speaks about the shepherds, and the Luke passage depicts the scene on the cross on which Christ died. The image of a shepherd projects an image of a leader who takes care of the flock. Christ himself portrayed his role as that of a shepherd. The cross is the symbol of forgiveness and self-sacrifice. The crucified shepherd is a lofty role model for our political leaders. We can not expect any human being to fully live up to the kind of a standard set by Christ. But we can set the Christ”s example as a 100% perfect score – "A+", and grade our political figures accordingly.

Let us think about the image of a shepherd. We have a long tradition in our religion of comparing leaders with shepherds. Jeremiah compared the kings with shepherds who destroyed and scattered the flock to pass judgement on the performance of the bad kings. Jesus told his disciples to be shepherds also. Our present day understanding of that comparison may not quite fit with what the Bible intended to say, because livestock have become commodities, not friends. But when the authors of the Bible used the image of a shepherd, the relationship between people and animals was much closer – almost as though animals were part of the family. They roamed the barren land together in search of grazing land, sharing the good times and bad. They depended on each other, and their emotional attachment to each other was strong.

So when the Bible compared the kings with the shepherds, the expectation was that they would behave like the ones who cared about the people as much as they did about themselves. The kings were expected to be more than parents. A shepherds is visible. The shepherd had to be seen by the flock, walked in front of them, and often exposed themselves to the danger of the elements before their animals. The shepherd exercised their leadership by being visible as well as by being caring. There is a risk that goes with being visible. Bill Clinton must have learned that lesson. A leader is expected to be a role model by being open and visible. It is true not just for the political figures, but for other public figures too, teachers and ministers included.

Sometimes the price for authentic leadership can be extremely high. In the case of Jesus Christ, the price of his leadership was death on the cross. He did not have to be so public about loving the sick, the poor and the outcasts more than the rich and powerful. He could have loved them quietly, in private. But the mark of Christ”s leadership was that he demonstrated his loving care in public so that others could see God”s love clearly revealed and would follow his example. His deeds spoke more loudly than his words. When he prayed even in his extreme suffering, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.", all his teaching about love and forgiveness became more credible than ever.

Human history records many persons who, like Jesus, paid the price of visible leadership. They met their demise because they tried to live out their beliefs. Peter and Paul were executed because they publicly professed their faith in Christ. Many martyrs followed their examples; some of them did so without the knowledge of Christ. In recent years, there were Mahatma Ghandi, Indira and Rajiv Ghandi, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Bishop Oscar Romero, and the most recently Itzak Rabine in Israel. I don”t think that they intentionally sought death. But they did not hesitate to express their conviction openly even though there was a risk in doing so. A Japanese saying has it, "A nail which sticks out inevitably will be hammered down." A leader must be seen when exercising leadership, and so sticks out like a sore thumb. A principled leader always takes a risk of being hammered down. A leader must be courageous to truly lead.

I can not say that all those human leaders I mentioned were perfect. In fact, all of them had flaws in their characters. But consciously or unconsciously, they all tried their best to live up to the standard of a perfect leader – Jesus Christ. Consequently, they paid the ultimate price in their sacrifice. As we stand in front of a ballot box, let us remind ourselves of the marks of a true leader. A true leader cares for us and is responsible to us. Also a true leader is ready to pay the price of leadership even at the expense of own demise. Most likely, we will have to settle for the very cheap and flawed version of a true leader. It is also possible that our riding will elect the wrong person for the wrong reasons. It is then our responsibility to demand their accountability and to make constructive criticism, according to the standard we believe in – of true leadership: Jesus Christ, the true leader of all other leaders, the crucified shepherd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: WHO”S AFRAID OF Y2K? – THIRD SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

WHO”S AFRAID OF Y2K?

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Matthew 25:31-46

November 21, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

 

Too many people speak about the year 2000, so-called Y2K, these days. Some people are planning big parties, and some are worried about it. I, for one, believe that it”s no big deal, there is nothing to fear. Those who lived through the Ice Storm in 1998 in Quebec know that when you live in a community of caring people, you will be able to cope with most difficulties. We should not be afraid of any technical glitch that may happen on the New Year”s day. Neither should we be bothered by some religious fanatics who predict "the end of the world". Quite frankly, I think that those doomsday millennium scenario are none sense.

 

In today”s Gospel, when Jesus said, "When Son of Man comes in his glory,…he will sit in the throne of his glory,…he will separate people one from another…", he was speaking about the last judgment day. The belief in one determining moment, like "the end of the world", "the Second Coming of Christ", or "the final judgment day", was very important for early Christians. During the first few centuries of the church history, they suffered a lot because of their faith. Christianity was a new religion. So both the Roman Emperor and people were very suspicious of Christians. They seemed odd: they were too kind to everybody, met at night, sometimes in the cemeteries, and shared a piece of bread saying "This is my body." That”s why some people thought that Christians were cannibals. So Christianity was prohibited. Many Christians lost their lives for refusing to give up their faith. You understand why the promise about the final judgement and the second coming of Jesus Christ was enormously comforting to them. It was a promise that their faithfulness would be recognized. It was not a threat of some scary cataclysmic events. Jesus was saying to those faithful followers who were suffering the consequences of their belief, "God knows your faithfulness. Your reward awaits. Do not be afraid. Continue to be good to other people."

 

In 1970, there was a coup d”etat in Lesotho, where I lived. The Army took over the government by force. They declared the result of the election null and void, because they didn”t like the political party elected to take power. Many people were arrested, tortured, killed, or went into exile including many of my students. We were all afraid, because nobody knew what was going to happen next. There was enormous fear especially among the foreign residents. Many of them were desperately trying to think of the ways to escape. The British High Commissioner came to calm our nerves. The British authorities were supposed to be responsible for the security of Canadians, also. We discussed the possibilities of a rescue by air lift or a breakout by an armed convoy, etc. None of us believed that the British would undertake such an expensive operation for a handful of us in a tiny insignificant African country. The best advice came from the Roman Catholic Bishop. His advice was simple, "stay with your people." He was so right. People, who love and trust you, are the best protection against all dangers. There is nothing more secure than living in a community made up of caring people. Today”s lesson from the Gospel makes the same point.

 

It says that on the day of judgement, Christ the King will come in his glory and sit on the throne. He will praise those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the strangers, took care of the sick, and visited the prisoners. He said that those ordinary acts of kindness were the proof of true devotion to God. "When you are good to those poor people, you are being good to me." – he said. "You will share the glory of Christ the King." It can be a criticism of those who think that they are Y2K prepared, because they debugged their computers and VCR”s, drew out enough cash, stored enough food and water, and are keeping a rifle handy to protect what”s in the storage.

 

The message of our Lord is very clear. If you are kind and loving persons offering day-to-day acts of kindness to others, you are already in the Kingdom of God. These words were a huge comfort to those followers of Christ, who had already been living in such a life-style. They treated each other as though each person was Christ himself. They were kind especially to the most hard pressed persons, like a hungry person, a person without decent clothes, or even a criminal who was in a prison.

 

I found the following story about a daughter of a minister, in a magazine for preachers. Her name was Susan. She is now a Lutheran minister herself. One Sunday afternoon, when Susan was a child, the family was having their customary Sunday dinner. There was a knock on the door. Father went out to answered the door. He did not come back for a long time. So Susan went to check out what was happening. There was a shabbily dressed woman speaking with her father. She had two small children with her. Father took them to the Food Bank and the used clothes storage of the church which was next door to the manse. When Susan came back to the table, her brother asked who the visitors were. She answered, "Jesus and her two children." Susan was not quite correct in facts. But she knew correctly the meaning of the teachings of Jesus, especially the one about feeding the hungry, clothing those who had no clothes, etc. Yes, her father was being kind to Jesus and her two children, as Jesus said, "Just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me."

 

We will go into the new millennium in a few weeks. When Y2K arrives, God will be with us as always. And there will be no problem we could not cope with, if we carry on as we always have; to continue to work with God to build a caring community of all God”s children, which is the Kingdom of God on this earth,.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: THEY TALK BUT DO NOT COMMUNICATE – FOURTH SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

THEY TALKED BUT DID NOT COMMUNICATE

II Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 121, John 18:33-38

November 23, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

One mischievous man went to a wedding and approached the reception line. The bride”s mother had a permanently fixed smile on her face. Smiling as well, he said to her as he shook her hand, "My mother died yesterday." She said, "Oh, that”s nice. Thank you." Nobody listen to others at a party, especially at a wedding. So, people don”t hear you if you suddenly introduce a notion which comes from a different situation. It is as though you are speaking in a foreign language. Communication breaks down when two persons are speaking from two different sets of circumstances. Parents and teenage children, for example, often do not live in the same world. So teenagers can not see how parents can ever understand their lives. Most of you have heard this conversation before! "Where are you going?" "Out." "What are you going to do?" "Nothing."

The interrogation that Pilate conducted before he condemned Jesus to death was a bizarre encounter. Even though they were talking about the same thing, they were not communicating. Jesus and Pilate were facing each other in the same room and were trying to focus on the same subject of whether Jesus was a king, but their minds were in two different worlds. A similar situation happens in our lives, too, maybe too often.

When Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?", He was using the word "king" as it was understood in the Roman Empire. The notion of "king" has to do with control, territories, and power. How much power a king had depended on the size of the land he controlled. In the territory he controlled, he had absolute power. The life and death of many were in his hand. The king had armies to enforce his authority. He lived in a palace, had many servants, and wore nice clothes. That was what Pilate had in mind when he used the word "king".

The Jewish religious leaders, on the other hand, used the word "king" for Jesus to provoke the wrath of the Roman governor. They were angry about the title people began to give to Jesus. People began to call Jesus, the "Messiah" which is the word reserved for the second coming of King David. The leaders believed that only they could decide when the Messiah had arrived. Jesus began to be a threat to their authority and power. They hoped that Pilate would eliminate Jesus for being a threat to the Roman Empire. That would fit their purpose just fine, if the Roman authorities got rid of Jesus. If people got angry, they could always blame the Romans.

Pilate did not take the bait immediately, because Jesus, who was standing before him, did not fit his image of a king. Jesus had no army, nor land, nor even decent clothes. He dressed like a peasant. At most, he looked like a leader of a band of crazy religious fanatics. How could such a pathetic figure be a threat to the mighty Roman Empire? Pilate had no idea that the influence of this man he saw as a travesty of a king would eventually overwhelm the whole empire.

Jesus was indeed handed over to the soldiers and crucified in the end. But his followers never stopped speaking about him, and continued to live according to his teaching. They had the strength to do this, because they believed that Jesus defeated the power of death, and was still living with them and guiding them. Their faith meant that their numbers increased rapidly. This was amazing, because during the first three centuries, it was illegal to be a Christian. The penalty was death. Jesus was a presence in their lives that continued to inspire courage and loyalty. He did not need the trappings of power. His apparent powerlessness was the sign of real power. This power remained so strong that even his death on the cross did not deter his followers.

When Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews, he replied in a question. "Who said that I was the king?" He needed to know what kind of situation had led Pilate to ask such a question. We must also learn to do the same thing more often in our lives. We answer questions too quickly. If you don”t know what lies behind the question, you may be giving a completely wrong answer. When a child comes to you when you are busy with a thousand other things to do and ask you too many questions, probably the child is not interested in your answers. He is asking you to, "Please pay attention to me. Please show me that you care about me."

When Jesus asked Pilate, "Who asked you to ask me that question?" Pilate said, "I am not a Jew. It was your leaders who told me." It was clear to Pilate, that Jesus was not his problem. He was just a nuisance. He was ready to release Jesus, but also just as easily he was ready to execute him. Obviously, Pilate didn”t care. Justice and truth were not his concern. He didn”t care whether his judgement was just or unjust, so long as it was effective. Pilate had shown the true nature of his worldly kingdom. He murdered the true king, and made the corrupt leaders happy.

Jesus said, "My kingdom does not from this world; it comes from truth." Of course, Pilate didn”t understand that. So he asked, "Truth?" What do you mean by truth?" Truth had nothing to do with politics. You lie, cheat, and kill to get more territories and power. So the conversation between Jesus and Pilate stopped there. Truth was not in Pilate”s vocabulary. God”s kingdom, on the other hand, is bound by affection, allegiance, commitment, and loyalty. No truth survives without those qualities. You can be truthful if you truly love. You are a Christian no matter where you are, so long as you are faithful to God through Jesus Christ. Likewise, a country is bound by spiritual qualities like love, loyalty, and trust. You are a true Canadian no matter where you are, so long as you love this land and its people. The Roman Empire and many empires fell to ruins because they did not understand how loyalty and love were part of the language of heart. They thought that the army could threaten citizens and conquered people into being loyal. But a true leader rules with love and truthfulness. It is tragic that Pilate didn”t understand that. It is tragic that many politicians do not understand that.

We believe that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings, who is the model for all leaders. Jesus had no land, no army, nor fancy clothes, nor money. But he had the most important qualities for a leader; abundant love and absolute truthfulness. We believe that these same qualities work within our family, our community, our church, and our country. It is our responsibility as Christians to communicate that to the world. We risk being misunderstood as Jesus was. But it is only through our witness that the Messiah can be proclaimed as King, once more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: CHILDREN SHALL NOT DIE – SECOND SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

CHILDREN SHALL NOT DIE

EXODUS 12, PSALM 150, MATTHEW 18:18-20

September 8, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

Passover is the most important holiday for Jewish people. It is the day to remember their liberation from slavery and the beginning of the Hebrew people as a nation. For us Christians also, Passover has a lot to do with our idea of salvation. Jesus Christ instituted Holy Communion as he celebrated a Passover supper with his disciples before he was crucified. Today”s Old Testament reading describes how it all began.

Having said that, however, I have real problem celebrating salvation which was achieved because children”s lives were sacrificed. You might say that those who died were the children of the Egyptian oppressors. But I have difficulty accepting the idea of salvation where innocent children of other people had to be sacrificed, while the deaths of their own children were considered to be something abhorrent. I feel strongly about this at a time when so many crimes against children are being reported.

The problem is that the Bible described this tragedy for Egyptians as something good. It saved the God”s chosen people, the Hebrews. I can not accept such logic. For me, our God is for all people, for Jews and for Egyptians, for Canadians and for Iraqis. We are obliged to examine our attitudes towards the Bible when we have this kind of dilemma. How should we read the Bible? This is a very important question. Is it possible to justify such an extreme ideas as hating your enemies so much as to rejoice in the deaths of their children, as this Exodus story seems to be doing. It depends on how you read the Bible. Many deaths and abuses of innocent children and women during the wars have been tolerated or even justified because, "They were infidels, Nazis, or communists, etc." This logic seems to me to be very much against the core of the teachings of Jesus Christ to love your enemies and to give children a place of glory. Prophet Isaiah also declared that in God”s ideal world, "Children shall not die."

There are two very easy solutions to the question of how to read the Bible. The first one is to believe that every word of the Bible is a word of God to be accepted as truth. Those who say this are called literalists or more often fundamentalists. The second solution is to treat the Bible like any other literature, and not to take it too seriously. The first group calls the second group "humanists" and does not accept them as Christians. Neither is the belief of most United Church people including myself.

We believe that the Bible contains the word of God. The key word here is "contain". I did not say it "is" the word of God. In other words, by reading through the Bible we will know the will of God, but every word is not necessarily God”s word. It is like letters from a loved one. They are usually random descriptions of their day-to-day life and work. But reading through those letters, you can feel the palpable strands of love woven into the whole fabric. The German reformer Martin Luther compared the Bible to the crib where Baby Jesus was laid. He said that it is preposterous to treat every straw in the mattress as though it was Jesus himself, even though straws of the mattress are important for his well being. The crib is not Jesus. But if you don”t look for the crib, you won”t find the Holy Child. Likewise is the relationship between the Bible and the word of God. The Bible is an imperfect vessel for the word of God. But it is the only one we have.

But because of the views I have just expressed, people like me and many people in the United Church are often called humanists, and accused of being not 100% Christians, by those who believe every word of the Bible as the word of God. Many heated discussions took place because of this difference, they sometimes split the church. Even though fundamentalists may be sincere as Christians, we must also stand firm in our way of believing as the best one for us.

According to our way of reading and interpreting the Bible, the part of the Old Testament we have been reading is a record of the Hebrew people”s journey of discovery. They journeyed through many trials and errors in their search for the way of God. At various points, some of their prophets had nearly achieved the same level of spiritual perfection as Jesus did later. At the same time, they also overstepped the bounds in their eagerness to be faithful, and made many wrong assumptions. The Bible does not try to hide those mistakes. This is why you find many contradictions in the Bible. For example, to rejoice in the deaths of innocent children, simply because they happened to be the children of those terrible people who had enslaved them, is wrong. But, no human being should be a slave of another. So the Hebrew people were right to firmly reject the notion of enslavement as against God”s will.

Furthermore, people”s idea of God progressed throughout the history described in the Bible. In earlier writings, the Old Testament speaks about people, even the Hebrew people, who believed in tribal gods, not just one God. Each tribe had their own god. Often battles between nations were considered to be battles of gods. Their notion of divinity was that there were many little gods who were concerned only about their own little groups exclusively.

This is why, for Moses, it was important to know the name of the god who was speaking to him in the desert. He had to have some authority to persuade people to make a move that was so brave it seemed crazy. He had to convince people that this God is the real one, not like others. The interesting thing is that God refused to be named. "I am who I am." said God. "You can not describe me in your limited vocabulary. You will find me as you walk with me." This is progress in terms of achieving a better understanding of God as one who is much larger than a mere tribal god.

I am saying all this based on the observation of the whole Bible. Many years after the period that the Exodus speaks of, Prophet Isaiah said that in God”s world children shall not die. And Jesus Christ underlined Isaiah”s conviction in many of his sayings. For us Christians, Jesus reached perfection in what the Hebrew people had searched for throughout their history. In other words, for us, Christ is the measure against which every experience in the Old Testament can be judged. Through Christ, the whole experience of the Hebrew people was opened to all of us. And the journey continues. So let us not be shy about our honest questioning of the Bible. This is not a rejection. It is a journey of discovery and of a deepening of our faith.

A: DO YOU KNOW HOW TO BE GOOD? – FIRST SUNDAY OF JUNE

DO YOU KNOW HOW TO BE GOOD?

Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 33 #5, Matthew 9:9-13

June 5, 2005, Picture Butte

There is a scene in Richard Nash’s play, "Rainmaker." Rainmaker is a smooth talking travelling salesman, who goes around countryside. Rainmaker seduced a lonely, spinster daughter of the family at midnight in a barn. Her outraged brother took out a gun to shoot the Rainmaker. However, the Rainmaker’s action would restore her sense of womanliness and her confidence. The father, a wise old rancher, grabs the gun away from his son, saying, "Noah, you’re so full of what’s right you can’t see what’s good."

When there is a conflict between what is good and what is right, we often think that Christian way is the righteousness not goodness. In this respect, Jesus often surprises us.

Matthew was a tax collector, and knew that nobody liked him. But Jesus not only accepted Matthew”s invitation for a dinner, but also made him a disciple. No wonder the righteous people were scandalized. At the time, Palestine was under the Roman occupation. Administration of taxation was given to some selected Jewish persons on a commission basis. In other words, tax collection was privatized. The tax collectors invented many methods to impose taxes. They were a enterprising lot. Many of them made fortunes took bribes, pounced on the vulnerable people who were often poor and weak. They became not only morally corrupt, but also because of their immoral practices, they were branded as religiously unclean, in the same class as lepers, prostitutes, and thieves. Priests and Pharisees refused them in religious events. As a class, they were not only traitors working for the enemy but also became excommunicated, so-to-speak. They became rich but they had no friends.

I could understand why the category of tax collectors was synonymous with the one for sinners. But what happened to those who were honest. They could be just doing an unpleasant job to earn a living? There is some evidence in the Bible to indicate that there were some less corrupt ones who would have loved to redeem themselves and to be accepted by society. Matthew was one of those people. This is why Matthew had no hesitation to follow Jesus, leaving his job and money behind when he was called to be his disciple. He must have suffered bad conscience about his job, but did not have courage to quit. But the encounter with Jesus gave him currage to get out of a profitable but questionable occupation.

From time to time, we run into a situation where we find ourselves in a bad company but do not have courage to get out. It is a big problem for many of us. But as soon as we acknowledge that we share collective guilt, we are on the way to redemption. Jesus understood the pang of conscience of some tax collectors like Matthew. And when you can feel the pain, Jesus, like a doctor, can help you. But if you don”t feel it, no one can help you. This is why it is so important to admit that there is a problem and to recognize that you are in need of help.

Here was the problem of the righteous people like Pharisees. They did not acknowledge that there was any problem in their lives. They either denied it or did not see it. They were determined to be God fearing and righteous people. In order to achieve their goals, they made for themselves a set of rules and followed them faithfully. Unfortunately, however, in the process of becoming righteous people they forgot to be good people. They forgot to be loving and kind. While they were on the way to be righteous, they became judgmental and lost the core of being Godly, which is being merciful. They became law-abiding but lost their heart. They forgot that laws were instruments of justice and love. Laws that do not achieve justice are empty shells and burden to society. The worst problem, however, for the Pharisees was the fact that many of them did not see any problem in obeying laws faithfully without being compassionate.

Paul described this state of empty piety in his letter to Corinthians, "If I have all knowledge of God”s words, ability to preach wonderful sermons, faith to move mountains, charity to give everything including life itself, but if I don”t have love, I am nothing." What is most important is what is inside of ourselves. If we do not have kindness and mercy in our hearts, any visible signs of righteousness can be an empty shell and even inhuman. We can easily be hypocrites. The tragedy of the righteous Pharisees was that in their eagerness to be acceptable to God, they became legalistic, heartless and judgmental people. Their worst problem, however, was that they did not think there was anything wrong with them. They thought that they were perfectly acceptable to God because they knew that they obeyed the laws to the last iota.

Their ignorance of how they were wanting was the worst illness, worse than that of sins acknowledged and regretted. People who know the pain of guilt have a much better chance of being made whole. If you do not admit that you have a problem, no one can help you. Socrates in the ancient Greece said that the best knowledge was the knowledge of oneself. "Know thyself." , he said. However, he said that the most valuable knowledge is the knowledge of one”s ignorance. When you know that you do not know, you have a whole unknown world open before your eyes. If you think that you know everything you need to know, the world is closed. And you slam the door shut yourself. No one can help you.

This is why Jesus thought that the sinners, who knew that there was something wrong with them, had far better chance of being saved than the righteous people who believed that they needed no help or no lesson to learn. He said, "A healthy person does not need a doctor." The irony of the context was a sick person who did not believe that they were ill had absolutely no chance of getting to the doctor, because they closed the door by themselves. Thank God for occasional pain. Pain itself is not a good thing. Don”t look for it. But it is a signal. Through pain, God tells you that you need to seek help, to change and to grow.

 

 

B: DAVID AND BATHSHEBA – FIFTH SUNDAY OF JULY

DAVID AND BATHSHEBA

II Samuel 11:1-5,14-15,24 & 12:1-7 Psalm 14(VU735 John 6:1-21

July 30, 2006 by Tad Mitsui

There are some stories in the Bible which are not suitable for children; and this is one of them. It’s a story of adultery and murder. A woman is bathing nude on a rooftop, a man sees this and takes her to bed and makes her pregnant. The man was completely infatuated and wanted her so badly that he arranged her husband to be killed. How do you read a Biblical story like that? Especially the man in question is the most admired king of Israel, David. There are two different interpretations. One makes the woman a seducer, a temptress who used sex as a way of becoming a queen. The other interpretation makes David a bad one, who committed adultery and murder. In this case, the woman, Bathsheba becomes a victim of a forced sex by a man who abused power to satisfy his illicit desire. I take the second one. However, I believe that the story is not so much about adultery as it is about the abuse of power.

 

Let me begin with Bathsheba. A woman was bathing on a roof-top. The first interpretation that I spoke of assumes that she knew that she could be seen from the palace, and she wanted to seduce the king. I don’t think this was the case. In fact, Bathsheba was bathing according to the law. A woman was supposed to take a ritual bath on the eighth day of menstruation, according to the book of Leviticus. Bathsheba was going through a religious act. No one was supposed to see it. But of course except the king, whose palace is higher than ordinary people’s homes.

 

Also, anyone who has been to tropical countries can easily acknowledge that this interpretation which makes Bathsheba a loose woman is off base. It is not uncommon sight to see people bathing in public in hot countries. They do it in rivers and lakes, as well as in their back yards. They know how to present themselves discreetly to maintain modesty even when they are naked.

 

If anybody was a culprit in this story, it must have been King David. According to the law of Moses in Leviticus, it was taboo to even share a roof with a woman who was not completely cleansed after menstruation. David knew why Bathsheba was bathing; every adult woman did it after her period. And yet he sent for her. He knew that he was violating twice the religious law in one act. There is no denial that David did something terribly wrong. But the question is; what kind of wrong did he commit? Of course, adultery is not commendable conduct. But that is not the main point of this particular story. It was how adultery was committed. It was primarily an abuse of power that is being condemned here.

 

You see, if you consider the accepted practices in those days, and even as late as one hundred years ago, for a king to take women other than his own wife was usually accepted as a tolerable royal indiscretion. King David married many wives and took many more concubines, according to the II Samuel. Solomon took more than one thousand wives and concubines according to the I Kings. Even after Europe became Christian, though the church allowed only one wife, it still closed its eyes on kings taking concubines. Remember Henry VIII? And the practice continued until even more recently. What is known as "le droit du seigneur", where dukes and marquis had the right to take the new brides of their subjects to bed before the weddings, was carried on even in the last century in Europe. The Opera, "Marriage of Figaro", or the story of the famous "Braveheart" referred to that barbaric but accepted practice. I am not saying that what David did was acceptable. What I am trying to say is that the kind of thing that David did was nothing extraordinary for the king in those days. So what is the point? For what reason did the Bible take exception and give this story such an important place. What was it trying to tell us?

 

I believe it is a warning against the abuse of power. No one is allowed to use power in order to exploit other persons for one”s own benefit. David was getting old. He could no longer lead an army; that’s why he was back home in Jerusalem. He was aware that he was losing power. It is common knowledge that sex crimes are committed by people who feel powerless. For them preying on the weak – women and children – is the only way to feel that they still have power over someone else. The prophet Nathan skilfully gave that message in his story of a poor man”s sheep and a rich man”s greed. You see, our religious tradition has never been comfortable with the idea that any person should wield power over others. We recite "for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever" in the Lord”s Prayer, because we believe, since the time of the Old Testament, that ultimately only God has power. The power any human being holds is given in trust on a certain number of conditions. We believe that we are all children of God, hence we are all equal. Power is given to some people on the condition that they do some of the God”s work. If anyone abuses the God given power for one”s selfish purposes, one is committing a grievous sin.

 

All of us have power over other people in various ways. As parents over our children, as owners of assets and properties, as holders of offices and positions of many kinds, we all have power to oblige others to do what we want. Particularly, politicians and business executives have tremendous power to determine the fate of other people. For all of us, the story of David and Bathsheba gives us an important lesson. It is, "Don”t ever use power to exploit others." We must remember Jesus Christ as the ultimate role model of a power figure. Though he was the son of almighty God, he exercised his power only to care for others, even though that attitude cost him his own life. That should be the model of a person with power. Not like David who used his power to satisfy his own selfish desire at the cost of another person”s life.

 

 

 

A ; WAS JESUS A SUPERMAN OR JUST A MEN – FIFTH SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

JESUS CHRIST – SUPERMAN OR JUST A MAN?

Exodus 17 : 1 – 6, Psalm 78, Phil. 2 : 1 – 13

September 29, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

Paul was in a Roman prison writing the last letter of his life to the Philippians. He knew that his death was imminent. He was probably beheaded soon after he sent that letter. Despite the circumstances, the letter was filled with joy. He used words like "happy", "joy" or "rejoice" more than 20 times in a short letter, and asked the Philippians to join him in his happiness. How could Paul be happy in such a situation? Or was he just trying to be brave? I have no definite answer why anyone could be happy in a prison. But in this circumstance, he wrote the famous verses extolling the self-emptying love of Jesus. "Though Jesus Christ was in the form of God, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave being born as a human." But I think that in his belief in the self-emptying love of Jesus, there is a clue to know why Paul could be happy despite his imminent demise.

Paul was a well educated man of high society. Now he was sitting in a prison in Rome because of his faith in Jesus Christ. If he had any doubt about the self-emptying love of Jesus Christ, he would have been screaming at a prison wall out of total frustration. On the surface, it appeared that Paul wasted his life completely. He was born of a successful, affluent, and industrious family. He grew up in a foreign country and was fluent in the universal language of the day, Greek. Because of the prominent position they held, the entire family was accorded the rare privilege of Roman citizenship, though they were Jews.

He also belonged to the Pharisees – the elite class of lawyers and scholars in the Jewish society. He was educated in the highest educational institution in Jerusalem. Therefore, his promotion in the ruling class was remarkably quick. Even when he was a law student, he had already supervised at least one trial and execution of a heretic. A few years later, he was given authority over the entire region of Syria to arrest and imprison the followers of the heretical teaching known as Christianity. When he became a Christian he threw all those privileges away. I am sure that his past in the Jewish establishment must have made many Christians suspicious of him. Not only that, he had a hard time convincing other Christians about the legitimacy of his ministry, because of his more liberal understanding of the Gospel, which stemmed from his education and overseas experiences.

We have a bad habit of discrediting good people, when we find a few blemishes in them. We somehow feel familiarity gives us a license to discredit virtues. When you hear the praises of someone you know well, you feel that you have a right to diminish their apparent virtues by adding the inside story. I know this, because I do it myself. For example, I have had the privilege to get to know many saintly people in my life. On more than one occasion, I got angry at or spoke ill of such godly persons as Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu, because I had seen first hand their idiosyncrasies and got impatient with them. Shame on me! Knowing this particular human tendency, Jesus said that prophets were rarely accepted in their own home towns. As people got to know the Prophets well, they always found faults in them. We must find ways to keep the respect for people with whom we have become familiar.

I suspect that the same psychology is at work when we think of Jesus Christ today. We might crucify him again, if he lived among us and if we knew him well. But because we have not lived close to Jesus in the flesh and do not know him as someone who is like us, it is easy for us to respect and praise him. We have no problem to say, "He is God." For us, he is someone like Superman, who came from outer space and could perform wonders. Therefore it is impossible for us to feel responsible for his death, because we respect him too much. We can not think of ourselves killing the son of God. "It was those bad people, not us, who crucified Jesus." We don”t realize that our presumed innocence is based on our unfamiliarity with the person of Jesus Christ. This is why, for many centuries, the Christians persecuted Jewish people as the nation responsible for the death of our Lord. That was, of course, totally unjust.

We have a real problem comprehending one of the important articles of faith. It is the humanity of Christ, because that makes him like us. If Jesus remained God, and stayed far away from the likes of us, there would not have been such a problem. We would not see him. We would not see anything we didn”t like in him. We would be able to continue to worship him, if he stayed away from us and remained God. But is this the real Jesus? What do we do with the verses like, "He emptied himself to become like us and lived among us."

Ralph Milton once did something very interesting, when he led a Bible study of the same passage we read today. He drew a long horizontal line, and marked one end as "100% undiluted God" and the other end as a "kinda nice person". In the middle of the line was "a saintly person". First he asked people to position Jesus on this continuum. The most of the people put Jesus on "100% undiluted God" or somewhere pretty close. Then he mentioned a few names of people they who were well respected and they knew personally. He also mentioned some godly people they respected but never met, people like Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Albert Schweitzer, etc. None of the people who they were familiar with made it to "saintly persons". They were mostly "Kinda nice people" including their own ministers. Only a few famous people, whom they did not know personally, made it close to the status of "saintly persons".

It is difficult to understand the notion of Jesus Christ being a 100% undiluted God and a 100% undiluted man at the same time, in the same person. Many Christians do not understand how Jesus could be human while being completely God. The people of Jewish and Muslim faiths do not accept that either; no human could be God, no way, no how. This is because we do not see God in people. Consequently, we are too quick to find faults in good people and reject them, as soon as we get to know them well. We must learn to see a bit of God in every person. Remember the creation story? God created humans, according to the likeness of God. We are not perfect, of course. But a bit of godliness is in every one of us. But often, because we know some people, we overlook their godliness. Disrespect increases rapidly, once someone you see in flesh does something you don”t like or something which goes against your interest. This is why the people in Jerusalem cried out for Jesus” death. They got to know him in flesh, and did not like what they saw in him, even though many of them thought that he was Messiah in the beginning.

Jesus was a human being. He was tempted to abuse divine power, when he was hungry. He was attracted by political power, and was even dazzled by worldly riches. He wept over the death of his friend. He cried and sweated all night, begging God to let him avoid the agony on the cross; he could not stand the thought of such extreme pain. On the cross, he even fell into the depth of despair and accused God of abandoning him. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!" One neglected clause in the Apostle”s Creed is, after Jesus was crucified and died, "He descended into hell." Jesus went to hell? We thought it was the place only bad people went. No matter how it should be interpreted, it is quite clear that Jesus saw everything any human person would experience, including that of hell.

Jesus Christ was a 100% undiluted human being. And people could hear, see and touch him. It was easy to hate him, because he was close to them and visible. Likewise, we can dislike people who are close and do something against our interest, even though they are doing the right thing. Yes, we can crucify Jesus all over again, unless we learn to see God in every human being. Unless you know how to see godliness in every human being, you will not be able to see this 100% undiluted human being called Jesus Christ, who was at the same time 100% undiluted God. Let us go back to Paul”s prison cell in Rome. I could see him saying something like: "My humanity – all the failures, wrong directions, thwarted projects, and warts – is what Jesus become when he emptied himself. And in doing so Jesus showed me the godliness in my humanity."

 

B: WE ARE ALL BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS – SECOND SUNDAY OF JUNE

WE ARE ALL BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS

Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29 (VU755 John 3:1-17

VU 315, 375, 509, 661

June 11, 2006 by Tad Mitsui

Once I went to a hypnotism show. He led a whole crowd in the theatre through an exercise to divide us into two groups: those who could be hypnotized and those who could not be. I found that I was I was too sceptical and could not easily be hypnotized. So the show went on only with people who could be receptive to suggestions, and I was a spectator. I had a lot of fun watching people making fool of themselves. There are people who are more affectionate and emotional, and others like me who think a lot and are more sceptical. There is nothing wrong with either of them. Today’s story from John tells us that we need both kinds.

A young woman asked me one day in a cafeteria, "Are you born again to Jesus?" I said, "Yes." Then she asked, "When?" I said, "Everyday." She looked sceptical, obviously didn’t accept my answer. But I believe if we believe in the Bible, we all have to be born again Christians. Today’s story tells us that thinking people need to be born again to be more passionate and passionate people need to think more.

In the Gospel according to John, you find the expression "Born Again" first used by Jesus. He said that no one could be his follower and enter the kingdom of God unless one was born again. The story has it that one night a prominent Pharisee leader by the name of Nicodemus came to see Jesus. He said, "Teacher, I know you come from God." Jesus said to him, "If you really want to follow God”s way, you must first be born again."

This really threw Nicodemus off balance. "Born again? I am a grown up man. I can not go back to my mother”s womb." He was a man who used the brain to think. He was a scholar. He was not used to be confronted with things that made no logical sense. But he came face to face with the fundamental fact of faith, that is: faith is about life and life is one with both mind and spirit together. He had to integrate reason with passion to start afresh in the life of faith – to be born again in spirit.

It is not easy for a person who is used to logical thinking to give oneself to emotion and passion. For a thinking person a passionate person looks silly. This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night. He was the leader of the scholarly lawyers. He had a hunch that Jesus had to come from God. But his cool reasoning didn’t allow him to jump to such a conclusion. He had to be careful. So he came secretly at night. But faith must involve a whole person. The whole person includes feelings: emotions, and passion, in addition to a cool mind that reasons. Faith requires a whole person. A whole person is a person who draws on both mind and spirit.

There was a paediatrician who became famous in a movement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. She was once asked why she was so emotional when she spoke about the danger of nuclear weapons. The insinuation was that "Emotional women are not reasonable. If you want to be heard, speak like a reasonable man." She answered that ”Yes, I am emotional about this. I am a woman and a mother. If my patient does not get emotional about her child, she is a psychopath. I ”ll refer her to a Psychiatrist."

Faith is not complete if passionate belief does not seek reason. Mind is a God”s creation, as much as spirit is a gift of God. Faith has to grow in mind and spirit. When faith comes into our life through emotion and passion, it has to be fed with reason as it grows. Faith does not stay alive by emotion alone. Sometime those who believe with passionate faith criticize those people who study the Bible scientifically, and examine our beliefs systematically. But those people must be born again to integrate their passion for God with reason and logic. A whole person is one with both passion and reason.

We are all called upon to be born again. Made new today, tomorrow, and many more times being born again. There are some people who can pinpoint the time and the day when he/she was born again. But we are different. For some of us, "born again" is a quiet process that repeats itself many times. I try to live like a new person everyday, refreshed by the belief that God loves me. God will help us with an inspirational or emotionally high experience. After such an experience, we must settle down and think, like a bowl of hot jelly cools and settles in a fridge. At other times, our cool rational belief system has to be shaken, perked up, and refreshed with stirring hymns or by the love of a friend. In either case, we are born again as a new Christian person.

 

B: FORGIVENESS – FIRST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

FORGIVENESS

2 Samuel 12:1 – 13, Psalm 51776-777 John 6:25-29

VU 602, 608, 472, 662

August 6, 2006, at Picture Butte

We all suffer from guilt. We all need forgiveness to go on with life. Today”s story of David and Prophet Nathan teaches us that. It’s a disgusting story! King David orders the death of his brave and loyal soldier in order to go to bed with his wife. David”s behaviour was immoral. Pure and simple. How could he be so horrible? Yet David remained a God”s most favoured king in the Bible. The child from this unholy union grew up to be King Solomon, who was the most successful king in the entire history of Jewish people. What is going on here?

We will not understand the point of this story fully until we realize that David”s behaviour was no different from other kings. You don”t have to read the stories of Henry VIII to find out that the kings did the same kind of things, or even worse things, all over the world throughout the ages.

 

The point of the story of David and Bathsheba is not to highlight David”s sin. David”s sex life was no better nor worse than other kings. So, the point of this story is to tell us that everybody sins and even a king is in need of forgiveness like everybody else. It says that nobody, not even the king, can get on with life until one”s guilt is taken cared of. King David was a great king because he admitted his guilt, and not because he was a morally better human being.

I am not saying that David did nothing wrong. He was guilty for sure. But I am saying that everybody without exception makes mistakes and has a past history that causes guilt feeling. One must acknowledge that. It is a first step towards forgiveness. David was a sinful man like everybody else. But he was more honourable in his honesty than many people. Nobody wants to admit one”s fault. This is why so many of us are busy working too hard to escape from the deep menacing feeling that somehow we are not OK.

When someone touches that sensitive spot, you would get angry and hate such a meddler. If you were a king, you would probably kill such a person. Prophet Nathan had a superb skill to tell King David that he did wrong without making him angry. The story of a rich man and a poor man”s sheep Nathan used sounded so much like a day-to-day kind of court case King David would have heard in his court. Nathan had to be careful even though as a prophet he was paid to tell the truth. He could have lost his head. John the Baptist was virtually decapitated, by telling the truth about King Herod”s personal life.

But the most important point of this story is that God does not demand perfection, but accepts those who honestly admit guilt and forgive them. David was a good leader, not because he was without fault, but because he was honest to admit his faults and accepted his guilt. He accepted equality of all people before God in their sinfulness. Greatness of King David was that he acknowledged himself to be just another miserable guilty man in need of God”s mercy. This was how he could get on with his life and move onto do greater things for the nation, trusting in God”s forgiveness and mercy.

A woman I knew well told me about her son”s recent divorce. My wife and I were very sorry to hear that, because we cared about the young couple and a baby girl very much. She was angry with her son. But she blamed herself more than anybody for bringing him up to be such a man of many faults, who could not make his marriage work. Not being able to see her grand daughter as often as she used to added injury to her anger. But eventually love towards her son and the grand daughter proved to be strong. Love did not allow her to dwell in a blaming game too long. She loved her son very much and had to forgive and accept him. When she could forgive her son, she felt that she was also forgiven. She felt forgiveness as she forgave her son. When she experienced forgiveness, strangely grudges she used to hold against some people had also disappeared. Experience of forgiveness changed her views of people.

It is indeed wonderful. We are forgiven people. We are not ashamed nor afraid of our past any more, because God has forgiven us and took care of our past. We can accept ourselves as we are. Christianity is not a religion of perfect people who never do anything wrong. It is a religion for forgiven sinners. A theologian once said, "Good News of Jesus Christ is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find food." Thank be to God.

 

 

 

C: UNDERSTANDING SUFFERING – FIRST SUNDAY IN NOVEMBER

JOB”S STRUGGLE TO UNDERSTAND SUFFERING

Job 19

We normally don”t think that doubting is a nice thing to do. Having said that, I must admit that it is dangerous to hide one”s doubt and pretend to be certain about something we are not sure. It is better to be honest and say "I can not believe it." Life is not simple. Simple answers to difficult questions of life may not be the answers at all.

There is in the Bible a story of a man who never gave up askig questions. His name was Job. He was a rich farmer. He and his wife had seven sons, and three daughters, all successful. He had many animals: seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, one thousand draft oxen, and five hundred donkeys. So he had many hired hands. That was enormous wealth. Not only was he rich, but also he was a good and righteous man, believing in God and his words. He was an extraordinary man.

But all of a sudden, serious misfortunes unimaginable befell on him. A messenger came to report that there was a massive invasion of the enemy forces. They not only took his land but also stole all his animals and killed all employees. As Job and his wife were listening to this devastating news, another messenger came to inform that a sudden gust of wind, like a tornado, hit the house where all the sons and daughters were having a party with friends. No one came out alive. Job was stunned. He was so much in pain and sorrow that he shaved his head and tore the clothes he was wearing. He fell down on the ground and did not move. The shock kept him silent for a long time. But when he came to his senses, in stead of cursing God he said, "I was born of my mother”s womb naked, and I will go back to earth naked. God gave us everything, and he took it away. Blessed be the name of God."

This is an incredible man. It would be natural for him to start cursing everybody and everything. We would understand it. What kind of a man was this man Job? Is he crazy or possessed by some kind of religious fanaticism? But a real breaking point came when he himself was hit by a terrible decease. Very soon after all those calamity hit Job, he became seriously ill and his body was covered with loathsome sores from head to toes, some kind of skin infection that is still prevalent in the Middle East. He was so itchy all the time that he had to sit in ashes. Scratching with his own finger nails was not enough to sooth itchiness. He had to use pieces of broken pottery to scratch himself until he bled.

He was miserable. He cursed the day he was born. However, he did not curse God even though he was beginning to show the signs of bewilderment as to why such calamity befell on him. In other words, he still trusted God, but he did not understand why God was allowing such pain and suffering to happen to him. Not only was he miserable himself, but also he must have been a sorry sight to watch. His wife, who had so far shared his misfortune as bravely as Job, could not stand to watch her husband”s pain any longer. She said, "Why are you insisting to keep your integrity? I don”t understand you. God has been so cruel to you. Isn”t it easier to curse God and die? You will at least be free of your misery." She must have loved him very much. There must have been enough trust between them to suggest such a terrible act.

Do you remember the case of Jean Brush? She was recently found not-guilty of mercy killing of her husband, who was degenerating into a vegetable state because of Alzheimer”s decease. For her, not-guilty verdict was somewhat irrelevant, because she loved him so much that she was ready to sacrifice her integrity and ready to be condemned as a murderer. St. Paul also said, "For the love of my people, I would willingly give up my salvation." I know I am on a thin ice here. I don”t want you to hear me as someone advocating mercy killing. I can not give answer to that tricky question, because I don”t have an answer. I am simply saying that it took courage and true love to suggest what Job”s wife did to save her husband of his misery.

But Job did not curse God nor did he take his own life. He stubbornly kept questioning God, "Why, why, why? What did I do to deserve this?" It”s like a dog with a bone in his jaws, Job did not let go. We don”t normally do this. We give up too easily, and lose hope, become depressed or get drunk. This dogged, obstinate persistence can only be the result of genuine trust. We give up often too easily, because we don”t love enough. For Job, God can not be wrong. So he kept on asking, "Why?" Children can be trying for parents at times. I am sure that the children will say the same thing, about their parents. But what divides successful relationship from not-successful one is, a true love relationship never gives up asking questions. This is because, love trusts and never gives up. So we keep asking why, though the answer does not come easy.

Job was visited by his friends who had easy answers. Three good friends came to comfort him. But seeing how desperately miserable Job was, they just stayed away from him for seven days while remaining within the sight of him. They did not know what to say. So they kept silence. They must have been good friends, because they did not go away. Only answer they could find was: Suffering is a result of guilt. Job is being punished for his wrong doing. He should admit his guilt and repent. Then he will be saved from his misery. So they started to suggest to Job that he should renounce sin and repent. They were desperate to save their friend from suffering. In retrospect, it would have been better if they stayed silent, and stayed with Job. Often a simple act of being with your friend in silence is much more comforting than an easy but inappropriate answer.

Job was not ready to accept such an easy answer. "So far as I know, I have not done anything wrong. How can I renounce what I don”t know." Besides, Job asked, "if what you say is true, how come the wicked people often prosper better than the honest people. What did I do wrong? Tell me about my wrong doing, and then I will repent." Friends could not find any guilt in Job, because he was a righteous man. So after long hours of argument, they fell silent. Then there appeared another friend, who was older and wiser than the previous three. He started to expound a theory that suffering is God”s way of testing and educating people. We learn something every time we encounter suffering. Job could not accept this easy answer either, because his suffering and pain are too great for a mere lesson.

At the end of the story, God finally spoke to Job directly, and that was enough for him. He now understood that God”s greatness was one that surpassed all understanding. Furthermore, he was satisfied that God did not abandaned him. So he said, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes have seen you." For an ordinary mortal like me, the story has no conclusion. We learn and admire the persistence of Job to go after God. We Christians believe that in the resurrection of Jesus, we have seen the solution to the problem of suffering. Love wins. Resurrection of Jesus proved that.

A: GOD, A RISK TAKER – THIRD SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

GOD, A RISK TAKER

Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 128, Matthew 25:14-30

November 17, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

All of us have ups and downs. When I am up, I”m on top of the world. I feel so confident that I can bake the best pie in the world, run a billion dollar company, and wonder why people don”t come begging me to run in an election to save a country. But when I dropped Muriel”s treasured depression glass bowl handed down from her grandmother smashing it into pieces, I felt so humiliated by my own clumsiness that I could not even make a decent boiled egg. I feel like that every time I give a rotten sermon, too. In those times, you must not ask me to help you decide the colour of your curtain. If I put myself in a position of another person and look at myself from outside of myself, I wonder if I would trust a person like me who has so many ups and downs? Would I let him drive my brand new car, for example? I am not so sure if I would risk that.

Think about this man in Jesus” parable. Before he went away for a long trip, he gave a lot of money to three slaves and told them to look after it until he came back. Imagine the risk he was taking? To begin with, they were slaves. The slaves were not treated as humans in those days. They were never given any responsibility. Often they were treated wretchedly. So quite understandably slaves did not like their masters very much.

Secondly, value of the monetary unit used in this parable was an enormous amount of money. I estimate the value of "talent" today to be about a half a million dollars in our money. So this man gave one slave five million dollars, another one million, and the third a half a million dollars. Jesus was speaking about the situation which was almost unthinkable. No sane person would take such a big risk trusting a huge amount of money to some questionable people, who may be hating you inside.

As you may know, most of the Jesus” parables are about the Kingdom of God. They usually begin with a clause, "Kingdom of God is like:" So in this case, I believe that the point of the parable is that God”s Kingdom is in the risk taking, just like the man who trusted a huge amount of money to slaves and went away. God takes a risk trusting us. And that is what God”s rule means. I believe that the Kingdom of God is already here, though it is still in the making. Also I believe that we are participants of this project to create such a place. We are working with God to create a world, where the will of God is universally respected and followed. We are working with God to create the world where caring each other, love and respect are more important than winning and defeating others.

God takes a big risk in trusting us to work for his world. Imagine, a couple of guys who never handled big money before, played with millions of dollars of your money in risky business ventures or in a stock market. But if we look at ourselves honestly and consider our ups and downs, we realize the enormity of the risk God is taking. Those two slaves were lucky that they doubled the money. But the fact is; they gambled big-time with someone else”s money. It takes a lot of charitable spirit to give them any kind of credit, like the man in Jesus” parable. God wants us also to take risks and take part his project of building his kingdom. He does not scold us for taking risks, because we are participating in his work in the best way we know. He is pleased with us that we are sharing his risk. On the other hand, the one, who buried the money was scolded so severely, not so much because he was a coward, but because he did not share the risk the master was taking. He did not participate in a joint enterprise.

It is interesting, isn”t it. Jesus spoke about putting the money in the bank as the next best option for the weak-minded who was afraid to risk. But he did not caution against a possibility of a failure to those who participated in the business ventures. I get the impression that, for God, taking risks is, even with a possibility of failure, preferable to none participation. We can say the same thing about relationships. In our relationship with other persons, the important thing is to be engaged and to participate in a joint project called relationship. We may agree and sometimes we may disagree. We love and also we quarrel. Either way, we are engaged with each other and are participating in a joint enterprise called relationship. Love and hate – both positive and negative emotions are ingredients of relationships. This is why we say that love and hate are two sides of a coin. But if we don”t care, there is no relationship. If you don”t care, you don”t hate. The worst enemy of love is not hatred. It is apathy. If there is no love, we don”t fight because we don”t care. Then there is no relationship. To hate is an emotional involvement, hence there is relationship even in hatred. Relationship is a risk. Loving is a risk. When you love, you are taking a huge risk. But without risk taking in love, there is no participation. The building project of the Kingdom of God is participatory. God and we are partners both actively working together.

By inviting us to take part in the creation of heaven on earth, God is taking a huge risk. When I consider the mistakes that humans made throughout history, sometimes I wish that God did not give us such freedom and responsibility. If we should be like animals, always behaving purely on impulse and natural instinct, the world could have been a little better. Granted, animals fight over food and mates. But those fights are impulsive, not like the wars we humans wage using our sophisticated minds and technology. Animals fight impulsively. But humans organize mutual destruction systematically. This is why the result of human warfare is so much more devastating.

By giving us freedom to participate in his work, God also gave us an option to abuse it. God is risking a lot and he knows it. It is such an honour to be able to participate in God”s work in this world. But it is a big risk that we are also taking. To live in this world according to God”s commandment and to love our neighbours are a dangerous business. Sometimes cost of loving is enormous. If we do not want to get hurt, we must not love. We should cut ourselves off from other people. We should only take care of ourselves. Non-participation is very safe. It may mean that you have to live with loneliness and constant suspicion of others. But it is safe. You don”t get hurt. But it is not what God is calling us to be. God wants us to join him in the building of his country, Kingdom of God, by loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. There is risks in loving. But reward is huge. The reward is a joy of loving, loving people and loving God.

 

 

B: I LEARNED IT ALL WHEN I WAS A CHILD – FIRST SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

I LEARNED IT ALL WHEN I WAS A CHILD

Ruth 1:1-18, Psalm 146, Mark 12:28-34

November 2, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

We hope that we will someday live in a society where every person is respected and never snubbed no matter where he/she comes from. The problem is: where nationalism is strong, often one culture is considered to be more important than others like the situation in Quebec. Can we not respect one tradition without diminishing another? The book of Ruth is an attempt to answer this question by telling the story of three women caught between two countries. It tells us that simple respect for other people will solve much of the problem of conflict between different cultures.

I said "simple respect" but I am not saying that it is easy. Simple things are often difficult to do. We invent conditions and make exceptions to excuse ourselves from doing simple decent acts. Robert Fulghum wrote a book titled, All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten. His point is that most of the basic wisdom of life is quite simple. We learned it all when we were children. But later we learn not to follow what we tell our children.

Fulghum recalls those lessons: "Share everything. Play fair. Don”t hit other people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don”t take things that aren”t yours. Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush the toilet. (I like this next one.) Take a nap every afternoon…. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together." The list goes on. And it”s all very simple. You do not have to go to university to learn all this, because you probably have learned it all already when you were kids. It”s all the matter of respect and common decency. Note that these lessons do not discriminate. It does not say, "Share everything only with people you like." or "Don”t hit people of your own kind." But often we conveniently forget that we must respect everybody especially if we don”t like some people who look different. So what do we do to cover our hypocrisy? We say, "It”s not all that simple. Life is complicated." So children learn important lessons in their first few years, but spend many more years to learn that those rules are childish, naive and stupid. No wonder our world is in a mess.

The book of Ruth was written at the time of a great resurgence of Hebrew religion and culture. It was the time when the exiled Jews were allowed to return to Palestine after their captors were defeated by the Persians. The Hebrew nation was back together again in their homeland. The oppressors had tried to destroy the Hebrew nation by prohibiting the practice of their religion and traditions. But they were now free to worship their God, rebuild their temple, and re-discover their traditions.

Unfortunately at a time like this, when people enthusiastically take pride in their own culture, language and traditions, they tend to be suspicious of foreigners. They began to see foreigners and their influence as bad for their traditions. It was the reaction to the humiliation they suffered under the Babylonians. Racism begets racism. Consequently those who were keen to keep the purity of their culture and religion saw marriage with those outside of their race as unacceptable. They even told those men who had married foreign women to divorce them and to send them home. The book of Ruth was written during such a time. It was written to remind the Jews that the great-grand mother of their beloved King David was not a Jewish woman. The book was written to remind people that faithfulness to God is the same thing as being kind to every human being, whether friend, relative, or stranger. Preserving one”s own heritage does not mean the oppression of others who may be different. You will truly be able to respect your own culture when you know how to respect others”.

As the story has it, when the Hebrew people were still new in the land, they were fighting wars against neighbouring peoples all the time. During those difficult years, the crops failed a few years and there was a famine. A man by the name of Elimelech and his wife Naomi decided to migrate to avoid starvation. They went to the land of Moab on the east shore of the Dead Sea. Though the Moabites were enemies of the Jewish people, Elimelech and Naomi had no problem settling down among them. The Moabites exercised simple respect for their neighbours and extended their welcoming hands to hungry people. Today, we call Moabites Arabs who live in the kingdom of Jordan.

Elimelech and Naomi had a comfortable life in their adopted country. It shows: Both of their sons married Moabite women. The names of those daughter-in-laws were Orpah and Ruth. Now Elimelech and his two sons died one after another. The Bible does not say why. I don”t think that is a significant point of the story. Men have always died earlier than women, as they still do. The point of the story is the love between a mother-in-law and her daughters-in-laws. When Naomi decided to go back to her home in Bethlehem in the land of Judah, where she still had some relations, the two daughters-in-laws wanted to follow her, even though they knew they would run into difficulty in a foreign country. So the point of the story is the love that overcame cultural and national boundaries, and not so much about relationship between in-laws.

Naomi told the two young women to leave her and go home. She wanted to spare them the hostility they might run into in a country of former enemies. "No way." said the two. They loved Naomi and wanted to follow her. But after some persuasion, Orpah decided to go home. There were many tears and kisses as Orpah went back to her kinfolk in Moab. But Ruth stayed with Naomi. Ruth said, "Wherever you go, I will go. Your people shall be my people." So the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law went to Naomi”s home in Bethlehem. There they ran into a very kind person who was a relative of Naomi”s. He helped them to survive the first difficult days and saved them from going hungry. Naomi even taught Ruth a cunning way to find a husband. Thus the Moabite Ruth and her Jewish man Boaz got married, raised a family, and became the great-grandparents of King David.

It is a simple story of genuine affection between three women, who overcame the fact that they were from two different countries, cultures and religions. Even when it describes Orpah who decided to remain in her own country, there is no hint of condemnation for her decision. The story recognizes and respects the Moab people and their culture. That is why Orpah was described as someone who was following a natural course of action. On the other hand, Ruth successfully fitted into the life of the people she married into. She could do that because she loved her mother-in-law and her husband. Both Orpah and Ruth were affirmed in this story even though they took different courses of life. When people are bonded together in love, differences between them will not be obstacles to their relationship. Differences may not go away, but through respect may enrich the relationship.

Some scholars of the Scriptures asked Jesus what the most important commandments were. They challenged Jesus with a question, which they assumed to be very difficult for an uneducated man like Jesus to answer. But Jesus answered by repeating the simplest and oldest commandments from Leviticus. "Love God, and love your neighbour." It was incredibly simple. The Bible clearly says, "There is no other commandment greater than these." Those educated people, just like us, were so used to seeing everything in such a complicated framework that they could not remember the simple basic rules of life; "To love God and to love people." The more we learn, the more we make simple things complicated. Today we must remind ourselves that those simple rules of life can resolve the difficult problems like the ones where cultures and nations collide head on, like in Quebec, Algeria, Northern Ireland, or Palestine. We learned it all when we were children. "Share everything. Don”t hit other people. Clean up your own mess. Flush the toilet. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together."

 

A: REMEMBERANCE DAY – SECOND SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

REMEMBERING THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE

Joshua 24:1-3, 14-18, Psalm 78, Matthew 25:1-13

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

Today we are honouring those men and women who died in the wars by remembering their sacrifices. Remembrance is an important lifesaving instinct for many living organisms. Cows do not cross an electrified fence, because they remember what happened the first time they touched it. If we do not learn from our past experience, we will not survive the future. Winston Churchill once said, "One who forgets history is condemned to repeat it." This is also why remembering Christ”s sacrifice is a very important part of Christian spirituality and the core of the sacrament of Holy Communion. By remembering God”s saving act in Jesus Christ, we live with assurance today and continue to live with confidence tomorrow.

The act of remembrance must be played out in three time zones; past, present and future.

First: We have to look the past straight in the eyes, and recognize what it is as it is. We must not sugar-coat it to make the horror of history palatable, neither must we exaggerate it in order to demonize it. We must not remember those who sacrificed their lives in the wars in any other way than by remembering how cruel their deaths were and how brave they were. We must thank those who risked or sacrificed their lives, mourn with their families who lost their loved ones, and promise that we will never repeat the same mistake, which may cause the same tragedy.

Secondly; by recognizing the awful nature of wars, we must learn to find a way to resolve the differences and problems in our lives and in our relationships in a peaceful way, instead of fighting over them. This is the challenge for today. We must give up the idea that there has to be a winner and a loser when there is a difference of opinions or a conflict of interests. History teaches us over and over again that violence never resolves a conflict completely, because the loser never forgets to come back for revenge. The horror of Bosnia is an act of revenge by a loser in the Ottoman Empire. Near genocide in Rwanda is an act of revenge by Hutus against the Tutsuis who ruled them brutally for many years. The means to resolve a conflict must be peaceful not violent, because violence always begets violence.

Thirdly: the memory of the past must also affect our attitude towards the future. The scripture today speaks of ten bridesmaids waiting for the arrival of a wedding party. It was getting late. One interpreter of the Bible suggests that the final negotiations about the amount of dowry often took place just before the reception. It often took some time to reach an agreement, as you can imagine. The job of bridesmaids was, of course, to accompany the bride and groom into the reception hall, in this case holding lamps to light up the passage. Five of them had spare oil, just in case. Five of them did not have spare oil, because they had not remembered the importance of carrying extra. So when they went out to look for a store to buy more oil, the bridal party arrived and the reception began without them.

What does "having spare oil" have to do with Remembrance Day? The memory of the past must teach us the way to prepare for our peaceful future. The oil of preparedness in this case is respect for others. If we respect others, we will never run out of patience to talk things over no matter how difficult the issues are. You never know; after lots of time talking, you may even end up liking the other people, whom you could have been tempted to fight because of some differences. Respect becomes a source of light to guide us through the darkness of disagreements.

So as I said at the beginning, remembrance is something that crosses 3 time zones. We remember the sacrifices of the past for the sake of the present and for the future, just like we remember the cross of Jesus Christ. Lest we forget.

B: HORRIBLE AND WONDERFUL BIRTHING – SECOND SUNDAY OF NOVEMEBR

HORRIBLE AND WONDERFUL BIRTHING

I Samuel 1:4-20, Psalm 16, Mark 13:1-8

November 16, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

I learned the language living among the villagers for six months and lived in an old abandoned Mission station, in the mountains of South Africa. There was a cemetery for missionaries in the compound. There were many graves of babies, who died during the first year of their lives, and of mothers who died while giving births. One French missionary lost one infant every year and in the fifth year he lost his wife and the child. It made me realize how horrible birthing used to be only a century ago. Times are definitely better today for expectant mothers and new born babies. Though birth meant a big risk for women and children, it was always seen as a harbinger of great blessing. According to Mark”s Gospel, Jesus forbid us to despair, even as he predicted terrible disasters, "because they are only the beginning of birth pang."

When Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, he meant more than a mere demolition of a nice big building. It is historically correct that the temple in Jerusalem was totally razed to the ground in 65 A.D. when the Romans crushed the last Jewish rebellion. But it meant more than a loss of a temple. It signalled a loss of the soul of a nation. The spiritual traditions and values of the Hebrew nation lay in the ruins. Times are likewise hard for us, because of changing values. What many people used to respect do not mean very much for them any more. Many people don”t go to church. Sex is a casual entertainment. The pattern of the family life is changing. People do not respect the institutions any more; they distrust people in the Government and the police . The mail services are no more sure things. Market is volatile. There are still earthquakes, floods, epidemics of deadly diseases, and wars. But those disasters are not as serious threats as they used to be, because we are more confident that they can be overcome someday in the advanced civilization. But when the values you used to hold dear seem discarded, you have lost the foundation of your life. You don”t know where you stand any more. That is hard.

We suffer from loss of jobs or money, because in our system it means loss of dignity and security. This is because our operating values are for the individualistic society. In a collective society, security comes from a sense of being connected with the family and community. Old people who have no financial security do not suffer in such a society. In the traditional African or Asian communities, for example, families and communities look after the elderly. The older people keep their dignity because they know they are respected. On the other hand, being dispossessed by the family or community means death in such a society.

I had my first spiritual crisis, when I found a stack of years of my letters to Santa Claus in the bottom drawer of my father”s desk. This confirmed my doubt about existence of the jolly old man in the funny red outfit. That did not bother me, because I was right after all. But, a sense of betrayal, "My dad has been lying to me all these years." was a real shock. Thus, a rebel was born. You may find this a cute little story. But when it comes to a serious attempt to challenge other people”s culture and values, it is no longer a laughing matter. When you deny someone”s customs, language and spiritual values, you reject the existence of that person. You are saying to another person, "You are not good enough. You have to become someone else." As an English speaking people in Quebec, you understand how difficult that is. But we must come to terms face to face with such hurt and pain, and grow. Then, you will appreciate a crisis as a catalyst.

We know how difficult changes are, just like loss of your home, your church, or your money and property. Earthquakes, fire, flood, and economy cause those losses. Conflicts and wars also destroy and kill. But they are much worse because they divide friends and cause hatred among brothers and sisters. Destruction of the temple is a metaphor for the change in the value system, which is more serious than any material and physical change. even then Jesus still says, "Do not despair." They are but birth pains.

After many years of infertility and humiliation, Hannah at last became pregnant and bore a son. She was so very happy. Even with a possible social stigma as an unmarried mother, when Mary was informed that she was pregnant, she was happy. How can such horrible experiences of pregnancy and birthing be so wonderful? Birthing is horrible but wonderful, because it is not just an experience of sickly symptoms and pain. It means not just a change, but it means life is being transformed. When a fetus begins to give a sickly sensation or kicks the stomach from inside, it signals transformation of a woman into a mother. A carefree woman becomes a caregiver who is totally responsible for another life. You are utterly changed into another category of human being. This is not just a change. It is called transformation. It is like a larva changing into a butterfly. When a change is transformative, pain that accompanies it is like birth pain. You can anticipate a joyful conclusion at the end of a birth channel.

Change is a crisis. But transformative change is a creative crisis. A matured person can turn a crisis into an opportunity. You think that security is found on a solid ground. That is not so. Life is fluid. Life is like a river. You can not stay on one spot in a river. The art of living is not knowing ”how to stay put”. An art of living is knowing how to navigate a current, that could be slow and easy; or could be rapid and dangerous. Life is about taking up a change and turning it into a creative transformative process.

The Gospel according to Mark was written in a Roman prison. Mark was waiting to be executed. Remember, at that time, merely being a Christian was a capital crime. Peter and Paul, and many other Apostles had already been executed. Seeing that many people who knew Jesus personally were dying, Mark felt that he had to write the life and sayings of Jesus Christ before he himself was killed. He hoped that the succeeding generations could read about Jesus after those who had known Jesus were long gone. Mark wrote his Gospel in such a desperately critical situation. Is it a book of despair? On the contrary, Mark knew that all that suffering was a passing phase. He was not in despair.

This is how Mark remembered Jesus speaking about birth pang. A mother knows how horribly painful but wonderful experience to give birth, just like Hannah who gave birth to Samuel, and Mary who gave birth to our Lord. Jesus came to introduce new values. They upset the Jews and Romans alike. That”s why they persecuted the followers of Jesus. But Christ”s kingdom was beginning its journey in the birth channel of the world. Mark knew that.

 

 

 

C: CHILDREN DON”T DIE – VISION OF KINGDOM, THIRD SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

"VISION OF KINGDOM" – CHILDREN DO NOT DIE.

Isaiah 65:17 – 25 1.

One excruciatingly hot summer day in Africa, an old man was sitting by the road looking tired or even sickly. A young Missionary had to stop the car and offered him a ride. But he declined the offer and said, "I walked a long way today. It was time to sit down and let my spirit catch up with me." Now we ask ourselves, when was the last time we got out of our car and waited for our spirit to catch up with us? Things are moving very fast now-a-days. We move an average of 50 km an hour in town, and 100 km on highways. When we fly we move with a speed of sound. Our spirit moves with a speed of 5 km an hour. We might be moving very fast but without getting anywhere, like a chicken with its head cut off. Spirit is the one who knows where we are going, not our body. When we don”t have a head, any speed might be dangerous. 2. Legend has it that Ancient king of Egypt, Thamus, often entertained himself by inviting god of invention, Theuth, and by watching the demonstration of his latest ideas. He invented Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, etc. But now he came up with the idea of letters, a writing system. No longer anyone needed to repeat oneself umpteen times to memorize some important events and sayings of the day. The next generations would know the wisdom of the ancestors from papers not from people. Wise king thought about it for a long time, but decided that he did not like the idea. He said, "Our brain will atrophy for not having to remember anything in future, because the letters will remember for you. The worst of all, we will degenerate into a state of some lower life form. We no longer have to talk with our sons and daughters telling them the important things that happened in our lives. There will be no time for families, and without time spent with families, we will be the same as some less intelligent animals. We will eventually perish as human beings." 3. This important lesson from Egypt is that new things are not automatically good unless we know what it is that these new things are good for and are not good for. One big problem we have today is that people believe whatever faster, bigger, newer, or lauder is automatically better. Once we stop to think about it, we know it isn”t always better. How come, then, we spend so much energy, money, and time to get often useless things without thinking what they are good for? 4. This is a question of values. The bigger is not necessarily the better, for example, unless we know why it is better because it is bigger. We have to have a goal to judge the values of things that are bigger, better, or newer. What, then, are our goal and values as Christians? 5. Our goal is to build the Kingdom of God here and now. We know that our values come from Love. So let us think about those. 6. The notion of the Kingdom of God is known in our Bible in many different ways: Heaven, Kingdom of Heaven, New Heavens and New Earth, New Jerusalem, etc. There are many different expressions, but they all mean the same thing. It is the world where God rules. Jesus Christ declared its coming. It is already here. The problem is, it is still in a process of completion. God expects us to join in the job of establishing the reign of God in this world. 7. How then should the Kingdom of God look like? Among many descriptions of the Kingdom of God in the Bible, I like the one found in the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 65 very much. It says that in new heavens and a new earth: 1) Children shall not die. 2) Old people live out their lives and die in dignity. 3) People build their houses and live in them. They shall not build and another inhabit. No one will take their houses away. 4) People eat fruits of their labour. They shall not plant and another eat. In other words, everyone will have work and can live on it. So our goal is to help build up the Kingdom of God, which will look like that. 8. What then are the values that create and uphold such a world? The force that gives us strength to work for the Kingdom of God is Love. When we have love, it is easier for us to see that the world must be the kind of place where the strong and the weak live together without harming each other. It is love for each other that allows lions and sheep to live in the same cave and share the same food. The strong will give way to the weak, so that all should survive. There will be no superior nor inferior, there is only difference. The law of nature ”survival of the fittest”, does not have to be the guiding principle any longer. Our ethics, philosophy, and religions do not accept the current practice of our society, which is based on competition. We doubt that only the biggest and the strongest should win the competition and survive. We can and want to let the weakest survive, because we love them. We want to live and stay with all creatures as loving brothers and sisters. We don”t condone the act of exterminating deformed and feeble-minded anymore, which was attempted many times in human history, as in Nazi Germany. We believe in the god who does not allow even a sparrow to fall. Those species which cannot compete do not have to, and must not become extinct. 9. All this sounds wonderful, but you will soon realize that I am speaking about what is an impossible dream. It looks impossible, because our society runs on the principle of competition:survival of the fittest. What deem to be weak and inferior are not allowed to remain on the scene. Most of us believe that we advance and progress because of competition. Without winning in the competitions, we will atrophy and perish, like dinosaurs did, who were presumably weaker than the elements that killed them. We believe that we will survive, because we are stronger than elements. We can beat the floods, earthquakes, and tidal waves, and wild beasts. We can beat the nature. We will outlive the nature. You can now easily see the problem in this kind of argument. We see others as competitors, rivals, enemies. And we don”t we our own destruction, if other creatures are destroyed. 10. Another problem with this argument is: we never stopped to ask, "What for the progress?" We really don”t know whether all this progress is good for us, especially if we have to look at others as enemies, or competitors at best. Competitions must produce losers, because without losers there is no winner. That is not good for those who did not make it in the society and become homeless, unemployed, or commit suicide. Secondly, all this rapid progress may not have any direction, and may be leading all of us to ultimate destruction. Destruction of our mother earth in the name of progress, balding mountains, dirty lakes and rivers may be telling us that we don”t know where we are going, and that it is time for us to stop to think where our spirit is. We must realize that if we don”t know where our spirit is, we are in a big trouble. There is nothing to tell us the direction of life.

C: MILLENNIUM BUG – THIRD SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

MILLENNIUM BUG

Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 33, Luke 21:5-19

November 15, 1998

For some people, there are many reasons why we should be worried today. The upcoming Provincial election, for example, could be the beginning of the end for our beloved country. In addition, a lot of people are worried about the year 2000. One religious fanatic in the U.S, for example, led people to commit mass suicide, believing that the end of the world was imminent at the threshold of the new millennium. So-called "Millennium Bug" in the computer systems is worrying many people, and the rumour has it that our government has a secret plan to mobilize the entire Armed forces and the Police to deal with the chaos caused by the massive failures of computers in such essential services like banking, business records, hydro power distribution systems, transportation, etc. Some people declare that the recent spate of unusual and often disastrous weather patterns, and endemic of terminal diseases like AIDS and cancer are the signals to warn us about the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ, the last judgement, and the end of the world. What are we supposed to think about those predictions of doom and gloom? The message of Christ is very clear. "Do not be led astray by those who come in my name to predict the imminent end of time."

When the books in the New Testament were being written, many people in the church were in a collective state of anxiety. They were waiting for Jesus Christ to come back to establish the Kingdom of God, as he promised. But Jesus did not come back as they expected. So they kept on waiting. In the meantime, the Roman Empire began to persecute the Christians, and many started to die. They were very worried that those who had died before the second coming of Christ might have missed the chance to enter the Kingdom of God. They thought, wrongly I must say, that such a kingdom would come in the form of a political system, and would defeat the Roman Empire. Christ the King would sit on the throne, and all the Christians would be vindicated. So every time, something disastrous or unusual happened, always there were a certain number of people who declared that it was the sign of the second coming. They became very agitated, when they saw or heard about events like insurrections and riots, wars between nations, earthquakes and other natural calamities, spread of plagues and other deadly diseases. As the result, some people began to behave strangely. They quit work and refused to pay taxes. The Christians in Jerusalem sold all their personal property and started to live together sharing all possessions. Having to meet in secret in small groups in homes and underground cemeteries at night so that nobody outside of the church would find them did not lessen their anxiety. But fear is not what the message of the Kingdom of God is supposed to generate. The Gospel is the good news of freedom, hope, and love, not a blackmail of doom and gloom.

This is why the New Testament is full of teachings like: the "Judgement Day" will sneak up on you like a thief, so be prepared, always keep oil in your lamp; or calamities and rumours of calamities are not necessarily the signs, so do not be swayed by those events even though some false prophets may scare you by saying "the Day is coming." It”s like my mother who kept telling me, "Always wear clean underwear. You never know." The message is clear: "Live a normal good life. Then there is no need to worry about the judgment of God or the end of the world. Give your best whatever you do, and always love others and be faithful to God. When the faithful life-style becomes your habit like brushing your teeth, you are ready to meet Christ anytime." This is why the Gospel teaches us to be kind and loving always; to give water to the thirsty and feed the hungry, visit the sick and prisoners, clothe the naked; they are Jesus Christ in disguise.

A problem is, however, our short-sightedness. We want to know the conclusion, soon. This is why we are easy suckers for those pundits who claim to predict the future. We don”t have patience to live in ambiguity and wait. This is why some unwise parents get so upset when their teenage children rebel and become obnoxious, even though we know in theory that teenage rebellion is a normal process of growing up. This is why there is so much "eschatology" among religious people. Eschatology is the whole gamut of talk about future – prediction of an ideal world in the Isaiah 65 or talk of doom and gloom like the end of the world. The first such story in the Bible is the Noah”s Ark. There are a few books like Daniel and Revelation that are almost totally dedicated to eschatology. Jesus spoke about it often, so did the Apostles.

But if you read all these eschatological writings carefully, the message is always the same. If you are faithful to God in your daily life and love your neighbours, there should be no reason to worry. You must live as though you meet Jesus Christ everyday. Everytime you love someone, and especially when you extend your kindness to those who need it, you are being kind to Christ. Difficult or unusual situations must not upset you nor push you into despair. They do not signal the end of the world.

In fact, my personal belief is; Jesus Christ did come back on the day of Pentecost, and He lives among us in Spirit. All of us have a bit of Christ in us. Christ has come back and he lives with us who believe in him. Also I believe that the Kingdom of God is here already. You may think that this world is too corrupt and too rotten to be the Kingdom of God. Remember Jesus said, "Kingdom of God is at hand." It is like a nation becoming a state. You first "declare" the statehood of your nation. You begin the work of building the nation-state after the declaration. Canada was declared a state more than a hundred years ago when the British North America Act was enacted. We still have many problems. But together we are working to build up this country. Canada is here, and yet not complete. So is the Kingdom of God. Heaven is here, and yet not.

Because there are many events to disturb us, you may want to ask, "When do we know for sure that Christ is with us?" It is like asking, "When do I see the proof of your love?" The answer is, "Now or never. If you trust me, the proof is everywhere. But if you don”t have faith in me, you will never know." According to today”s lesson the answer to many disturbing questions is, "We will know now, or never." It all depends on our faith. But I believe that Christ has come back and is with us. Let us work hard to complete the project he has started; to complete building heaven on earth.

 

 

 

 

A: A STORY OF A TOUGH WOMAN – SECOND SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

A STORY OF A TOUGH WOMAN

Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, Matthew 25:14-30

November 14, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

 Usually, when you speak about the woman you admire, you speak about a caring and dedicated mother or wife. I can think of such a woman, for example. You must know many women like her, too. She had to delay honey moon, for six years, and had waited for her husband to come home from the war in Europe. She was the youngest in the family, so she looked after her mother as a matter of course while raising three children, singlehandedly. After her mother”s death, she took over the care of her sister-in-law who was mentally handicapped until she died. Lastly, she had looked after her now retired husband who was failing in health until he went into the home for the aged veterans. It is nearly fifty years of her caring other people. She is an amazing person. She follows the pattern of the woman”s life we all admire; their kindness and dedication in caring of other people. But there is Deborah who is remembered not because she was a devoted wife or a caring mother, but because she lived and succeeded like a man. The question is; are we celebrating Deborah of the Bible because she was like a man?

 

The story of Deborah in the Book of Judges is an amazing story of a tough woman. Even here in Canada, when we have a woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and a woman Governor-General, Deborah of the Bible seems head and shoulders above our powerful women. She seems to be an incredibly powerful woman. She was a wife and mother, while being a judge, a prophet, and a commander-in-chief of the ten thousand man army. If you consider the fact that the whole Canadian Defense Forces is made up of about 30 thousand uniformed men and women, you could see how powerful Deborah was. In addition to her domestic work, her duties extended to judiciary, political, religious, and military matters of the Hebrew people. It is impossible to find today such a person of multiple qualifications even among men. She was a tough woman even in today”s standard. From time to time, you find amazingly tough women in history. Joan of Arc comes to my mind. There is also Golda Meier who was the woman Prime Minister of Israel. She led Israel to a victory in the Six Days War during 1967. Someone said of Golda Meier once, "She is the only man in the entire Israeli Cabinet." But the question is: why should we have to classify a certain kind of qualities as bravery male, and some others as kindness female. We refer to an aggressive and tough man as a "true man". Or in case of a woman, we say "She is like a man." Likewise, we refer to a caring person in a female term. Why?

 

Once, any man who showed a sign of tenderness used to be called "sissy". A tough woman, who was not afraid of men, was called "a castrating bitch". Fortunately, those days are behind us, and such views are going out of fashion. We live at a time when these stereo type characterization of man and woman is being questioned. I am very glad also that we are discovering in the Bible a character like Deborah who is remembered for her toughness. Women in the Bible were not always someone like Ruth who is remembered for her tender love. Now we know that both men and women are born with capacity for tenderness and toughness, and there is nothing exclusively male or female about those qualities. There is nothing wrong for some men to be more tender hearted than to be tough. There is nothing wrong for some women to be more aggressive than to be gentle. There is no such thing like typically male character nor typically female character. All of us are born with tenderness and toughness.

 

Jesus Christ once said, "You must be clever as a snake and gentle as a dove." He is saying that we must be both tough and tender. Martin Luther King rephrased this passage by saying, "You must have tough mind and tender love." In other words, Jesus is saying to those tough men in the old fashioned sense to be more like "women." Likewise, he is saying to those gentle women in the old fashioned sense to be more like "men." Jesus told us to be both tough and gentle, because we all are born with infinitely different capacities that do not depend on sexual difference. All of us, both male and female, have talents in both tenderness and toughness. We must make use of those talents fully, just like the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew suggests. In other words, women must not bury their toughness, and men must not be shy to openly act on their impulse from tender hearts.

 

Have you noticed that many veterans who saw actions in the battle fields don”t want to speak about what they saw? Take my father-in-law. He was in the Air Force during the Second World War in Europe. So far, he has not told any of us about his experience of war. Have you notice also when, in rare occasions, some of the veterans speak about their experiences, they usually break down and cry? I think this is why they don”t want to talk about it. Men have been taught not to cry. It”s sissy for boys to cry. So many of them have their feelings all bottled up, which come out only in their nightmares. I think they should cry. It is not sissy for men to cry. And when they can cry, they will be able to tell us the horror of war more vividly, and will make us more determined to find peaceful solutions to conflicts.

 

I think that Jesus was sissy, according to the old fashioned standard for men. He cried in public, loved flowers, played with babies and loved kids, and when people came to tell him some insulting things, he didn”t shout back, but gently answered in enigmatic parables. He told his disciple to put down his sword. He was not a macho-man. He was against violence. And yet, he was not a weak man. Anybody, who can pray in the desert for forty days without food, must be a pretty tough person. He could drive out money-changers single-handedly from the temple, because the house of prayer was desecrated. He could get very angry, when he needed to be angry. That takes some guts. He was tough. Jesus was tough and gentle for the sake of love.

 

I believe we men must learn from Jesus that it is OK for men to be sissy for the sake of love. In the meantime, we must learn from the story of the judge Deborah, that women must let out the captive princess called "tough women".

 

 

 

 

 

C: WHAT IS HEAVEN, AND WHERE IS IT? – THIRD SUNDAY IN NOVEMEBR

WHAT IS HEAVEN? AND WHERE IS IT?

Isaiah 65 : 17 – 25

All of us wish for a better world. No matter how content and happy we are, we wish that things were a little bit better than they are now. And for many desperate people in the world, who may be starving or dying daily of violence, a need for a better world is often a matter of life or death. Before the human race really knew how things worked, they believed that gods and spirits were in charge and could make the world a better or worse place. Many people think that this was why religions were born: out of a need for a better world. Now that we have become more knowledgeable, economists, politicians and scientists have begun to tell us how we can make this world better. Some people even suggest that there is no longer a need for religion, because we can look after ourselves and create a perfect world by ourselves.

The recent debate about the choice between federation with Canada and sovereignty for Quebec had that tone of a promise of the perfect world or Utopia. We are beginning to learn, however, that politicians more often than not renege on their utopian promises. We are learning very quickly also, that the scientists often sing the songs of their paymasters – for example in the debate about environment – and that they are not always objective. So we don”t trust the experts any more. Consequently many people have returned to their search for Utopia in the spiritual world, like the old times. Experimenting with new kinds of spirituality, or Eastern religions.

In our Judeo-Christian tradition, there has always been a strong promise of a perfect world. The Bible mentions it in different ways. The Prophet Isaiah talked of a new heaven and a new earth, or New Jerusalem. When Jesus began his ministry, he called it the Kingdom of God and declared its coming. He also called it the Kingdom of heaven, and used those two expressions interchangeably. The Bible reports that after Jesus died and rose to life, he ascended into heaven promising that he would come back again. Thus the followers of Jesus began to equate the second coming of the Lord with the coming of the Kingdom of God. I am sure that if you look for it, you will find many other expressions in our Bible to convey the notion of an ideal world and the end of this imperfect one.

Today”s passage from the Hebrew Bible contains a wonderfully simple description of a utopian world – God”s promised land. It says that in such a world: 1) children do not die, 2) old people live out their lives in dignity, 3) everyone works and eats of the fruits of their labour, 4) and everyone lives in own house which nobody takes away. And in order to create such a world, the strong and the weak must be able to live together in peace without harming each other.

What is most interesting to me in this passage is what is not mentioned. I find that there are two things missing, things which are usually very important elements in other promises of an ideal world. First of all, it does not say where such a world will be or when it is coming; it leaves out the questions of location and time. In other words, it does not say that Heaven is the place you go, after you die. Jesus Christ declared the Kingdom of God by saying, "the Kingdom of God has come." If that is so – if it has come then it is already here now, though still unfinished. It is for us to complete its creation working with God, in the present.

Going to church, according to Biblical faith is not an insurance policy that one will go to heaven after death. Our faith and church life are about living in the here and now, because we live in the Kingdom of God only by participating in its completion. The notion of the afterlife as an entry point into the ideal world definitely is not there in the Isaiah passage. God”s world is already here. This is His world.

The second thing that is missing is that there is no mention of any particular system that would bring in such an ideal world. What the Isaiah passage gives us is a standard for Utopia. There are a certain number of criteria to measure whether a system is up to the standard of the Kingdom of God. In other words, Isaiah is saying to us, "How you organize your society is your responsibility. What I care about is whether the system you create measures up to God”s standard." God”s way is neither Mr. Bouchard”s way nor Mr. Chretien”s, neither capitalist nor socialist, neither of marketing boards or of a free trade agreement, whether Mr. Clinton”s nor Mr. Gingrich”s. Our human ways can not promise the coming of an ideal world automatically.

It all depends on the question of whether Mr. Bouchard or Mr. Chretien, or whoever or whatever, can create a society that can pass the following tests: Number one; children do not die. It doesn”t matter how easily we can travel outer space. That is not a measure for a better world. The progress towards Utopia can only be measured by the wellbeing of children. Our real concern should be; "Why do 44 thousand children still die everyday from malnutrition in such a highly developed world of ours?" 44,000; that”s one hundred 747 Jumbo jets crashing down every day. Why do we not respond to such a catastrophe?

Secondly, old people live out their lives with dignity. Many of us have aging parents. I have an aging mother, too. I often wonder, looking at people at Griffith-McConnel Residence, how we are expressing our appreciation to those who brought us into this world, who brought us up, and shared their wisdom of life with us. We have a bad habit of treating people, who can not physically function as well as we can, as less than human. In the hospital situations, I have seen very intelligent people treated like mentally retarded persons simply because they had a stroke and lost their faculty of speech . God”s world accords senior citizens full dignity until they complete their full lives.

Thirdly people "shall build houses and inhabit in them, they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruits." In other words, in God”s world, nobody will steal our homes or our livelihood. The promise of the God”s world includes full employment, a decent return for our work, and housing for everyone. No exploitation of cheap labour nor bank foreclosures. Imagine: such a vision was recorded thousands of years before Christ, yet, it still seems like an almost impossible pipe dream. Is it really unrealistic to dream of such a world?

The Bible says it should be possible if we change our operating principle from competition to compassion. The purpose of might and power is not to defeat the less powerful and the weak, but to supplement what is lacking so that all may survive.

In our present world, mighty lions live by killing and eating weaker animals. When there are no more animals to kill, lions must perish. Is it not wiser for a lion to learn the way of life from a weaker animal like a sheep and starts eating grass? Grass will grow again. But if you kill a sheep, you kill not only the sheep but its children and children”s children. It is not a sustainable way of life. The more creative way to survive is to learn to eat grass and live happily together with the sheep.

So what is Heaven? And where is it? It is here, now, though it is incomplete. It is a compassionate world, which Jesus began to build. We are working together with a loving God to complete it. It is heaven on this earth. Heaven begins here and extends into the life beyond this life. Let us work together to create a compassionate world, starting from here.

 

November 19, 1995

Tad Mitsui

Howick, Quebec

Who found Jesus?

WHO FOUND JESUS?

Isaiah 60:1-4, Psalm 72:1-7, Matthew 2:1-12

January 5, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

January 6 is known as "Epiphany" according to the traditional Christian calender. The Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on this day. It is the day to commemorate the coming of the wise men from the East bearing gifts to worship the baby Jesus. They were foreigners – gentiles or pagans to the Jews. They believed that divine revelations were visible in the movements of stars. We celebrate this day, because it was the first time Jesus revealed himself to the believers of a different religion. The story of the wise men also tells us that God will find us when we find meaning in our occupations and are committed to the things we do in them.

What is interesting is the fact that the Bible reports only two rather odd groups of people who visited the baby Jesus. They were the shepherds and the wise men of the East. Priests and scholars knew that the Bible had predicted that the birth of a special child would take place in Bethlehem. But they did not bother to go to Bethlehem. The king was interested to know about it solely because he wanted to kill the baby who might become a threat to his throne. The inn keeper who refused Mary and Joseph, obviously, did not know anything about the birth of the Messiah. Other ordinary people did not know anything about it. The shepherds and the magi were the least expected kind of people God would invite to meet his new born child.

The shepherds were nomads who were in search of grazing land all the time. They did not have normal homes. They cooked, ate, and slept in the open or in tents. Their security was all in animals, and was always precarious. They had a hard life. They wore rags, rarely washed themselves, and had weather-worn leathery skin. Being a shepherd was not just a job; it was a full-time way of life. Ordinarily, they lived on the edge of the human community, away from normal social life. They must have been like modern-day Gypsies, who still live on the edges of settled communities, often in trailers in parking lots of England and other continental European countries. They are never like other people nor do they try to be. They live their own lives. They are stubbornly bonded to their life-style.

The magi came from the east of Palestine. There were people from ancient Persia, which is the present day Iran, who believed that stars determined the destiny of people. It was in ancient Persia where astrology was developed. *Many people in our society today believe in astrology, as you know.* Because every movement of stars was important, watching stars, recording and predicting their movements were a full-time occupation for many highly educated people. They were a respected class of intellectuals, because people believed that they could predict the future. But they were definitely not priests, prophets, or teachers of the Jewish religion. They were not expected to make an important discovery about the religion of the Old Testament. They were after all gentiles – pagans. Why should these unlikely people be the ones who found Jesus first? It”s humbling to realize that the Bible is speaking about the believers of another religion and homeless herders as the only ones permitted to meet the Holy Child during his very first few days in this world.

Here you must understand the notion of vocation to understand this puzzle. The word – vocation comes from a Latin word – "vocatio". It means "to call" or "to summon". It comes from the idea that God called or summoned you to do a certain thing. It can be the same thing as a job or an occupation. But often it is not. You are lucky if your vocation and your job are the same thing. In your vocation, you are committed to the things that you do, because you believe that God is calling you to do them. Your vocation makes your life important and meaningful. It makes your life a pleasure: something worth living. One person told me that she just loved what she did, and that she felt lucky to be paid for what she does. Some people have a job in order to pursue a vocation which is different from the job, because their vocation does not provide a living. Many artists are committed to pursue their art, which often does not pay. So they are used to the idea that they have to have jobs to support themselves, to allow them to pursue the real purpose of their lives, which are their vocations. Many Catholic religious orders are operating on that principle. They make a living by making cheeze, teaching school or becoming nurses; but they do these things only so they are able to pray, to study the Bible, or to serve people.

The wise men of the East and the shepherds had vocations. They were totally committed to doing what they were doing. In fact, those men from the East must have gambled everything they owned to undertake the journey to Bethlehem. Travelling in those days was a hazardous undertaking. They had to provide their own modes of transportation, which were not affordable to many people. There were no maps. Predators of both animal and human kind were many. It was a very costly venture. It was a gamble. They might have believed in a different religion, but they were totally committed to what they believed to be their vocation. The shepherds were committed to their vocation, too. They were not ashamed of their work, though other people thought them to be a lower class. God rewards those who are committed to their vocations by revealing the truth.

On the other hand, some people corrupt their vocation by compromising their commitments. Those priests and Biblical scholars who surrounded the king did not want to displease the king. So they did not follow what they were supposed to have believed. They did not do what the Bible said they should. Ministers of religions, medical doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, and teachers have the types of jobs that require a sense of vocation. But we know that, unfortunately, some of them don”t live like the ones who have vocations. Ambitions for wealth, power, and often mere vanity corrupt them. They lose their vocations by making them mere jobs they do for living. They no longer have commitments. They no longer feel that God is calling them to do anything. Those without a sense of vocation will inevitably miss the new born Jesus, even if they know, in theory, where to find him.

The story of the wise men of the East is an indictment against those who compromise themselves and pursue ulterior goals while pretending to work for noble causes. It is also a celebration of those who find meaning for their lives in what they do, and are committed to doing the things they believe God called them to do. All of us have been called by God to do some meaningful work in our lives. Salvation is revealed to those who find meaning in their work. When you find the meaning of life, you have found the baby Jesus.

B: Who found Jesus? – Epiphany

WHO FOUND JESUS?

Isaiah 60:1-4, Psalm 72:1-7, Matthew 2:1-12

January 5, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

January 6 is known as "Epiphany" according to the traditional Christian calender. The Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on this day. It is the day to commemorate the coming of the wise men from the East bearing gifts to worship the baby Jesus. They were foreigners – gentiles or pagans to the Jews. They believed that divine revelations were visible in the movements of stars. We celebrate this day, because it was the first time Jesus revealed himself to the believers of a different religion. The story of the wise men also tells us that God will find us when we find meaning in our occupations and are committed to the things we do in them.

What is interesting is the fact that the Bible reports only two rather odd groups of people who visited the baby Jesus. They were the shepherds and the wise men of the East. Priests and scholars knew that the Bible had predicted that the birth of a special child would take place in Bethlehem. But they did not bother to go to Bethlehem. The king was interested to know about it solely because he wanted to kill the baby who might become a threat to his throne. The inn keeper who refused Mary and Joseph, obviously, did not know anything about the birth of the Messiah. Other ordinary people did not know anything about it. The shepherds and the magi were the least expected kind of people God would invite to meet his new born child.

The shepherds were nomads who were in search of grazing land all the time. They did not have normal homes. They cooked, ate, and slept in the open or in tents. Their security was all in animals, and was always precarious. They had a hard life. They wore rags, rarely washed themselves, and had weather-worn leathery skin. Being a shepherd was not just a job; it was a full-time way of life. Ordinarily, they lived on the edge of the human community, away from normal social life. They must have been like modern-day Gypsies, who still live on the edges of settled communities, often in trailers in parking lots of England and other continental European countries. They are never like other people nor do they try to be. They live their own lives. They are stubbornly bonded to their life-style.

The magi came from the east of Palestine. There were people from ancient Persia, which is the present day Iran, who believed that stars determined the destiny of people. It was in ancient Persia where astrology was developed. *Many people in our society today believe in astrology, as you know.* Because every movement of stars was important, watching stars, recording and predicting their movements were a full-time occupation for many highly educated people. They were a respected class of intellectuals, because people believed that they could predict the future. But they were definitely not priests, prophets, or teachers of the Jewish religion. They were not expected to make an important discovery about the religion of the Old Testament. They were after all gentiles – pagans. Why should these unlikely people be the ones who found Jesus first? It”s humbling to realize that the Bible is speaking about the believers of another religion and homeless herders as the only ones permitted to meet the Holy Child during his very first few days in this world.

Here you must understand the notion of vocation to understand this puzzle. The word – vocation comes from a Latin word – "vocatio". It means "to call" or "to summon". It comes from the idea that God called or summoned you to do a certain thing. It can be the same thing as a job or an occupation. But often it is not. You are lucky if your vocation and your job are the same thing. In your vocation, you are committed to the things that you do, because you believe that God is calling you to do them. Your vocation makes your life important and meaningful. It makes your life a pleasure: something worth living. One person told me that she just loved what she did, and that she felt lucky to be paid for what she does. Some people have a job in order to pursue a vocation which is different from the job, because their vocation does not provide a living. Many artists are committed to pursue their art, which often does not pay. So they are used to the idea that they have to have jobs to support themselves, to allow them to pursue the real purpose of their lives, which are their vocations. Many Catholic religious orders are operating on that principle. They make a living by making cheeze, teaching school or becoming nurses; but they do these things only so they are able to pray, to study the Bible, or to serve people.

The wise men of the East and the shepherds had vocations. They were totally committed to doing what they were doing. In fact, those men from the East must have gambled everything they owned to undertake the journey to Bethlehem. Travelling in those days was a hazardous undertaking. They had to provide their own modes of transportation, which were not affordable to many people. There were no maps. Predators of both animal and human kind were many. It was a very costly venture. It was a gamble. They might have believed in a different religion, but they were totally committed to what they believed to be their vocation. The shepherds were committed to their vocation, too. They were not ashamed of their work, though other people thought them to be a lower class. God rewards those who are committed to their vocations by revealing the truth.

On the other hand, some people corrupt their vocation by compromising their commitments. Those priests and Biblical scholars who surrounded the king did not want to displease the king. So they did not follow what they were supposed to have believed. They did not do what the Bible said they should. Ministers of religions, medical doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, and teachers have the types of jobs that require a sense of vocation. But we know that, unfortunately, some of them don”t live like the ones who have vocations. Ambitions for wealth, power, and often mere vanity corrupt them. They lose their vocations by making them mere jobs they do for living. They no longer have commitments. They no longer feel that God is calling them to do anything. Those without a sense of vocation will inevitably miss the new born Jesus, even if they know, in theory, where to find him.

The story of the wise men of the East is an indictment against those who compromise themselves and pursue ulterior goals while pretending to work for noble causes. It is also a celebration of those who find meaning for their lives in what they do, and are committed to doing the things they believe God called them to do. All of us have been called by God to do some meaningful work in our lives. Salvation is revealed to those who find meaning in their work. When you find the meaning of life, you have found the baby Jesus.

Should we stop saying “”Shalom””?

Salaam, Shalom, and Khotso – Peace

During the early stage of Intifada – Palestinian Uprising during 1980”s, I ran into a situation in Gaza Strip that changed my perception of the word "Shalom".  I still have a problem accepting the word as it is supposed to mean, whenever it is said by a good Church person.  Obviously I have not reached a resolution and am still troubled by use of a word which gives different messages.  

People should remember those days when Safari suits and Army fatigue types of casual clothes were popular.  Well, I was in one of those outfits, touring Gaza Strip with a friend from the Middle East Council of Churches, looking at Mothers” Clinics which were supported by Canadian Churches.  Young children began to greet me by saying "Shalom".  I responded innocently "Shalom".  My friend suddenly told me that we should go immediately and pulled me into the car.  There, he told me to go back to the Hotel and change clothes, and never say "Shalom" to anyone.

Of course, I should have known that Army fatigues were worn only by Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories.  Safari suits looked suspiciously like Army outfits.  And the word "Shalom" is a most common greeting in Israel.  It is almost like the way we say "Hi".  Most of the Israeli do not think of the meaning of the word, as we United Church people attach some profound significance to the word.  Of course, this is nothing unusual.  Most of us do not think of the meaning of the words we use for greeting.  Have you thought about the theological meaning of the word "Hi" recently?

Those two innocent actions on my part on that day in Gaza Strip, clothes and the Hebrew greeting, simply meant to young Palestinian minds symbols of oppression.  Israeli occupation of their home land and the occupiers.  A possible target of a sling-shot.  A Canadian friend thought that this was ridiculous.  She said, "Have you seen an Israeli who looks like a Japanese?"
 
My friend obviously did not know about a group of Japanese who migrated to Israel.  They believed that they were descendants of the remnants of the "Lost tribe of Israel" who supposedly ended up in Japan centuries ago.  They believe that they are Jews and live in Israel.

In some ways, I was pleased to find that the word "Shalom" became common usage, during my twelve years of absence from Canada.  People know that there is no peace without justice.  Friends conclude their letters wishing me Shalom.  When I left Canada to go to Africa in 1968, the word was understood only by small number of so-called progressive Christians in the same way as the Hebrew Bible writers meant.  They were the types of people who read Harvey Cox.  I learned also from him the meaning of the word which was far more profound and wider than what English word "Peace" would convey.  It definitely meant Peace with Justice.  

Even as late as 1982, however, people were still engaging in some fierce debates about whether peace is more important than justice, or vice versa.  At the World Council of Churches Assembly in Vancouver, I saw some pointed graffiti to indicate that many people still did not understand the meaning of the word "Shalom".  One of them on a bulletin board said, "Injustice kills thousands, but wars kill us all."  Those were the dark days of the threat of nuclear holocaust.

In 1968 I went to Southern Africa, and learned Southern African languages.  African theologians like Desmond Tutu taught me also how some of the African traditional spirituality  had commonalty with other nomadic traditions like that of Hebrew people.  Desmond often compared the Hebrew Bible with Bantu oral traditions.  He was an Old Testament professor.  I taught other things I was not trained for, but that”s another story.  The word for peace in Sesotho (one of the dominant Southern African languages) is "Khotso".  This is why the office of the South African Council of Churches is called Khotso House.  I learned that the meaning of Khotso is almost identical to Shalom, as it is to the Arabic word "Salaam".

They greet by wishing each other "Khotso", which also means, "I wish you, your family and neighbours full stomach".  They say the word with hands raised with palms open showing that they hold no weapon.  A very simple way of wishing peace with justice.  An agent of the South African government bombed the Khotso House during the late eighties”.  It is clear that an idea of Peace with Justice was subversive for the Apartheid regime.  

Problem is:  when some words are used daily as part of common expressions, their original meaning wear out.  People use those words not knowing what they originally meant.  They become mere labels of their culture – like famous "Gooday, mate" for Australians.  You can not ask people to think of the meaning of the word they use daily.   It may be asking too much to expect people to behave according to the ideal of Shalom, Salaam, or Khotso.  It is too bad, however, that a meaningful and perfectly wonderful language is spoiled by some social and political situation.  But it is a fact that languages change, and we have to be sensitive to people”s perception of certain words.  I was once asked to use an old Methodist Prayer Book for a funeral by the family of the deceased.  I followed the book faithfully except one word.  I found the word "intercourse" a few times in prayers, which I replaced with the words like "social discourse" and "relationship".

Another example:  When I was working with a Japanese Congregation, I took a group of teenagers to a United Church youth event.  One of my young people could not eat an orange which was offered to him by an innocent friend. "Hey, want a ”Jap orange?"  Obviously he did not know that the word "Jap" evoked a hurtful memory among Japanese Canadians.  Because of that kind of experiences, I decided that if any word offends other persons, it will not come out of my mouth.  Often I could not understand why they offend some people, but I don”t use those words.  It was easier to understand why people insisting on inclusive language.

As I have not found an alternative, whenever I want to wish my friend something meaningful at closing a letter, I write "Khotso, Salaam, Shalom!!" indicating my appreciation of those people who crossed my paths and  enriched my life while overseas.  Other times, I say Shalom to Jewish people, Salaam to my Palestinian friends, and Khotso to my Southern African former colleagues.  For Canadians, how about "Peace"?  

Tad Mitsui
Montreal
May, 1993

Who found Jesus?

WHO FOUND JESUS?

Isaiah 60:1-4, Psalm 72:1-7, Matthew 2:1-12

January 5, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

January 6 is known as "Epiphany" according to the traditional Christian calender. The Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on this day. It is the day to commemorate the coming of the wise men from the East bearing gifts to worship the baby Jesus. They were foreigners – gentiles or pagans to the Jews. They believed that divine revelations were visible in the movements of stars. We celebrate this day, because it was the first time Jesus revealed himself to the believers of a different religion. The story of the wise men also tells us that God will find us when we find meaning in our occupations and are committed to the things we do in them.

What is interesting is the fact that the Bible reports only two rather odd groups of people who visited the baby Jesus. They were the shepherds and the wise men of the East. Priests and scholars knew that the Bible had predicted that the birth of a special child would take place in Bethlehem. But they did not bother to go to Bethlehem. The king was interested to know about it solely because he wanted to kill the baby who might become a threat to his throne. The inn keeper who refused Mary and Joseph, obviously, did not know anything about the birth of the Messiah. Other ordinary people did not know anything about it. The shepherds and the magi were the least expected kind of people God would invite to meet his new born child.

The shepherds were nomads who were in search of grazing land all the time. They did not have normal homes. They cooked, ate, and slept in the open or in tents. Their security was all in animals, and was always precarious. They had a hard life. They wore rags, rarely washed themselves, and had weather-worn leathery skin. Being a shepherd was not just a job; it was a full-time way of life. Ordinarily, they lived on the edge of the human community, away from normal social life. They must have been like modern-day Gypsies, who still live on the edges of settled communities, often in trailers in parking lots of England and other continental European countries. They are never like other people nor do they try to be. They live their own lives. They are stubbornly bonded to their life-style.

The magi came from the east of Palestine. There were people from ancient Persia, which is the present day Iran, who believed that stars determined the destiny of people. It was in ancient Persia where astrology was developed. *Many people in our society today believe in astrology, as you know.* Because every movement of stars was important, watching stars, recording and predicting their movements were a full-time occupation for many highly educated people. They were a respected class of intellectuals, because people believed that they could predict the future. But they were definitely not priests, prophets, or teachers of the Jewish religion. They were not expected to make an important discovery about the religion of the Old Testament. They were after all gentiles – pagans. Why should these unlikely people be the ones who found Jesus first? It”s humbling to realize that the Bible is speaking about the believers of another religion and homeless herders as the only ones permitted to meet the Holy Child during his very first few days in this world.

Here you must understand the notion of vocation to understand this puzzle. The word – vocation comes from a Latin word – "vocatio". It means "to call" or "to summon". It comes from the idea that God called or summoned you to do a certain thing. It can be the same thing as a job or an occupation. But often it is not. You are lucky if your vocation and your job are the same thing. In your vocation, you are committed to the things that you do, because you believe that God is calling you to do them. Your vocation makes your life important and meaningful. It makes your life a pleasure: something worth living. One person told me that she just loved what she did, and that she felt lucky to be paid for what she does. Some people have a job in order to pursue a vocation which is different from the job, because their vocation does not provide a living. Many artists are committed to pursue their art, which often does not pay. So they are used to the idea that they have to have jobs to support themselves, to allow them to pursue the real purpose of their lives, which are their vocations. Many Catholic religious orders are operating on that principle. They make a living by making cheeze, teaching school or becoming nurses; but they do these things only so they are able to pray, to study the Bible, or to serve people.

The wise men of the East and the shepherds had vocations. They were totally committed to doing what they were doing. In fact, those men from the East must have gambled everything they owned to undertake the journey to Bethlehem. Travelling in those days was a hazardous undertaking. They had to provide their own modes of transportation, which were not affordable to many people. There were no maps. Predators of both animal and human kind were many. It was a very costly venture. It was a gamble. They might have believed in a different religion, but they were totally committed to what they believed to be their vocation. The shepherds were committed to their vocation, too. They were not ashamed of their work, though other people thought them to be a lower class. God rewards those who are committed to their vocations by revealing the truth.

On the other hand, some people corrupt their vocation by compromising their commitments. Those priests and Biblical scholars who surrounded the king did not want to displease the king. So they did not follow what they were supposed to have believed. They did not do what the Bible said they should. Ministers of religions, medical doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, and teachers have the types of jobs that require a sense of vocation. But we know that, unfortunately, some of them don”t live like the ones who have vocations. Ambitions for wealth, power, and often mere vanity corrupt them. They lose their vocations by making them mere jobs they do for living. They no longer have commitments. They no longer feel that God is calling them to do anything. Those without a sense of vocation will inevitably miss the new born Jesus, even if they know, in theory, where to find him.

The story of the wise men of the East is an indictment against those who compromise themselves and pursue ulterior goals while pretending to work for noble causes. It is also a celebration of those who find meaning for their lives in what they do, and are committed to doing the things they believe God called them to do. All of us have been called by God to do some meaningful work in our lives. Salvation is revealed to those who find meaning in their work. When you find the meaning of life, you have found the baby Jesus.

A: JOSEPH HAD A DREAM – ADVENT 4

Isaiah 7 : 10 – 16,
Psalm 80,
Matt. 1 : 18 – 25

Just imagine; if this is not a Bible story.  A man had a nightmare.  How could it be just a dream?  His young fiancé told him that she was pregnant.  He and she were the only ones who knew that he was not responsible for her pregnancy.  It took tremendous amount of faith, love, and trust for Joseph to believe Mary”s explanation. Stories around the first Christmas are full of faith and love.  And the story of Joseph is one of them.

A mother is the only reliable natural link between a child and the family.  This is why a Jewish person must come from a Jewish mother regardless of the father”s nationality.  The love of a father for his child begins with trust.  A father has to learn to love a child, he has not carried it inside himself for nine months.  And if Joseph did not trust Mary, Christmas would not have happened, because she could have been stoned to death for adultery.  The laws regarding adultery applied also to engaged couples.  What could Joseph do?  He was a law abiding man, but he also loved Mary dearly.  The child could not be Joseph”s child.  And Mary makes a preposterous excuse.    She says, "It”s God who made me pregnant."  Oh, sure.  Imagine?

So he was going to quietly annul the engagement to make it look as though it had never happened.  She might be branded as a loose woman by giving birth to a fatherless child, but her sin would not be labelled adultery.  Being a loose woman was shameful, but it did not signify she broke faith with her husband, or husband-to-be, because there was no such man.  This way, Mary”s life would be spared.  Then one night he had a dream.  An angel appeared and told him that indeed Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that he should name the child Jesus – Yoshua, "he who saves people."  He wanted to believe such a message because he loved her.  That was enough.  He decided to travel with her to Bethlehem to register their marriage and possibly their new born child.  According to the custom of the land at the time, when a couple of a man and a woman undertook a journey together without chaperon, they were considered to be legally  married.

Evangelist Matthew told this story of Joseph to remind the Jews who were under Roman occupation of what happened about 800 years before to King Ahaz.  During the reign of Ahaz, the kingdom of Judah was under tremendous pressure from an alliance of Syria and Israel which was ready to invade and conquer Judah.  At first, Ahaz could think of no other way out but to enter an alliance with Egypt, though he knew that was a bad idea.  Egypt would surely absorb his tiny country eventually.  It was a Catch 22 situation.  The Prophet Isaiah agreed with Ahaz”s analysis that this alliance would be a problem and told him not to enter such an agreement.  But Ahaz needed a sign that he was taking the lesser of two risks by not entering into the alliance.  Isaiah gave him a sign from God as an alternative course.  The sign was, "A young woman becomes pregnant and bears a baby boy.  He will be called ”God is with us”.  He will bring people milk and honey, and other powerful nations will be no more."  

Who could have believed in such a preposterous sign?  King Ahaz didn”t.  Many of us still don”t.  But Joseph did, 800 years after Isaiah”s initial prophecy.  Joseph believed it,  because he loved Mary and wanted to believe in her faithfulness badly enough to trust God”s message.   He could believe that a baby of a questionable origin could be a sign of hope for the whole people.  Love is powerful.  Crazy?  Maybe, but it is the only way.  Joseph teaches us that love and trust are the only way to make this world work.  Even economic and military alliances do not work where there is a lack of the basic ingredients of human civility and decency, based on trust.  Where there is no trust even Empires will fall, because of the weight of the cost of maintaining a credible deterrent against possible betrayal.  [That”s how the Soviet Union fell.  Disintegration of our societies can not be stopped by toughened measures against crimes, where there is no trust between people.  When the police realized that they can no longer catch up with the rising crime rate at the time of shrinking tax dollars, they devised community policing.  They brought back foot patrol, and introduced bicycle squads and store front mini-stations to get to know people.  They want to restore trust between people and the police.]  A society that lacks trust is always under a threat of  disintegration.

Believing that the future of the human race rests in a baby, born by a young woman is not preposterous.  Giving birth to a child is a pilgrimage of trust and Joseph journeyed through that.  He can not be left in the background for he teaches us one of the most profound message in the Christmas story.  A sign from God that is overlooked can not change the world.  Incarnation alone means little.  But to believe in a dream, to act on trust animates that incarnation.  Joseph steps forward and shows us the path we must take as pilgrims who journey in trust.  It”ś his path that leads us to Bethlehem… and beyond.

C: IS GOD ALWAYS ON OUR SIDE? – BAPTISM OF LORD, THIRD SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

Isaiah 42:1-9,
Psalm 27,
Acts 10:34-43

We just saw in Asia the worst natural disaster in known history.  Outpouring of generosity and support for the victims is truly admirable.  I am proud to be Canadians. But we must go further led by today’s scripture lessons.  We must remind ourselves that conflicts between peoples kill, by far, much more people than natural disasters.  For example, one bomb dropped in Hiroshima during the second world war killed 200,000 in a split second – more people than the total number of dead victims of the recent Tsunami.  The second world war killed tens of millions of people in mere four years.  We have to ask ourselves if the question of who is right and who is wrong is so important that so many people must be killed?

We are all different just like each of our faces are different.  So, if you think you are always right and others are always wrong, you will be the cause of conflicts and the menace to the world.  We all wish that other people would accept our ways, but they don”t.  We will not be able to live with other people, if all of us insist that “only my way is the right way.”  All of us eventually have to compromise in order to live in harmony.  Only immature people can not learn to compromise and do not accept other people’s ways.

We just lived through the most destructive century of conflicts in history.  And we continue to live in dangerous times, because we still don’t know how to live with differences.  The human race made amazing advances in science and technology.  But we also committed incredible acts of stupid self-destruction, because technology made the result of violent conflicts catastrophic.  The two great wars in the 20th century were the bloodiest and the most murderous in human history because of advanced weapons.  Millions since have been killed in Africa, Asia, Balkans, and Middle East.  All sides of conflicts believed that God was on their side.  Today the main cause of conflicts is three religions which believe in one God of Abraham, and follow the same book – the Old Testament.  Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims kill each other because of the difference in interpretation of the Bible.  Many think that Muslim terrorists are trying to kill Christians.  Many Muslims think that the war in Iraq is the new Christian crusade against Islam.  Some Jews believe that Arab Muslims are trying to destroy their country. 
The scripture lesson from the Acts records a sermon Peter preached in the Palestinian city of Caesarea.  Simon Peter spoke about Jesus to a group of people who were not Jews.  He baptized them right there after the sermon.  This event was a shocking event because Peter went into a house full of non-Jews and ate with them.  In those days, Jews were not permitted to eat with non-Jews because they were considered to be unclean.  The early church always met for meals, which later became our Communion Service.  Furthermore, Peter baptized those so-called unclean people without first making them Jews through circumcision.  By this action, Peter made it clear that the Jesus movement was a new religion.  Peter indicated that everybody was welcomed as soon as he/she accepted the teaching of the church.

It was unacceptable to the first generation of Christians because they didn’t believe that Jesus started a new religion.  They thought that the way of Jesus was a reform movement of Judaism.  But Peter declared that Christianity was a new religion.  Many people could not accept this.  So the church was split.  There was a faction based in Jerusalem, who still insisted that non-Jews had to be circumcised and become Jews before Baptism.  Peter believed that the church was open to all people as they were.

The conflict ended when the Church in Jerusalem disappeared.  But the other churches, which opened up their doors to all people, continued.   Peter didn’t ask "Is God on our side?" but asked "Are we on God”s side?"  Are we ready also to compromise for the sake of harmony and peace?  That is the most important question.  Those Christians who  followed Peter were Egyptians, Ethiopians, Jews, Romans, Greeks, and many other nationalities.  They were willing to give up what they held dear and compromise.  We must also be ready to give up something in order to follow what is real and true.  We should do the same between husbands and wives, between friends and co-workers too.  We must ask, “What can we do to resolve the difference?” not “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”

The three wise men who came to worship baby Jesus were astrologers – star gazers.  They didn’t know the Bible nor did they worshipped God of Abraham.  But they gave up everything and travelled in search of truth.  God led them to find the new born baby.  God will lead anyone to the truth if they earnestly seek to find it.  So, the question is:  "Are we ready to give up our ways, and follow God?" 

Whenever we run into a conflict situation, let us not think of my way or their way.  But let us think of God’s way not so much the way to win others over to our side, but of the way to find God’s way together.

A: HONESTY OF A DIVINE FOOL – SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

HONESTY OF A DIVINE FOOL

Isaiah 60 : 1 – 6, Psalm 72, Matt 2 : 1 – 12

Saturday, according to the church calender, was Epiphany when the some churches celebrated the coming of the men from the East.  They were the ones who followed the star to pay respect to the Baby Jesus.  Also on this day, Moderator Marion Best asked us to think about the plight of the vulnerable people in our country.  It is interesting to compare the two things that we are about to reflect on today. 

Those men who came to give homage to the baby Jesus were astrologers.  They should not have had anything to do with the Jewish Messiah.  Studying the movements of stars to tell fortunes was not quite the practice of the Hebrew people, thus those men were so-called foreign pagans.   Marion Best wrote a letter to all of us, commenting on the situation of the poor and the sick, and she was accused of stepping out of her line of work.  She was severely criticized by Canada”s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, for being naive about economy.  But the important question is:  "Isn”t Marion Best telling the truth, just as much as the men from the East revealed the truth about the birth of Jesus?"

According to the accounts by Matthew, those men came from the East following a star and looking for the king of the Jews.  Astrology was more widely observed by the Babylonians and the Persians, present day Iraq and Iran, not by the Hebrew people.  In other words, these men of the East were not familiar with the Hebrew prophesy; they were considered pagans.  This is why they needed help from specialists to know the exact location of the birth of the Messiah.  Of course, the specialists, priests and scribes – ministers and theologians, had all the tools for research and could tell them that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

But those priests and scribes did not go to worship the Messiah, even though he was supposed to be theirs.  Those foreign practitioners of a pagan religion did.  The political situation was too complicated for the experts to just get up and go.  The priests and scribes had too much investment in the existing order.  Knowing the kind of man King Herod was, they could not simply declare that the Messiah had come.  They had to carefully calculate the implications.  So they just sat and witnessed the slaughter of the infant children in Bethlehem by the jealous king.  It was too risky to commit themselves to another king on account of a mere prophesy.
On the other hand, those star gazers packed their bags and took off.  No one knows where they came from.  But surely they came from far.  And travelling in those days was not easy.  It was expensive and dangerous.  It was not like packing a few things to fly to Florida.  There were no seat sales in those days.  There were no buses nor planes.  You had to pay the full fare, and often pay with your own lives, too.  Those men from the East gambled everything and travelled many days to find the Messiah.  What were their rewards?  No one reported if they gained anything from this gamble.  Were they crazy?  Maybe.  But thank God for them.  They did not use political complications as the excuse to stop doing what they had to do.

Sometimes, the people who make amazing discoveries are not experts.  A large number of astronomical discoveries, for example, have been made by amateur star gazers, who watch the stars in their spare time, only for the love of doing it.  They have no preconceptions.  Everything they see through their telescope is a miracle and a wonder.  They take note of everything and check it, often to the annoyance of the experts at the observatories, who have to validate their claims of discoveries.    But because they do not take anything for granted, they find stars the experts might have missed.  They may be crazy, but they run into wonders of creation which until then were not known.

When Marion Best wrote to all United Church congregations asking us to think about and pray for society”s most vulnerable people, who were being affected by the governments cutbacks, she did not expect the thunderous wrath of the editorial board of the Canada”s biggest national newspaper, The Globe and Mail.  I don”t think she expected any big reaction by saying things that are almost customary for the church to say before Christmas.  But the Globe and Mail roared; "How easy it is for United Church Moderator to say such an irresponsible thing from a cosy protected pulpit, surrounded by pious like minded people, without having to cope with the reality of life!  How naive!  Doesn”t she realize that our social policy is bankrupting the country?"  The thunder was so loud that, I wonder if Marion”s argument touched the nerves of the advertisers in the Globe and Mail.  It sounded like an anger of an expert who was upstaged by an amateur.

How little do they know.  Marion Best is a nurse, who practised until recently and knows the sick and the weak.   More recently, she was a free lance consultant, helping hard pressed United Church congregations to readjust and reorganize themselves to survive  harder times with fewer members and lower giving.  She knows  finance from the perspective of the grass-roots and small struggling congregations.  How wrong they were if they thought that Marion Best was like a bishop in his colourful clerical splendour, living in a palace like the Pope.  She simply asked, "if the government is in a serious deficit situation, is it the fault of the poor and the sick?  Could it be because of years of bad government management and small minded politics?  She does not deny that the deficit is a serious problem.  What she is asking is:  "Is it the poor and the sick who have to pay for someone else”s mismanagement?"  In this case, an amateur, not the economic gurus, hit the sensitive truth.  It is like the time when those pagan practitioners found Baby Jesus because they were ready to gamble their own lives in search of him, while the experts who should have looked for him were not. 

We must remind ourselves that, just like the case of amateur discoverers of stars, the humane conditions of our society have often been improved by a few dedicated people who naively asked simple questions.  Like those crazy Quakers in Britain during the last century, who asked the question, "Is it right to buy and sell people like cows?"   They began, in effect, to dismantle one of the most established components of the human economic structure – slavery.  We thank God that there were some people, crazy enough to  ask the right questions.  It would have been much easier to not challenge the accepted order of things, and keep slavery.  Slavery lasted so long because it was so very profitable; it made good economic sense.  Like those priests and scribes who surrounded King Herod, keeping quiet and saving their hides, many people who felt slavery was immoral kept silence.  But those Quakers and other visionaries took the risk of appearing to be naive fools.  They asked embarrassing questions.  Were they naive?  Maybe.  But were they telling lies?  Definitely not.  Were they crazy?  Yes.  They were crazy enough to say exactly how it was, without avoiding the issue by saying, "it is rather complicated."
 
We should not forget the fact that among those Canadians, who dreamed up such a crazy idea as making health care available to everyone, were a United Church minister and a Baptist minister?  James Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas.  Were they fools?  Now Marion Best, a lay woman and faithful Christian has tried to raise the question of what will happen to our society if we risk doing away with such a social safety net.  Because of her concern for the vulnerable and her belief in justice, she too has risked sounding economically foolish.

Celebrating the role of the Hebrew people who would give the world its Messiah, Isaiah said, "Arise, shine, for your light has come."  Later the Evangelist John said in regards to the light,  "When the light shone in the darkness, the darkness did not accept the light."  Of course, light is the end of darkness.  Yet we often find it impossible to acknowledge the obvious and the inevitable, like the light which shines in the darkness.  We always say that abolishing something is not that simple; life is too complicated.  But often the so-called ”complication” is a smoke screen to hide something quite simple.  It is our task to join the ranks of other faithful amateurs like Marion Best to clear the smoke away, and challenge the opinions of the experts.  We are invited to follow an unpopular and unusual path with her in search of an epiphany for our present day.

A: IMMANUEL – GOD IS WITH US: FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Isaiah 7:1-16, Psalm 80, Matthew 1:18-25

I don”t think I am the only father who squirmed when he saw his own newborn child for the first time.  It took me a little while to begin to feel real loving attachment towards a tiny, funny looking lump of flesh wriggling in an incubator.  Father”s experience with a new born child is different from mother”s.  Mother has nine months of bonding with her child.  But for a father, bonding is an art – a process to learn to connect with his child.  You may think that one does not have to learn to love one”s own child.  Love for your own child comes naturally, because a baby is the most adorable and lovable.  I suggest that it is not always like that.  Everybody does not love a new born baby.  A baby is very vulnerable.  I believe that God chose to come to be with us in a form of an infant child, because a baby is helpless, powerless, vulnerable, weak, and an easy object for abuse and exploitation.

Because we live in Canada, we have no trouble believing that all the babies are always loved and treasured.  But that is not always the case.  Children are in fact the most deprived persons in the world today.  They are not treasured as much as we think they are.  For example:  We assume that normally people die of old age, and that only a small number of babies die.  But this is not the true picture if you look at the conditions in which children live in the world.  Fact is; a much greater number of infants die than the number of old people.  On the average according to the UNICEF statistics, 44 thousand infants die everyday in the world.  We don”t talk about this awful statistics because infant deaths happen mostly in the poorer parts of our planet.  They die mainly because of malnutrition.  The weakest ones are always the first ones to suffer the consequences of poverty.  This was the situation of the children at the time of Isaiah, at the time of the birth of Jesus, throughout history, and I say is the case even today.  It is not the universal truth to say that children are always loved and treasured.

Yet, Isaiah dared to predict that a baby who would be born to a young woman would be called "Immanuel".  The word "Immanuel" means "God is with us."  Why did God choose a new born child as a vehicle to come to live among us?  I suggest that an answer lies, among other places, somewhere in the art of bonding with a new born child.  By coming to be with us in a form of a new born child, God demonstrated his love by becoming one of the least and the most humble.  You can understand the logic of this God”s action when you know how to love.  In other words, love is the eyes to see God. 

When a father holds an infant child in his arms for the first time, the power of love transforms a "funny little squirming lump of flesh" into the most precious and the most beautiful thing in the world.  You can hear him whispering, "I love you so much.  You are the most precious and the most beautiful thing in the whole world."   It is love that turns a most helpless and unattractive thing into the most precious and the most beautiful.  The real test of love is to love someone when that someone is most difficult.   When you learn to tolerate a squawking cat at 4 a.m. or a snoring husband who keeps you awake all night, you have begun to learn an art of love.   When a baby cries all night or causes all sorts of grief, when your teenage child is determined to annoy you, or when your aging parent is gradually falling into a state of dementia and doesn”t know who you are any more and tells you to get out of the room, and yet you love them dearly, you have glimpsed the sight of God.  Love is the eyes to see God.

Another important point is that a new born child symbolizes future.  There is no other power more powerful than a faith in the future.  When you can see God in the most helpless new born child, you have capacity to hope for the future no matter how it looks grim.  That kind of optimism makes the small and helpless the most powerful.  On the other hand, when you can”t see an enormous potential in children but see them only as powerless and useless appendix to a society, you are the most pathetic being, because you have no eye to see future.  It seemed easy for the King Herod to kill the Messiah when he was a baby together with hundreds of other baby boys as a preemptive action against a future rival, because babies are helpless.  But Herod also killed his own future, and is remembered as a most pathetic figure in history.  A society that does not put priority in children has no future and is doomed.

God did not come to be with us as an infant child because babies are naturally adorable and easy to love.  The child was called Immanuel, because he was vulnerable.  Also a baby is not always easy to love.  If you love a person who is difficult, you are in the presence of God.  During this season of Christmas, let us learn to see Jesus by learning to love the unlovable.  Let us learn to see God like Mother Teresa did.  She saw God among the poor dying on the streets of Calcutta.  After all, the Son of God was born in a form of a powerless and helpless child who did not even have a luxury to be born in a decent house, but was born in a stable among the bails of hay and the piles of manure.  God is with us, because He came to us as a baby in a stable.

A: AN ANGEL CALLED HOBBES – CHRISTMAS

Isaiah 63 : 7 – 9, Psalm 148 #18
Matthew 2 : 13 – 23

Do you have an angel in your heart?  Apparently, 60% of Americans secretly think that the angels really exist.  I looked up the Gospel lesson for today, and I debated with myself for a while if I should speak about the slaughter of babies or about the angels.  And I decided on the angels, because they are badly neglected Biblical characters.  On three important crucial occasions, Joseph was informed by the angel what he should do.  Today”s lesson says that thanks to the angel, the Jesus escaped the slaughter of babies in Bethlehem.  I want suggest that contemporary equivalent of the angel is Hobbes in the comic strips "Calvin and Hobbes."  Hobbes may be for other people a figment of Calvin”s imagination, only a stuffed tiger.  But for Calvin, he is a best friend, a constant companion, a comfort, and an inner voice of honesty and wisdom.  He is what often angels are in the Bible.  If we have problems with the idea of angels we might want to ask, "Who can be our Hobbes?"

Angels play prominent roles in the Bible.  The word "angel" comes from a Greek word for "messenger".  Most of the world”s religions have the notion of angels.  An early medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas said that the angels were a metaphor for "pure intellect, neither male nor female but also assume whatever form they liked."  However nowadays we don”t speak about them.  We can comfortably speak about God.  But Angels?  No.  I wonder if we think the idea of an angel is too bizarre, lest people think we are crazy. 

There are more people who openly admit that they talk with cats or dogs.  My daughter virtually refuses entry into her home unless I talk to her two cats.  All the animal lovers understand that.  Some people even speak with gold fish.  I must admit I don”t understand that, but that is, of course, my shortcoming.  We all need something to help us think and sort ourselves out.  Some people talk to themselves aloud.  Why not?  They are not crazy.  We need a mirror to have an objective view of what is inside us.  An angel is a catalyst who can facilitate that reflection process.  I prefer to write down things to help me think; nowadays using a computer – it”s the same thing.  I talk to a computer to think.  Discussing things with Muriel helps very much, also.  While we do that kind of thing, we pause in a space and time between realities.  We are with the angels.  It allows God to intervene.  Non-religious people may want to call it serious thinking or something like that.  But it”s the same thing.

Angels keep you honest.  In the comic strip, like any six year old boy Calvin hates Susie and all other girls, at least that”s what he thinks.  But Hobbes loves Susie, he enjoys being near her, an honest but hidden feeling of any little boy.  Hobbes sticks with Calvin thick or thin, good time or bad, together in a terrible fear of that slimy man-eating monster who lives under the bed.    He also is not afraid to say the right thing, which Calvin hates, even though he knows deep inside that Hobbes is right.  Often the reader can never tell whether Hobbes represents another side of Calvin – an inner voice – or another person, a friend.  I think that Hobbes can be either – Calvin”s inner self or another person, just like an angel can be a hidden side of yourself as can as well as a different person.

Abraham and Sarah”s grandson, Jacob, wrestled with an angel by a river all night until the angel dislocated Jacob”s hip joint.  Jacob was going to return home.  Having stolen his brother”s inheritance by trickery, he had run away for fear of his life.  He married foreign women, Rachel and Leah, and settled down in a foreign land tending his father-in-law”s herd.  But he found no other place to call home except his own place of birth and decided to go back.  He was ready to ask for his brother”s forgiveness and meet the consequences.  It might have been a right thing to do but it was a dangerous gamble.  It is sort of like Calvin and Hobbes shooting down an untried hill on a toboggan.   When Jacob saw his brother ready to meet him with four hundred armed men, naturally he was afraid and distressed.  He was suddenly no longer sure whether he was doing the right thing by returning home.  He must have struggled with his angel all night by the river looking in fear at his brother”s men.  The angel in this case could have been his own conscience but also could have been another person like Hobbes who was trying to help him making up his mind.  Jacob would not let the angel go despite his dislocated hip joint until he received a blessing.  When one is making a decision, often one is looking for assurance not another opinion.  So it was with Jacob; that was why he was determined to get his blessing.

Angels are not gods, they are God”s messengers.   Angels bring often terrible but wonderful news.  Realities are often scary, but wonderful.  It was like the first Christmas.  Shepherds were terrified to see the angels.  Mary was forced into such a terrible but wonderful predicament by the Holy spirit.  But because of the angel”s assurance, she became brave and happy, and sung a song of praises and hope.  Helped by the angels, Joseph made a decision the kind that was incredible for men to make. In those stories, angels not only brought the messages from God, but also brought assurance and joy;  with lights and joyful sounds of music and singing.  You noticed, in many pictures depicting angels, you see them with trumpets and lutes making music. 

Last week”s Christmas carols and music are still ringing in our ears.  Our musicians and singers, young and not so young, brought magic to our Christmas.  They were the magic that brought the spirit of Christmas to us here in Howick.  They were the angels for us.  And I believe that it was our love for them that made them angels.  Seeing angels does not have to be so dramatic.  When a meeting is heated up and people are tense, someone brings in tea, juice and cookies.  Angry faces disappeared instantly.  No one eats cookies with angry faces.  An angel brings tea and cookies.

Angels come in many forms and shapes.  They can be wise and true friends.  Like Hobbes, some angels do not force the correct solutions and are ready to bless whatever you decide.   And they are ready to stand by you.  When Calvin is in a mood for dare-devil bravado like shooting down an untried hill on a toboggan, Hobbes does not hide his scepticism.  Hobbes knows there may be a cliff at the bottom, but he goes through the fall with Calvin and meets the inevitable disaster at the bottom.  An angel is ready to suffer the consequences with you.  An angel is a true friend.  A true friend is an angel. 

Like an angel, Hobbes does that sort of thing not because he is reckless but because he is an incurable optimist.  And he believes that there will be life after a spectacular fall from a cliff.  It was an angel  who sat at the entrance of the cave where Jesus was buried and informed the disciples about the resurrection.  "He is not here.  Don”t look for him among the dead.  He is risen!" 

An angel informed Joseph of an impending disaster to the babies in Bethlehem, and told him to pack up his family and to seek refuge in Egypt.  Joseph was helped by the angels in his mission of protecting and bringing up the Messiah so that Jesus could begin his ministry, when he was ready.  The angels help us to also engage in our mission, being our conscience, friend, wisdom, and protector.  God does not work alone in this world.  God”s deeds are often the collective actions of God, us, and the angels.  The world we live in and work in is often as cruel a place as Bethlehem under King Herod.  But God”s work does not have to be gloomy and heavy.  Angels may lead us down a different path.  With them there can be dancing and singing.  They will bring music with trumpets and harps.  With their help, doing God”s work can be as fun as building a snow castle with Hobbes.  And who knows, they may even lend us their wings.

B: SILENT NIGHT – CHRISTMAS

I will tell you the story of the next hymn.  It is one Christmas carol everybody loves.  It is known all over the world, even by people who are not Christians.  But few people know the fact that this best loved Carol would not have been written, if an organ did not break down in a small church.  Fr. Joseph Mohr was twenty-six years old assistant priest of a church in a little town called Obendorf in Austria, one hundred and eighty-one years ago.  It was his first church after he became a priest.  It was his first Christmas as a priest also.  Everybody came to the Christmas service.  He wanted to do a good job.  He asked a school teacher and organist Frantz Gruber to play the organ as best he could to make it a highlight of the service.

But a disaster struck.  The organ broke down on the Christmas Eve.  There was no way to fix it in such a short notice.  People would be disappointed.  They were looking forward to hearing Mr. Gruber”s special music.  What to do?  Think fast, Fr. Mohr.  So he sat down and wrote the words that came to his mind as he imagine the scene of the stable in Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was born.  He imagined the mother Mary looking at the sleeping baby.  He imagined the shepherds who came to greet the baby in a starry silent night.  He had to work fast because there was no time.  He ran to Mr Gruber and asked him to write music for the words he just wrote.  They had no time to do anything else.  But it had to be good.  The song had to be the highlight of the Christmas Service. 

On the Christmas day, they sung the song they just wrote together.  Mr. Gruber sang melody with his guitar and Fr. Mohr was a baritone.  "Stille Nacht! Heilige Natch!  Alles Schläft, einsam wacht.."  It was beautiful.  It was magical.  Soon, the song became famous in all churches all over the world and it was translated into hundreds of languages, because it was so simple that everybody could sing.

Jesus Christ was born in a stable, because there was no place for them in nice hotels.  The parents were humble people.  They could not afford a hotel.  But that was how the first Christmas happened.  The most wonderful thing happens in the simplest way, just like the way Christmas carol we all love was written.  It was written because there was no organ.  The most precious gift of God came in the form of a little baby.  That was the way God chose to show us how much he loved us.

YEAR A : MARY HAD A DREAM – ADVENT 1

Isaiah 35 : 1 – 10  Luke 1 : 47 – 55  Psalm 146

The Southern African custom has it that the host will ask you towards the end of a dinner, "Uena ka Khotso? – Are you at peace?"  You don”t have to struggle to find a word to express your spiritual well-being; she simply wants to know, "Have you had enough to eat?"  They believe that when you are physically well, you will be spiritually happy, also when you are happy in your soul, your body will be well.  When people are well in body and soul, there will be peace between people.  The word "Khotso" expresses all those conditions that create the ideal state.  The Hebrew word for peace "Shalom" also has the same meaning as "Khotso". 

Mary expressed the same idea of peace and justice in today”s Gospel.  She was told by the angel that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and her child was going to inherit the throne of David – the Messiah the whole nation was waiting for.  Her son will bring justice in the world.  In fact, it would be a new world that he would bring.  Peace that Mary”s child would bring would be based on justice and love, not on force.    It was an incredible message.  But in the end she believed the angel and said, if a lowly girl like her could be mother of a son of the most high, the hungry and poor would be exalted, and the rich and powerful could be humiliated. 
Is this some kind of outrageous fantasy of a poor, uneducated pregnant teenager?   Maybe she was a little demented, overwhelmed by the burden of the situation she was in.  Think of the predicament she was in.  She must have been just a teenager, perhaps sixteen at most; unmarried.  She was engaged to be married to Joseph.  I am sure when people heard that Joseph”s fiancé was pregnant, people smiled and winked at him.  Joseph and Mary were the only ones who knew that Mary”s child was not his.  Should he tell anyone about this awful truth?  Mary said God made her pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  There”s a joke that says that one day God wanted to send the Holy Spirit down to earth again because there was a big mess among people.  The Holy Spirit refused because he was afraid that Joseph might still be looking for him.  You may think that such a joke is a sacrilege.  Indeed for the Jews, Mary”s claim was a sacrilege.  Mary was not only a loose woman who betrayed her future husband but also she was blasphemous for claiming that God was responsible for her pregnancy.  It was a serious offence!  The punishment could have been death by stoning, in either case.  How could Mary speak about a new world of justice and genuine peace when she herself is in such a mess?  Was she completely confused?

I believe that the secret lies in Joseph”s love.  The fact that Mary was not stoned to death indicates that Joseph had decided to accept Mary”s explanation and not to hand her over to the authorities.  How could Joseph ever believe Mary”s preposterous claim unless he loved her deeply.   He wanted to believe her so he did.  Mary must have been deeply touched by his capacity to love.   If a man could love someone so much, and was ready to accept such a seemingly impossible situation, anything would be possible.  It could even be possible that a child born of a lowly teenage girl could bring about the new world order of peace and justice.  Is this interpretation absolutely insane?  I don”t think so.

The problem of the world today is the lack of faith in the power of love.  Practical people believe that love is a silly sentiment, and is irrelevant in our vast and immensely complicated world.  The real world is competitive and cruel.  If you don”t beat them first, they will beat you.  Get real.  Ray Kroc, the founder of the world”s largest restaurant chain "Macdonald”s", once said, "This is rat eat rat, dog, eat dog.  I”ll kill ”em, and I”m going to kill ”em before they kill me."  But I say that precisely that is our biggest problem.  Many people have handed themselves over to the rules of competition and forgotten that the most life giving force in the universe is love.  They believe more in the strength of hatred than the power of love.   I met some of them in Africa.  They were self-proclaimed revolutionaries, who were completely committed to transforming the world into the better one.   Those revolutionaries believed that the forces of hatred could create a better world.     

If you are treated unjustly, you will be angry and unhappy.  You have no peace of mind.  If you don”t have inner peace, you will be always frustrated.  Then you are ready to resort to violence.   Then how come we still believe that peace can be achieved when one overpowers others by force?  This idea has never worked because it ignores the importance of peace of mind based on justice.  This is why no empire has ever achieved enduring peace.  And whenever an empire falls, violence and blood-shed follow.  Many of the regional conflicts today are rooted in the histories of empires.  It shows no sign that the peace enforced by those empires has had any lasting effect.  Hatred that has been festering while being ruled by force demands a settling of scores.  Look at Northern Ireland.  Look at Bosnia and Kosovo.  Neighbours fiercely hate each other, simply because they belong to different religions and ethnic groups because of the histories of the empires that came and went.  Has the British victory at the Plains of Abraham produced an enduring peace in Canada?   It didn”t.  So we still live with the never ending threat of separation of Quebec.

When will we ever learn?  Haven”t we learnt that there can never be enduring peace unless there is justice?  Haven”t we ever learned that there can never be justice unless there is love?  Where there is no love, hatred rules and there will be no peace of mind.  Where there is no love, there is greed and self-centredness.  And greed and self-centredness are the causes of injustice.  A vicious circle goes around and around.  Maybe Mary was crazy.  Maybe Joseph was naive.  Maybe they were both unreal.  If so, maybe we should all be a little crazy, naive and unreal, and start believing in the power of love.  One day last month, I was walking on a street of Toronto with Alan Tysic.  Alan is a United Church minister who works with street people, alcoholics, ex-cons, drug addicts, prostitutes, and the like, in Victoria, B.C.  We ran into a few panhandlers.  Alan shook hands with each one of them saying things like, "Hi!  How”er you doing?", and gave them quarters.  I said, "Alan!  Are you crazy?  They will buy booze or drugs or worse.  You aren”t helping them."  Alan said, "I know.  Probably they will buy booze.  But if someday even one of them remembers that someone treated them like a normal human being, my quarter is not wasted."  I learned something that day.  If you can love one person, you will be able to learn to love the whole world.  If everybody learned to love another person, the world will be like the one Mary dreamed about.

We are going to celebrate the birthday of the one who declared the arrival of the new regime – the rule of love, who was also called the Prince of Peace.  Let us wait actively for the coming of peace – real peace based on justice and love, with excitement, joy, and determination, not just in this season of Advent but also in our daily life at all times.  Our waiting may seem hopeless, just as Mary”s Magnificat sounded crazy.  But the dream of one unmarried teenage mother-to-be came true with the birth of Christ 2000 years ago.  It is possible.

A: MARY HAD A DREAM – ADVENT 1

Isaiah 35 : 1 – 10
Luke 1 : 47 – 55
Psalm 146

Today”s Gospel selection is called "Magnificat".  If indeed Mary had anything to do with its creation, it is an incredible piece of literature .  Consider the circumstances.  She must have been only in her mid- teens, unmarried, and was just informed that she was pregnant with the child who was going to inherit the throne of David, the messiah the whole nation was waiting for.  And she was no royalty.  She was only the fiancé of a poor carpenter.  A scandal!  The punishment could have been death by stoning.  But she believed in the message.  And she went even further.  She thought, if a lowly girl like her was to be a mother of the most high, the rich and powerful could be humiliated, and hungry and poor would be exalted.  There would be justice.  In fact, it would be a new world.  Mary”s child would bring peace, a special kind of peace.  Peace based on justice and love, not by power.   What a dream!  Is this only a silly fantasy of a crazy teenage unmarried mother?

This notion of the new regime of which Mary dreamt is expressed today in one word in three different languages, Salaam in Arabic, Shalom in Hebrew, and Khotso in African Sesotho.  They all have the same meaning, somewhat inadequately translated into English as "peace".  All of them are used still today as the most common form of greeting.   It means "Hello and good-bye." –  for meeting and parting.  When they meet, they wish each other peace.  And likewise they bid each other peace as they go their separate ways.  I believe that this expression is the world”s most profound way of greeting.  Harvey Cox, a theology professor at Harvard Theological School once told a touching story about the use of this word.  When a Jewish mother was separated from her child before she was shipped off to a Nazi extermination camp during the second world war, she hugged the child and said, "Shalom."   Miraculously both the mother and the child survived the death camps and ran into each other at the port of Haifa in Palestine five years later.    When they hugged each other, in tears they only said "Shalom."  That was enough.

It was enough because the word contains all the important ingredients of the perfect world under the reign of God.  God will bring justice to the world.  And when that happens people beat their swords into ploughshares and will hear of war no more.  There is justice hence there is peace.  In the language I learned to preach in Africa, the same notion of peace is expressed in the word – Khotso.  It also has all the important ingredients of the better world, just like the Hebrew word – shalom.

In Lesotho, when you finish a dinner, for example, the host will ask you, "Uena ka Khotso?" – Are you at peace?  It means, "Have you had enough?  Are you satisfied, happy?  Are you at peace with yourself?"  They believe that when you are physically well, you are spiritually content also.  They firmly believe that there is no peace without justice, and there is no want with justice. 

When one lacks inner peace and is frustrated and insecure, one tends to be violent.  Secondly, one is driven to anger and unhappiness, when one is treated unjustly.  Humans have known this for tens of centuries.  But we have not taken the idea seriously and have made the same mistakes over and over again. 

We can learn a lot from those nomadic traditions about peace and about justice.  Our idea of peace has long been dominated by a notion of "Pax Romana" – Roman peace.  It comes from the idea that there is peace when a powerful nation dominates others by force, just as the Roman Empire did dominating others absolutely by force for six hundred years.  We still believe in that peace can be achieved when one overpowers others by force.  But the idea never worked because importance of peace of mind based on justice was completely ignored.

No empire has ever achieved enduring peace.  The longest lasting empire we have known was the Roman Empire.  But the millennium that followed was a history of bloody conflicts.  The British one lasted not even two hundred years.  Domination by the Americans and the Russians has not even lasted one century and is already slipping.  And whenever the empires fall, violence and blood-shed follow.  Many of the regional conflicts today are rooted in the histories of empires.  It shows no sign that the peace enforced by those empires has any lasting effect.  Hatred that has been festering while being ruled by force demands settling of scores.  Look at Northern Ireland.  Look at former Yugoslavia.  The whole of Balkan is suffering from the memories of three fallen empires.  They still remember the atrocities committed to each other and by those empires.  And they fiercely hate each other.  Has the British victory at the Plain of Abraham produced an enduring peace in Canada?   Apparently it didn”t, judging from the never ending threat of separation .

When do we ever learn?  Haven”t we ever learnt that there can never be enduring peace unless there is justice?  Haven”t we ever learned that there can never be justice unless there is love?  Where there is no love there is no peace of mind.  Where there is no love, there is greed and self-centredness.  And greed and self-centredness are the causes of injustice.  A vicious circle goes around and around.

We are waiting for the arrival of the gift from God.    We are waiting for the era of peace that began with the birth of Jesus.  We are going to celebrate the birthday of the one who declared the new regime.  Let us wait actively for the coming of peace – real peace of shalom, salaam, and khotso, with excitement, joy, and determination, not just in this season of Advent but also in our daily life at all times.  Our waiting may seem hopeless, just as the magnificat sounded crazy.  But why not?  The dream of one unmarried teenage mother-to-be came true with the birth of Christ 2000 years ago.

A: WE CAN”T CRAM FOR ENTRANCE INTO HEAVEN – FOURTH SUNDAY OF NOVEMBER

WE CAN”T CRAM FOR ENTRANCE INTO HEAVEN

Ezekiel 34:11-19, Psalm 100, Matthew 25:31-46

November 24, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

I don”t want to be a teenager again. It is because I still have nightmares about exams. You must remember those frantic sleepless nights before examinations? Cramming, cramming without understanding what was going into the brain. It was like swallowing marbles which could never be digested. I always knew that there was a better way to prepare for exams. I knew that studying everyday little by little would make preparation a lot easier. Then the night before would be a simple process of organizing what is already in one”s brain. That should be a lot easier than cramming hundreds of pages in one night. I had known this, but I was too busy doing other things. So this fool suffered before every exam.

It is like that in the kingdom of God. If you have to cram to meet God, it is usually too late. The way to heaven is to be an ordinary good person everyday. It is like prayer. If you don”t have a habit of praying every now and then, you don”t know how to pray when you really need it. It is also like going to church. It feels natural to go to church, if you go regularly. But if you have never been to church, you need courage to go even near the place. It is like a foot path in a bush. If it is well trodden, it is easy to find it. But it is not used, soon undergrowth will cover it all up. Today”s Gospel selection is teaching us the importance of being everyday kind of a good person. It tells us that you can not cram for entrance into heaven. Doing good deeds have to become a routine of your life.

In the early church, where these parables were first told, many people were expecting an imminent second coming of Jesus. Atmosphere was highly charged with expectations. In fact, they became fanatics doing many strange things. They believed that Jesus would return very soon. They believed that on that day of coming those who would be saved would be separated from those who would be damned. So many of them believed that their normal lives were no longer important. Some of them stopped working. Some others stopped paying taxes. They got so excited and stopped following a normal pattern of life.

This is why the leaders of the church tried very hard to tell people that the heaven, the kingdom of God, the final judgement day, the second coming of Jesus Christ, or whatever the way it was described, was not distinct from a normal life of a good person. In fact, it would be an everyday life of an ordinary good person that would be celebrated on that day. For one thing, no human could tell when such a special day would come. Paul said that the day would come unexpectedly like a thief at night. So the Apostles told people to be prepared for it all the time. They told the Christians, to live a normal life as a good person everyday. The life of a Christian should be like a walking with Jesus everyday. In fact, according to this way of thinking, everyday is the day of coming, and every person you meet is Jesus Christ.

The leaders of the church also tried to tell people that for God time was very different from ours. Psalm spoke about God”s time, "a thousand years, for God, is like yesterday, like a flash of a second." You can not guess God”s timing, because it has a different scale from ours. As a story goes, a greedy man was trying to make a deal with God. He asked God, "Is it true that for you one second is like our thousand years?" God said, "Yes, that is true." "Does that mean," he continued, "a million dollars for us is like a penny for you?" God said, "I suppose you could say that." Now he is so excited, "Will you spare me a penny?" God replied, "Why, sure, no problem. Wait a second." If we try to second guess God”s timing, we are in for disappointment. Basically we don”t know God”s time; we don”t know the day of coming. And we won”t know who Jesus is, how he looks like, even if he is with us face to face. So the Bible teaches us that we must live as though everyday is like the final judgement day, and treat everybody as though the person is the Lord Jesus himself.

On the judgement day, Jesus said, anybody who was kind to anybody else, even to criminals will be remembered. Jesus was a criminal also, if you remember how he died. In fact, Jesus was telling us to be an ordinary good person doing normal decent things to anyone whose path we cross. It is normal for any of us to give a cup of water, when we see anyone thirsty. It is normal for us to visit a sick person. There is no big deal. But that”s the moment and the place where we meet God. The other side of the coin is; if we wait for some special moment, neglecting ordinary good deeds, you are neglecting God. Everyday is the day of coming, and every person you meet is Christ.

In the parable of Good Samaritan, there were two persons who did not help a desperately wounded person, and passed him by. One was a priest and the other was a Levite. Priest was a person designated to conduct worship services in the Temple. A Levite belonged to a special class designated to attend the business of the Temple, sort of like our Stewards. They were both the especially chosen people to serve God. They must have had good reasons not to bother with a wounded man on the way from Jericoh. They had more important things to do than wasting time to save a wretched man. They had to serve God. They had to get to a meeting of Stewards. But Jesus said, no, they were wrong. To serve God is to be kind to a person in need who happens to run into to you.

A society that depends on people to be good only on some special day could not function too well. A special day must be a day to highlight or to celebrate our daily life. Mother”s Day is not the only day to be good to mothers. If we don”t think about our mothers after Mother”s Day the rest of the time, we are in a big trouble. If you love your child only on his or her birthday, you have a dysfunctional family. Christmas is not the only time to remember Christ. It is the day to celebrate everyday Christ.

I don”t think that God is asking us to be extraordinary. To give someone a cup of water or to give some clothes, to visit a sick person; those are not particularly heroic deeds that require a exceptional courage. They are normal things which any ordinary person would do. You may not have visited people in prisons, but you have visited lonely persons or troubled people. Those are ordinary good deeds for ordinary people.

God meets us in the ordinary. God is in everybody we meet. But if you make ordinary good deeds a routine of your life, you are already in the kingdom. You don”t need any special day, or any heroic deeds to meet God. If doing good and kindly deeds is your daily routine, you may be in a big surprise to find how brave and heroic, godly and saintly you can be without any special effort. If you walk with Jesus everyday, Christ-like nature will become your second personality.

 

B: TO BE A FOOL IN ORDER TO BE WISE – THIRD SUNDAY OF AUGUST

TO BE A FOOL IN ORDER TO BE WISE

1 Kings 3:16-28, Psalm 111(VU833 1 Cor 3:18

August 20, 2006 at Southminster

VU:409,371,506,663

A car was going around and round the blocks. Seeing it coming around his house several times, a man who was working in a front yard asked if he was lost. "Can I help you find what you are looking for?" "No, no, no. I know where I’m going." He said. "There is a gas station selling the cheapest gas around here. I’m trying to empty the tank, so I can fill it."

Often, people who think they are very smart do the most stupid things. King Solomon, who was considered to be the most smart king in Israel, knew that. So he is the one who wrote the most pessimistic literature in the Bible. The story of King Solomon teaches us about the limitation of humans, even those who may be very gifted and wise and successful, nevertheless are flawed.

Solomon was the most successful king of all times, not only in the history of Israel but also in the stories of all kings. Under his reign, Israel became a powerful country extending its borders from the present day Israel to Jordan, to Lebanon and to Syria, and even to Egypt. The country became very wealthy. Solomon was successful economically, militarily, politically. But most importantly, he was known for his wisdom. When he became a king, he first asked God for wisdom and nothing else. He was not only a successful king, but he was also a wise king, as the episode in today”s lesson shows.

In fact, many of "Wisdom Literature" in the Bible are said to have been written by King Solomon. They are the Ecclesiastes, the Proverbs, the Song of Songs, and some Psalms. My favourite is from the Ecclesiastes; "For everything, there is a season. A time for every matter under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to love and a time to hate. Etc." Some of them are humorous. For example, in Proverbs he says, "If you are wise, you will keep your mouth shut." Or, "To live with someone who talks all the time is worse than living in hell." Some are full of humanity. The Song of Songs is the loveliest of all love songs. The fact that such a love song is in the Bible is an affirmation of human sexuality.

However, what is most interesting is the fact that King Solomon himself ended up sceptical about his achievements. Furthermore, he did not succeed in creating an enduring kingdom: in fact his kingdom crumbled immediately after he died, and split up into two countries causing the eventual demise of the Jewish nation. Because he was extremely wise, he was able to realize how limited humans were. The Ecclesiastes, which I believe to be the best writings of King Solomon, is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. In it, he expressed his disappointments in life. In chapter one, he said, "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. – It is useless, useless. Life is useless, all is useless. You spend your life working hard, labouring, and what do you have to show for it? Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same. What”s the use?" Why did such a successful man, like Solomon, end up so disappointed and pessimistic?

A Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy made the same point in a story. There was a man who was given all the land he wanted if he could go around it on foot in a day. So,at dawn, he started to run. At one point, of course, he could not go on any more because he was absolutely exhausted. But with determination he staggered on. As the Sun was setting in the West, he was crawling but still trying to grab more land. He did make it back to the place where he started out when the Sun disappeared. But he was completely exhausted, in fact he died a moment after the Sunset. In the end, all the land he acquired for free was a piece of land with a size of 3 by 6 feet, where a hole was dug to bury his body. Now then, the question is: is all we do in this life is useless, because we die anyway? Is what we do is so useless that we should do nothing?

Some people believe that. They think that the best way is to get away from the world and spend the rest of your life in meditation. I don”t think that King Solomon was saying that. For one thing, he tried his best to be a good king, for people and for the country. And he was a good king and a wise one, too. His country benefited from his wisdom and achievements. This is why he is fondly remembered even today. But because he tried his best, he got to know that what we do had limitations. He found that his achievements fell far short of the goal. In fact without God, he found them useless. He felt the need of something more, to make life worthwhile. Solomon in the Ecclesiastes, said, "Remember your creator in the days of your youth.", as though to say, "whatever you do, you do it with God in mind." He also said, "The ultimate way to become wise is to honour God."

Albert Einstein, who was considered to be the best scientist of the 20th Century, said, "Science without religion is blind and dangerous. Religion without science is crazy." Science is one of the most important human enterprises. And the best scientist we have ever known in the last century believed that human endeavour was dangerous without God. And only lazy people, who don”t believe in science turn their religions into superstitions.

Of course, the first article of faith in the Christian teaching is "God is love." Therefore to honour God is to love. This is why Paul in his letter to the Corinthians said, "You may have to be a fool in the eyes of humans in order to be wise in the eyes of God." He said it because the way of love may seem foolish if you don”t know God. If you don”t believe that ultimately the wisdom of God is love, you will have no choice but to see Jesus Christ as the most foolish person ever lived on the earth. It is because for love of other people he died. But for those who believe in the love of God, Christ showed us the true way – indeed the way of wisdom of God. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR A: BUILD A HIGHWAY FOR JESUS – ADEVNT 1

ISAIAH 40:1-11, PSALM 85, MARK 1:1-8

When you take a drawing lesson, you will probably do an interesting exercise.  The teacher gives you a pencil drawn picture of a face of a person, and tells you to put it upside down, and to copy it as exactly as you see it, upside down.  A human face doesn”t look like you think it should look, when you see it upside down.  So you have to look at every millimetre of every line carefully and faithfully, to reproduce what you see.  I guarantee you, it does not look like anything you know.  Once you finish the drawing and put it rightside up, you will see a more accurate duplicate than the one you could draw looking at the picture right-side up.  When you have a picture of a face right-side up, you do not look at the face in the picture as carefully as you should, because you think you know a human face looks like.  But it is an assumption.  Then, unconsciously you draw what you think a face should look like, and not what you really see.

Assumption often betrays truth.  When you think you know, and start acting according to that belief, you can be completely unaware when you make mistakes.  This point was made by the recent revelation of how badly three particular murder cases had been handled by the Canadian justice system.  Three men were tried, found guilty, and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.  Donald Marshall, Guy-Paul Morin, and David Milgaard were found innocent by a confession of the witness who lied, in the case of Marshall, and DNA tests, for Morin and Milgaard, after spending decades in prison.  In all three cases, the men who were really guilty were found and sentenced.   

The whole justice system assumed that the guilty men had been caught.  No one, in the Police, the Provincial prosecution services, the courts, or the Federal Justice Department had the intention of subverting justice.  But the system had assumed those men”s guilt.  Those three men were outsiders and stereotypical losers – the types of people easily assumed to be shady characters, if not criminals.  Donald Marshall is a Micmac Indian, David Milgaard was a rebellious long haired teenager, and Guy-Paul Morin was a rare Francophone in South Western Ontario.  They were all at the wrong places at the wrong time, when the crimes were committed.  The whole justice system had assumed their guilt.  So with all the resources available, the whole Canadian justice system went out of its way to build up the case against them.  The Police and the courts believed they were right, so they did not see the point of looking at other evidence, which would have proved them wrong.  Their minds were shut and they did not see other possibilities.  Their minds were made up, and no facts could disturb their resolute.

From time to time, we all need to question assumptions to get to the truth.  I believe that this is what the messages in Isaiah and Mark mean when they said, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God."  It is like Curling.  A heavy stone is slowly moving, and the sweepers must clear the way furiously.  In the Bible, this action to clear the way is called repentance.  Repentance is not just to say "I am sorry."  It means completely clearing the mind of all assumptions and to start afresh with an open mind.  You have to look at life up-side down, to rid yourself of biases and to see what life really is.  It is not always easy to forget the old assumptions, and try something completely new with an open mind.  All of us want to believe we have been right all along.

Both Isaiah and Mark spoke about calling people to repent in the wilderness.  In the desert, nothing functions as you expect.  When the path ahead looks completely safe, it may be a cover for a deadly hazard.  You don”t take anything for granted in the desert.  I was travelling in the Sahara on an uneventful boring day.  Suddenly, the driver forced the gears into reverse and the Land Rover violently jerked backward.  We had narrowly avoided quick sand.  Even an experienced driver who travelled the desert thousands of times didn”t see a patch of quick sand.  The wilderness is a dangerous place, because there you can not assume anything.  Everything is unpredictable.  Experienced explorers know that you must respect the desert and never take the wilderness for granted.

In our life too, we all run into "deserts" – times of  life, when nothing looks familiar.  It can be a happy experience or can be a sad one.  It can be exhilarating or can be devastating.  It is a very unsettling place to be.  But it can also be a very creative place and time.  Nobody knows what”s going to happen.  Everybody is equal in the wilderness.  All of us, poor or rich,  can get lost.  Thirst, hunger, loneliness, and heat hit everybody equally.  Age, experience, wealth, social standing, and nationality don”t give you any advantage nor disadvantage over others.  Successful persons can be humiliated because nothing they know or own is any good in the desert.  On the other hand, you may find amazing strength to endure all sorts of difficulties among those people who are on the bottom of social scale.  Like the prophesy of Isaiah predicts,"  All the dents of humiliation are filled and lifted, and all the bumps of arrogance is knocked down and levelled."  In the wilderness, all are equal.  Only those with open minds will survive and thrive in the desert.  That is where and when Jesus Christ comes to meet with us.

Advent is time to learn about preparation.  Isaiah said, "Prepare the highway in the wilderness for the Lord.  Fill up the valley and knock down the rocky hills."  In other words, we must sweep away the garbage of assumptions to keep an open mind, knock down the hills of arrogance, and fill up the valley of sagging spirits.  That”s the way to prepare the way for Christ child.

Introduction

The sermons recorded here are the ones I gave mainly at Howick United Church in Quebec, Canada between 1995 and 2001.  A few more sermons were added after my retirement.  They are the ones I gave in Southern Alberta as a pulpit supply.  They are in a chronological order.  

They are not copyrighted.  You are welcome to quote any part or whole.

Year A began in December, 1995 and December, 2001, and 2004.
Year B from December, 1996 and December, 1999, 2002, and 2005.
Year C from April, 1995 and December, 2000, and 2003.

“ADVENT1, etc.” are Sundays in December until Christmas
“CHRISTMAS SUNDAY” is the one closest to Christmas
“FIRST (and SECOND) SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS” is the one between Christmas and January 6 (Epiphany)
“EPIPHANY” is the one closest to January 6.
“EPIPHANY1,etc.” are the Sundays between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.  (Up to ninth Sunday, normally January until March)
“LENT1,etc.” are the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter (Up to 6th Sunday)
“PALM SUNDAY (or LENT 6)” is the one before Easter
“EASTER1,etc.” (Sundays, including Easter day,  until Pentecost – up to 7th Sunday)
“PENTECOST” is the day of Pentecost.
“PENTECOST 1" (or Trinity Sunday)
Sundays after Pentecost between May 29 and November 26 are dated as "FIRST SUNDAY OF JUNE," Etc.

B: FRUITS OF WISDOM – Third Sunday of August

Fruits of Wisdom

1 Kings 3:3b – 13,16-28, Psalm 111(VU833

1 Cor 3:18 – 19, 4:10

August 20, 2006 at Southminster United Church

by Tad Mitsui

One car was seen going around and round the block. A man working in the garden asked if he could help. He said, "No. I know where I’m going. There is a gas station selling the cheapest gas around. It’s just that a little bit of gas is still in the tank, you see. I want to fill it up."

Often, very smart people do very stupid things. Truly wise people know they do stupid things sometimes. King Solomon, who was considered to be the wisest king ever existed in Israel, knew that there was a limit to human intellgence. This is why he wrote the most bleak literature in the Bible. He believed that those who might be very wise and successful, could still be deficient.

Solomon was the most successful king of all times, not only in Israel but also among all kings and leaders. Under his reign, Israel became a powerful country extending its borders from the present day Israel to Jordan, to Lebanon and to Syria, and even to Egypt. The country became very wealthy. Solomon was successful economically, militarily, and politically. But most importantly, he was known for his wisdom. When he became a king, he first asked God for wisdom and nothing else. He was not only a successful king, but he was also a wise king, as the story in today”s lesson shows.

In fact, many of so-called "Wisdom Literature" in the Bible are said to have been written by King Solomon. They are the Ecclesiastes, the Proverbs, the Song of Songs, and many Psalms. My favourite is from the Ecclesiastes; "For everything, there is a season. A time for every matter under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to love and a time to hate. Etc." Some of them are earthy and funny. For example, in Proverbs there are sayings like: "If you are wise, you will keep your mouth shut." Or, "To live with someone who talks all the time is worse than living in hell." Some are full of humanity. The Song of Songs is the loveliest of all love songs. The fact that such a love song is in the Bible is an affirmation of human sexuality.

However, what is most interesting is the fact that King Solomon ended up being sceptical about his achievements. Because he was wise, he was able to realize how limited humans were. The Ecclesiastes, which I believe to be the best writings of King Solomon, is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. In it, he expressed his disappointments in life. In chapter one, he said, "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. – It is useless, useless. Life is useless, all is useless. You spend your life working hard, labouring, and what do you have to show for it? Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same. What”s the use?" Why did such a successful man, like Solomon, end up so disappointed and pessimistic?

A Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy made the same point, in one story. The story goes like this: there was a man who was told that he could get all the land he wanted provided he could go around it on foot in one day. So, at dawn, he started to run. By late afternoon, of course, he could not go on any more. He was absolutely worn out. But with incredible determination he staggered on. As the Sun was setting in the West, he was crawling but still trying to grab more land. He did make it back to the place where he started out when the Sun disappeared in the west. But he died of exhaustion right after the Sunset. In the end, all the land he acquired for free was a piece of land with a size of 3 by 6 feet, where was buried. Now then, the question is: is all we do in this life is useless, because we die anyway? Is what we do is so useless that we should do nothing?

Some people believe that. They think that the best way is to get away from the world and spend the rest of your life in meditation. I don”t think that is what King Solomon was saying. For one thing, he tried his best to be a good king, for people and for the country. And he was a good king and a wise one, too. His country benefited from his wisdom and achievements. But because he tried so hard, he realized that all humans had limitations. He found that his achievements fell far short of the goal. In fact without God, he found them useless. He felt the need of something more, much more, to make life worthwhile. Solomon in toward the end of the Ecclesiastes, said, "Remember your creator in the days of your youth.", as though to say, "whatever you do, you do it with God in mind from the beginning." He also said, "The ultimate way to become wise is to honour God."

Albert Einstein, who was considered to be the best scientist of the 20th Century, once said, "Science without religion is blind and dangerous. Religion without science is crazy." Science is one of the most important human enterprises. And the best scientist we have ever known in the last century believed that human endeavour was dangerous without God. And only lazy people, who don”t believe in science and do not use their minds, turn their religions into superstitions.

The first article of faith in the Christian teaching is "God is love." Therefore to honour God is to love others. This is why Paul in his letter to the Corinthians said, "You may have to be a fool in the eyes of humans in order to be wise in the eyes of God." He said it because the way of love may seem foolish if you don”t know God. If you don”t believe that ultimately the wisdom of God is love, you will have no choice but to see Jesus Christ as the most stupid person ever lived on the earth. It is because he died in order to love people. But for those who believe in the love of God, Christ showed us the true way – indeed the way of wisdom of God. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: Two Beginnings – Epiphany 2

TWO BEGINNINGS

Genesis 1:1-15, Psalm 29 , Mark 1:7-11

January 12, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

 

A famous entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes, who opened up Africa for the British Empire, asked the colonial authority to send many missionaries to Africa because, "They are cheaper than the policemen." Slave owners of the American South made church attendance compulsory for the slaves, because they believed that the church made them docile. There are many other examples of miss-use of religion in our history. When people lack self-confidence and feel insecure, they are easy targets for exploitation. Many times in our history, people in power used religions to impose their will on others. Their standard lines were: "You are a sinner. you are not good enough. So you must follow me, because I know what God wants. Just trust me." Abuse of power of the church is legendary in the Quebec politics until only twenty some years ago.

God created the world and everything in it, and he said it was good. The one of the most important points here is that it was good and that God was happy with it. Affirming the basic goodness of creation is very important for us. I say this because we are often not too sure about ourselves and we get hurt easily when we are criticized. When someone reinforces our sense of inadequacy and convinces us that we are not good enough, we often find ourselves defenceless against other people”s ways.

People in power, from time to time, abused religion in order to exploit people by emphasizing the original sin and by down-playing the original blessing of creation. The creation story, if you read it without prejudice, tells us that the world began with a blessing. "That”s good.", said God after he created each item. God wanted the world and everything in it to be the way they are. The world is not bad. We are not bad. Let us not be deceived to think that there is anything wrong with us. God loves us. We do make many mistakes in our lives for sure. But that does not mean there is something fundamentally wrong with us. There is nothing wrong with us even though we make mistakes. Let us celebrate goodness in us and around us.

Incidentally, there is an important lesson for parents here. We have duties to teach our children difference between right and wrong. But, while we do this, we must never give the impression that our children are not good enough. They make mistakes, but they are not bad. Punishment must be meted out, if you must, to correct their mistakes, not to condemn them. We must always make sure our children know that their parents always love them even when they make mistakes and have to be punished. When they do not feel that they are not loved, hence do not feel that they are accepted, they make themselves open to evil suggestions. We are not bad, but evil will come into us when we can not believe in our goodness.

We humans began our life on this planet by being good and acceptable. So we began with blessing. So did other animals, plants, and other natural elements. However, the Bible also tells us that there is difference between human being and other creatures. We do not know the exact nature of this difference. Genesis describes the difference by saying that God created humans according to God”s likeness. Even though we do not know what makes us distinct from other creatures, we know that it comes from the belief that all of us have a bit of God in us. And we call it spirituality. We are different from other creatures, because we are spiritual.

In our Christian tradition, we affirm our spirituality in baptism. When Jesus was baptized, he heard a voice of God saying, "You are my beloved son. I am very pleased with you." You notice the resemblance between the above sentence and God”s expression of satisfaction in the story of creation. But the difference is: in the creation story, God”s expression of satisfaction was a monologue. He was talking to himself that he was happy with what he made. But at the time of baptism, God spoke to Jesus and told him that he was pleased with him. Likewise, God wants humans to know that God is happy with us, because we are created with a spiritual ability to discern God”s will. We are capable of appreciating what it means to be acceptable in the eyes of God.

Practice of baptism is not unique to Christianity. Many religions use water as a symbol of divine cleansing power. In Judaism, converts went through water as the final rite to become Jews. However, at the time when Jesus lived, there were a group of Jews, who wanted to revitalize their religion by forming a community of committed believers. They were called the Essenes. They lived separately in the desert in a community of men and women, just like monks in a monastery. And baptism was the rite of entry into this community. For them, the act of going through water symbolized cleansing of their tired old religious life, and entry into a renewed spiritual life. We now know that John the Baptist belonged to the Essenes. In other words, Baptism was not only the rite of entering into a community, but also affirmation of the original blessing: of being accepted and being loved by God.

Today the strength of traditional religions are on the decline in the West. In this juncture, it is very important for people like us who are still committed to the spiritual way of life to affirm the purpose our lives. Recently, Bill Gates, founder and the CEO of the computer program producer Microsoft at the age of 41 the America”s richest man , was interviewed by the "time" magazine. On paper, he made $10.9 billion last year, $30 million a day. He has made money by reproducing a bit of human brains in computer programs. He was asked by the reporter if ever computers can completely copy and replace human mind. He had to think for weeks before he answered in writing. He said, "Human mind is a creation that must not be compared to computer programs. Even the parts of human mind that can be explained by science have an underlying purpose that can be explained only by religion." In baptism, we celebrate our spiritual being, the part that is beyond science; the part that explains meaning of our existence; the part that enables us to accept and love other beyond reason.

Adam and Eve represent the first human beings in physical sense. For Christians, however, Jesus represents the first human who acknowledged Godliness in every one of us when he was baptized. Let us celebrate goodness of creation. And let us celebrate godliness in all of us.

YEAR B: WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? – FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Isaiah 2 : 1 – 5, Matthew 24 : 36 – 44

A period of four weeks before Christmas is called Advent.  It is the time of waiting for the arrival.  As children wait for Santa Claus, we look forward to the coming of the new world brought to us with the birth of Jesus Christ.

This expectation for the new world is expressed in one word in three languages; Salaam in Arabic, Shalom in Hebrew, and Khotso in Sesotho of the African Bantu.  They all have the same meaning, somewhat inadequately translated into English as "peace".  All of them are used still today as a most common form of greeting.   It means "Hello and good-bye." –  for meeting and parting.  When they meet, they wish each other peace.  And likewise they bid each other peace as they go separate ways.  They don”t think  about the meaning of the word nowadays just like we don”t think about the meaning of our greetings.

It is a pity  because I believe that this is the world”s most profound way of greeting.  A theology professor at Harvard Theological School by the name of Harvey Cox once told a touching story about the use of this word for greeting.  When a Jewish mother was separated from her child before she was shipped off to a Nazi extermination camp during the second world war, she hugged the child and said, "Shalom."   They ran into each other at the port of Haifa in Palestine five years later.  Miraculously both the mother and the child survived the death camps.  When they hugged each other, in tears they only said "Shalom."  That was enough.

It was enough because the word contains all the important ingredients of the perfect world under the reign of God.  Prophet Isaiah in today”s lesson described very succinctly this notion of shalom.  God will bring justice to the world.  And when that happens people beat the swords into ploughshares and will hear of war no more.  There is justice hence there is peace.  In the language I learned to preach in Africa, the same notion of peace is expressed in the word – Khotso.  It also has all the important ingredients of the better world, just like the Hebrew word – shalom.

In Lesotho, when you finish a dinner, for example, the host will ask you, "Uena ka Khotso?" – Are you at peace?  It means, "Have you had enough?  Are you satisfied, happy?  Are you at peace with yourself?"  They believe that when you are physically well, you are spiritually content also.  It also means there is justice thus no discord.  There is no violence among people.  When one comes into a village or into a home, one stands at the entrance raising both hands with the palms open showing that one holds no weapon, and says "Khotso."  This gesture means, "I come in peace, I am defenceless. Please include me in, and treat me like one of you."  In a society where everything is shared, being admitted into a community means one is treated justly.  They firmly believe that there is no peace without justice, and there is no want with justice.  You never starve unless everybody starves.

We can learn a lot from those nomadic traditions about peace and about justice.  On the other hand, our idea of peace has long been dominated by a notion of "Pax Romana" – Roman peace.  It comes from the idea that there is peace when a powerful nation dominates others by force, just as the Roman Empire did and controlled all of the Mediterranean region with its armies and wealth.  For as long as we know in human history, the idea has been firmly entrenched that peace could be achieved only when one dominates the others absolutely by force .  We still believe in it.  The idea never worked because justice and peace of mind were ignored.

When we lack inner peace we tend to resort to violence.  When one is frustrated or insecure, one tends to be violent.  Secondly, one is driven to anger and unhappiness, when one is treated unjustly or sees injustice done to others.  Humans have had this notion of peace combined with justice, for tens of centuries.  But we have not taken the idea seriously and have made the same mistakes over and over again. 

No empire has ever achieved enduring peace.  The longest lasting empire we have known in history was the Roman Empire, that lasted for about six centuries.  But the millennium that followed was a history of bloody conflicts, including crusades, 100 year war, 30 year war, the war of roses, etc.  The British one lasted not even two.  Domination by the Americans and the Russians has not even lasted one century and is already slipping.  And when they fall, violence and blood-shed follow.  Many of the regional conflicts today are rooted in the histories of empires.  It shows no sign that the peace enforced by those empires has any lasting effect.  Hatred that has been festering while being ruled by force demands settling of scores.  Look at Northern Ireland.  Look at former Yugoslavia.  The whole of Balkan is suffering from the memories of three fallen empires. The Roman Empire gave the Catholic Croatians upper hands over the Orthodox Serbians.  The Ottoman Empire gave upper hands to Muslim Bosnian over both Croatians and Serbians.  And the Communist Empire gave Serbians upper hands over Croatians and Muslims.  Consequently they still remember the atrocities committed to each other and by those empires.  And they fiercely hate each other.  Has the British victory at the Plain of Abraham produced an enduring peace in Canada?  It seemed to have caused more enduring dissatisfaction on the part of one group of people than it solved, judging from the never ending threat of separation.

When do we ever learn?  When do we ever learn to beat swords into ploughshares?  Haven”t we ever learnt that there can never be enduring peace unless there is justice?  Haven”t we ever learned that there can never be justice unless there is peace of mind?  Where there is no peace of mind there is no love.  Where there is no love, there is greed and self-centredness.  And greed and self-centredness drive us into participating in a structures of injustice.  A vicious circle goes around and around.

Today marks the beginning of the preparation time to for the imminent arrival.  We are waiting for the arrival of the gift from God.  What is this gift that we are waiting for?  We are waiting for the completion of the heaven in this world that began with the birth of Jesus.  We are going to celebrate the birthday of the one who declared the new regime.  How long do we have to wait?  Noone knows.  But it is coming surely because it has been declared and is here partially. 

Do we then just wait?  It all depends what sort of waiting you do.  You can wait by just sitting doing nothing.  Or you can wait actively.  When you wait for someone or something and look forward to the arrival, you do all sorts things for preparation and remain mentally active by letting your brain tick, tick, tick.  It is so exciting to wait though a bit anxious.  Likewise, when you wait for the gift of God, completion of the Kingdom of God, you wait actively by working for the Kingdom of God. 

When you are not keen on the coming of something or somebody like a dentist”s appointment, you wait passively and do nothing.  You even dread its arrival.  You hope that it goes away.  But when we wait actively, we prepare joyfully.  We can show our love of others with gifts to the loved ones and to show our concerns about the people who had set-backs, met misfortune, and are not well.  Those are good projects to participate in the building up of the Kingdom of God.

Let us wait actively for the coming of peace – real peace of shalom, salaam, and khotso, with excitement, joy, and determination, not just this season of Advent but also in our daily life always.

 

Who found Jesus?

WHO FOUND JESUS?

Isaiah 60:1-4, Psalm 72:1-7, Matthew 2:1-12

January 5, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

January 6 is known as "Epiphany" according to the traditional Christian calender. The Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on this day. It is the day to commemorate the coming of the wise men from the East bearing gifts to worship the baby Jesus. They were foreigners – gentiles or pagans to the Jews. They believed that divine revelations were visible in the movements of stars. We celebrate this day, because it was the first time Jesus revealed himself to the believers of a different religion. The story of the wise men also tells us that God will find us when we find meaning in our occupations and are committed to the things we do in them.

What is interesting is the fact that the Bible reports only two rather odd groups of people who visited the baby Jesus. They were the shepherds and the wise men of the East. Priests and scholars knew that the Bible had predicted that the birth of a special child would take place in Bethlehem. But they did not bother to go to Bethlehem. The king was interested to know about it solely because he wanted to kill the baby who might become a threat to his throne. The inn keeper who refused Mary and Joseph, obviously, did not know anything about the birth of the Messiah. Other ordinary people did not know anything about it. The shepherds and the magi were the least expected kind of people God would invite to meet his new born child.

The shepherds were nomads who were in search of grazing land all the time. They did not have normal homes. They cooked, ate, and slept in the open or in tents. Their security was all in animals, and was always precarious. They had a hard life. They wore rags, rarely washed themselves, and had weather-worn leathery skin. Being a shepherd was not just a job; it was a full-time way of life. Ordinarily, they lived on the edge of the human community, away from normal social life. They must have been like modern-day Gypsies, who still live on the edges of settled communities, often in trailers in parking lots of England and other continental European countries. They are never like other people nor do they try to be. They live their own lives. They are stubbornly bonded to their life-style.

The magi came from the east of Palestine. There were people from ancient Persia, which is the present day Iran, who believed that stars determined the destiny of people. It was in ancient Persia where astrology was developed. *Many people in our society today believe in astrology, as you know.* Because every movement of stars was important, watching stars, recording and predicting their movements were a full-time occupation for many highly educated people. They were a respected class of intellectuals, because people believed that they could predict the future. But they were definitely not priests, prophets, or teachers of the Jewish religion. They were not expected to make an important discovery about the religion of the Old Testament. They were after all gentiles – pagans. Why should these unlikely people be the ones who found Jesus first? It”s humbling to realize that the Bible is speaking about the believers of another religion and homeless herders as the only ones permitted to meet the Holy Child during his very first few days in this world.

Here you must understand the notion of vocation to understand this puzzle. The word – vocation comes from a Latin word – "vocatio". It means "to call" or "to summon". It comes from the idea that God called or summoned you to do a certain thing. It can be the same thing as a job or an occupation. But often it is not. You are lucky if your vocation and your job are the same thing. In your vocation, you are committed to the things that you do, because you believe that God is calling you to do them. Your vocation makes your life important and meaningful. It makes your life a pleasure: something worth living. One person told me that she just loved what she did, and that she felt lucky to be paid for what she does. Some people have a job in order to pursue a vocation which is different from the job, because their vocation does not provide a living. Many artists are committed to pursue their art, which often does not pay. So they are used to the idea that they have to have jobs to support themselves, to allow them to pursue the real purpose of their lives, which are their vocations. Many Catholic religious orders are operating on that principle. They make a living by making cheeze, teaching school or becoming nurses; but they do these things only so they are able to pray, to study the Bible, or to serve people.

The wise men of the East and the shepherds had vocations. They were totally committed to doing what they were doing. In fact, those men from the East must have gambled everything they owned to undertake the journey to Bethlehem. Travelling in those days was a hazardous undertaking. They had to provide their own modes of transportation, which were not affordable to many people. There were no maps. Predators of both animal and human kind were many. It was a very costly venture. It was a gamble. They might have believed in a different religion, but they were totally committed to what they believed to be their vocation. The shepherds were committed to their vocation, too. They were not ashamed of their work, though other people thought them to be a lower class. God rewards those who are committed to their vocations by revealing the truth.

On the other hand, some people corrupt their vocation by compromising their commitments. Those priests and Biblical scholars who surrounded the king did not want to displease the king. So they did not follow what they were supposed to have believed. They did not do what the Bible said they should. Ministers of religions, medical doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, and teachers have the types of jobs that require a sense of vocation. But we know that, unfortunately, some of them don”t live like the ones who have vocations. Ambitions for wealth, power, and often mere vanity corrupt them. They lose their vocations by making them mere jobs they do for living. They no longer have commitments. They no longer feel that God is calling them to do anything. Those without a sense of vocation will inevitably miss the new born Jesus, even if they know, in theory, where to find him.

The story of the wise men of the East is an indictment against those who compromise themselves and pursue ulterior goals while pretending to work for noble causes. It is also a celebration of those who find meaning for their lives in what they do, and are committed to doing the things they believe God called them to do. All of us have been called by God to do some meaningful work in our lives. Salvation is revealed to those who find meaning in their work. When you find the meaning of life, you have found the baby Jesus.

B; THE WISE AND THE FOOL – SECOND SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

THE WISE AND THE FOOL

Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, Mark 8:27-38

September 14, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

I once had a colleague who came from Cape Breton Island. She told me that there were eight Gaelic words meaning "fool." They were all graded, from the ordinary kind found everywhere to the absolutely hopeless case. According to her, the worst fool in Gaelic means an "arrogant and stubborn old man." The book of Proverbs lists two kinds of fools. My Bible has two words – "simpleton" and "scoffer". Others versions use words like insolent one, brazen one, ignorant one or one who mocks. It shows that there are many kinds of fools. However, a common feature in all of them is their inability to hear the voice of wisdom, either because of stupidity or of their arrogance.

I heard of a man who drove around and around the gas station that sold cheap gas until the tank was empty, so that he could fill it with cheap gas. He thought he was being smart, I guess. And the worst foolishness is an inability to hear the voice of wisdom. "Fools despise wisdom and instruction." says Proverbs. On the other hand, the truly wise person fears God. Proverbs says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." When you respect God, many human attributes fade into the background. In other words, a wise person is humble and sensitive enough to be able to listen and to see things beyond the surface. Humility enables one to discern wisdom despite appearances. On the other hand, a fool can not see beyond the surface.

If you fear God, you find wisdom everywhere. Proverbs describes wisdom by saying, "She cries out on the streets, in the town squares, and in the market places. But fools do not see her nor listen to her." When I was working for the church offices in Toronto, I used to change street cars at the intersection of College Street and Yonge. On that corner , there was a street preacher – a big black man with a beautiful baritone holding a placard that said, "God loves you." His booming voice could be heard on every corner of that noisy and busy intersection. He said simple things like "Repent. The end is near." Or something like that. Of course, nobody paid any attention to him including me. I was too embarrassed.

Imagine the same kind of a scene played at the market in St. Chrysostome on Friday afternoon? Of course, it might also be a fraud, someone who”s out to get you, maybe into some strange cult or suck you dry of money. You must be careful. Imagine that it is a woman who is crying out, "Repent." A woman, especially a woman, is not expected to do things like that….unless she is a well-known high profile person like Mother Teresa. They can get away with it, because of the special status we accord them. If it is an ordinary woman, probably we would look at her as though she was crazy. Maybe I am reading too much into Proverbs and making a big deal out of wisdom being referred to as a woman. A ship is referred to as "she", so is a country. Many people call their countries the "Mother land". Maybe it is significant. I, for one, think that Proverbs has very a important message to give us by referring wisdom as a woman.

When those Proverbs were written a few thousand years ago, the status of women was much lower than it is today. Women were virtually men”s properties. In such a situation, there had to be some important reasons to refer to wisdom in female terms. By presenting wisdom as a woman – a most unlikely metaphor in those days – it is saying that it would take a considerable amount of humility and open-mindedness to see something extremely important and valuable. If you truly respect God, you will be so open-minded as to see truth beyond any unlikely looking surface. Also when men see women, they often see only their appearances and can not see beyond sex. There is, of course, nothing wrong with appreciating someone”s appearance. What is wrong is men”s inability to simply acknowledge beauty, let go of it, and then see beyond the surface.

There was once a highly respected monk, known for his devotion to meditation and his wisdom. Many young men became his followers. One day, the sage was reading the Holy Scriptures quietly in the woods. Some of his disciples joined him in this meditation exercise. In the course of the day, a beautiful woman came for a walk in the woods and passed by those monks. The sage lifted his eyes and watched the woman as she passed by. He resumed his meditation after she disappeared from his sight. The disciples were very upset. They were very disappointed with their master for even looking at the woman during a meditation and told him so. But the sage said to them, "Can you not let go? Why should beauty bother you? Poor foolish souls. It is wonderful to appreciate the beauty of nature and the wisdom of God”s words." By referring to wisdom in the female terms, the writer of Proverbs challenges us to see truth beyond what is sometimes superficially attractive, as much as behind an unlikely or even ugly facade.

In Proverbs, wisdom expresses righteous anger towards people who do not see nor listen to her voice. People do not heed her warning, because meeting wisdom on the street is, at least, inconvenient, mostly annoying. When Peter was asked by Jesus who he thought Jesus was, he gave the right answer. But as soon as Jesus started to tell him the suffering and death that awaited him in Jerusalem, Peter was very annoyed. He scolded his master for saying such nonsense. It was impossible that people would reject the messiah whom they were waiting for, and make him suffer. Peter could not see the true nature of God”s love. He expected the good to meet an happy ending. He could see the end of the story of the prince of peace only in terms of "And he lived happily ever after." Peter is not any different from the rest of us. However, the anger Jesus showed to Peter at that moment was quite exceptional. He called Peter "Satan" for seeing things in a human way not in God”s way. It was just like the anger of wisdom in Proverbs.

God”s wisdom can be found often in the most unlikely places. Mother Teresa found God in the slums of Calcutta. I don”t know how many of you have actually seen slums in some of the poor countries. The worst slum I have ever seen was outside of Nairobi, Kenya called Mathare Valley. About a million people lived there, in an area about the size of Chateauguay. Skeleton like figures were walking about like living corpses in rags. Stench from all sorts of waste was unbearable. There was ankle deep mud everywhere. I could not stay there too long. And yet Mother Teresa took the hands of those dying in such a bog of human misery and looked after them in their last days of their lives. And there, she said, she "touched the face of God."

The wisdom of God is found by people who can see beyond day-to-day superficial values. This is why Paul said, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. For the God”s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom." God”s wisdom is beyond our wisdom. You may think it is impossible for us to attain such divine wisdom. Even Peter could not see it. You may think that it is only Jesus who could. And I say we can. In love, divine wisdom and our understanding come together. Think of Mother Teresa, think of any mother, who sees potential beyond the appearance of an awkward child. We can hear divine wisdom everywhere in the logic of love. Maybe that”s another good reason to describe wisdom as a woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: CRUISING DOWNTOWN IN A FERRARI – THIRD SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

CRUISING DOWNTOWN IN A FERRARI

Proverbs 1:20-33, Wisdom 7, James 3:1-12

September 17, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

I had a stroll around the old Montreal last week. There were many people enjoying what seemed to be the last summer day. Cars were clogging the narrow streets inching forward their ways. I was so glad that I left my car in the Angrignon parking lot. Then I saw a red Ferrari. What a magnificent car it was! Everybody stopped to take a look at it. A young man in the driver”s seat was obviously enjoying the attention he was getting. In half an hour or so, I thought another red Farrari came around. No, it was not another Ferrari. It was the same one. He was just "cruising", I guess, showing off his two hundred thousand dollar Ferrari. He came around three times while I was there. If he wanted to be admired for his prized car, he did not do so well. He looked ridiculous. When I read today”s passage from the Book of Proverbs, I thought about that young man in a Ferrari – someone who should know better doing a stupid thing.

 

There is nothing wrong driving a beautiful and expensive car. I understand people who want to possess things that are beautiful and of good quality, though expensive. Cars, clothes, even pots and pans; anything can be a piece of art. When God looked at his creation and said it was good, I am sure that God appreciated its beauty as well as its usefulness. I enjoy looking at beautiful cars just as much as I enjoy looking at beautiful paintings. We should enjoy God”s creation in many ways; sight, smell, and sound as well as the benefits it gives. But some people possess beautiful things, and use them unwisely and managed to look stupid or even to harm themselves. Knowledge is one of those things that is good and valuable and makes us intelligent. But knowledge can make us unwise, too. Wisdom must be in a driver”s seat, when handling knowledge. That is what the passage from the Proverbs is telling us. "Listen, wisdom is calling out in the streets, at the city gate, and in the market-place…It is the Lord who gives you wisdom. Wisdom comes from the word of God."

You may think that knowledge always makes you wise. But the Bible says not necessarily. Today is an information age, and today”s economy is the knowledge based economy. Knowledge made Bill Gates rich. Young people are required nowadays to learn the computer and get on the "Information Highway", if they want to find a job and survive in today”s knowledge based economy. Knowledge replaced gold and diamond. Information is wealth, and knowledge is power today. You show-off what you know, just like you show-off your Ferrari in downtown.

But just like an expensive car, mere information is useless unless it becomes useful knowledge. Many people are proud of the fact that they have access to so much information and know so much. But they are silly. Mere information is something like a telephone book in your hand. It doesn”t mean you know everybody in Montreal and have many friends. Information must become your own knowledge to be any good. There is a internet site that shows how fast a piece of meat rots. Very slowly. Do you know that everyday 3 million people click on to that internet site and see how much it decomposes every hour everyday? Stupid, isn”t it? But there are people, who are proud of the fact that they have such unusual information, and make you feel stupid, if you don”t know what they know. But they don”t realize that information is rubbish until it is a useful knowledge. The Proverbs say, "Foolish people, who make fun of knowledge!" It is better to have a little knowledge and to be wise than millions of pieces of useless information.

My late father-in-law was a Canadian Air Force mechanic during the war. He was proud of his knowledge of airplanes. Every time a plane passed overhead, he said something like, "There goes DC10, 767," or whatever. Kids were mighty impressed. After he died, Muriel”s sister Lynne asked Mom how come he knew so much about planes. Mom just smiled. He was fooling them all the time. I was impressed. Dad managed to fool all those smart kids for forty years!

This story is interesting on two accounts. Men are usually the ones who like to show-off their knowledge of useless titbits, or to use things foolishly, like cruising on a Ferrari just to show-off. But women do not show off knowledge of trivia as much as men do. Muriel”s Mom just smiled at her husband”s innocent vanity. The Proverbs refers to Wisdom who cry out in the streets and in the marketplace as a woman. I find it fascinating that the Bible refers to the wisdom of God as "she". Chapter 1, verse 20 says, "Wisdom cries out, she raises her voice..At the city gate, she speaks,..etc." In fact, the word for wisdom in Greek is a female "Sophia". This not only reminds me of Muriel”s Mom, but also of my own vanity of wanting to boast the knowledge of useless trivia. Is the Bible hinting that women know something men don”t know? Do you think that”s why there are more women in the church than men? Something to think about, isn”t it?

Lastly, the Book of Proverbs says that mere knowledge without wisdom is not only foolish, but is dangerous. "Complacency of fools destroys and kills," says the Book of Proverbs. Scientific knowledge brought to us so many benefits. But don”t forget; our technology is also driving God”s creation to a cataclysmic disaster. Our highly developed technology that gave us unprecedented prosperity is causing the polar ice to melt, and driving many species of plans and animals to extinction. When the environment as we know is destroyed, we may be the next ones on the list of endangered species. But, like the Book says, fools who may possess knowledge don”t listen to wisdom.

I believe that it is about time to slow down and listen to the wisdom coming from the love story of Jesus Christ. I have nothing against loving a nice car. But for God”s sake, let us put wisdom of God in the driver”s seat and travel towards the love of God. Then, incredible human achievements will shine, and sing the hymn for the glory of God. Then, a red Ferrari may be worth the money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: YOU CAN NOT GO BACK TO EDEN – SECOND SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

YOU CAN NOT GO BACK TO EDEN

Exodus 14:1-35, Exodus 15, Matthew 18:21-35

September 12, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

One day, a doctor was listening to a patient”s endless litany of aches and pains. At one point, the doctor had his turn. He said, "At your age, sir, when you get up in the morning and don”t have any pain, you must be dead." Pains are God”s way of telling you that you are alive, but that you have to pay attention to a ceratin parts of your body. There is something terribly wrong with you, if you don”t feel any pain. A leper does not feel pain, because his body is rotting. Pain is a gift just like pleasure is a gift. Pleasure gives us the joy of life. And pain makes us realize that we have a responsibility to ourselves.

The Bible teaches us to appreciate God”s gifts, be it a pleasure or be it a pain. The memories of the past can be good and bad. We all like the memories of good times that make us feel happy, and do not like bitter memories that make us feel angry or sad. You have to be able to take up the uncomfortable part of your live as a challenge, just as much as you appreciate the joy of life. If you want to move on to the next phase of your life, you must appreciate both good and bad. Then you have dealt with the past and can let go of it. If you don”t, you will become obsessed with the past. You will be sucked into a bog of nostalgia or bitterness and get stuck there, while life passes you by.

On the shore of the Red Sea, the Hebrew people faced a serious predicament. They were caught between the sea in front and the enemy behind. They complained bitterly to Moses, "Did you have to drag us all out into this God forsaken desert only to be killed by the Egyptian army?" Obviously, they had completely forgotten all the miracles God performed for them. Because of those miracles, they were freed from the miserable life as slaves. Those who refuse to appreciate God”s gifts, can see only the negative side of things. A story has it that there was once a woman minister. She was kind and caring; she had visions, worked hard for the church; and to top it all, she was a mighty preacher. She was one of the best in the church. But no matter how good she was, always there were people who did not like women ministers. One day, she performed a miracle. She walked on water. But her antagonists said, "See? I told you. The woman can”t even swim."

When you don”t like a challenge and do not want any problem in life, you see everything in front of you negatively. Future is always hopeless for those who can not accept a challenge, because they have no eyes to see the gifts of God in what is not familiar. They cling to the nostalgic memories of the past and refuse to go on with life. They do not want to admit that they are conveniently ignoring the fact that what they remember is only half truth, because they forgot what they didn”t want to remember. This is what happens when you do not like challenges. You see future only as a pack of troubles.

Seeing that people were very upset in the face of a potential disaster, Moses took a walking stick and dipped it into the water. A strong wind blew the water away and they were able to walk across the bottom of the sea. A theory has it that the Red Sea in the Bible actually is what is known today as the Sea of Reeds on the Red Sea coast. It is a swamp full of reeds, which allows people and animals to run across to the other side when the tide is low. Some people, however, believe that it was a miracle – an act of God just like the Bible described it. In either case, the point is the same: those who were brave enough to face an unknown future as a challenge win the day. The Hebrews remembered God”s mighty acts of the past with gratitude, thus could see a potential trouble as a difficult path but as an exciting adventure. They must have been terrified but they trusted God”s unchanging love and found the way out of the trouble.

The Jews could run fast because they were a bunch of escaping slaves carrying very little possession. The Egyptians, on the other hand, were a mighty army wearing heavy armours riding the horse-drawn chariots made of metal and wood that weighed tons. So the Egyptians got bogged down on the muddy sand. When the tide came back, they drowned. How true this is in our lives too. We surround ourselves with stuff. We love stuff. There is nothing wrong in that. But we must also be ready to let go of it. Otherwise, possessions may drag you down and will make you immobile when you have to move fast.

You must give thanks for good things. But from time to time, you may have to let go of them to get on with life. Do not dwell in nostalgia. You must also let go of the memories of bitter experiences. You must learn to appreciate the lessons that the difficult experiences teach us. Otherwise, you will end up hating the world, and everybody and everything in it. What is the point of living if you hate life. This is why forgiveness is a most essential life skill. Forgiveness allows you to let go of the bitter past and go forward in your life.

It is clear from the Gospel reading for today that Jesus thought forgiveness most important. It is letting go of the bitter past in order to get on with life. Jesus said that we must forgive not just once, but seven times, even seven times seven – 49 times. Our lives depend on forgiveness. Forgiveness makes it possible for people to let go of the past and to accept each other. Our lives can not go on without acceptance and support of each other.

Two things are sure in our lives. We can not go back to the Garden of Eden, no matter how wonderful it is. We can not look back on Egypt any more either. We have to let go of the bitter memories of difficult times. Like Paul said, "When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways." Let us thank God for the good things, let us forgive the past, and move on like adults. Life before us is wonderful.

 

 

A: IF YOU HAVE NO PAIN, YOU ARE DEAD – SECOND SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

IF YOU HAVE NO PAIN, YOU ARE DEAD

Exodus 14:1-35, Exodus 15 VU876, Matthew 18:21-35

September 11, 2005 by Tad Mitsui

580, 635, 642, 641a

One day, a doctor was listening to a patient”s endless litany of aches and pains. The doctor had his turn. He said, "At your age, sir, when you get up in the morning and don”t have any pain, you are dead." Pains are God”s way of telling you that you are alive, but that you have to pay attention to a ceratin parts of your body. Pain is a warning. There is something terribly wrong with you, if you don”t feel any pain. Pain is a gift just like pleasure is a gift. A leper does not feel pain, because his body is rotting. Some of us try to ignore pain and wonder why disasters happen to us. Disasters like 9/11 and the aftermath of Katrina are the result of such denial.

The Bible teaches us to appreciate God”s gifts, be it a pleasure or be it a pain. The memories of the past can be good and bad. We all like the memories of good times that make us feel happy, and do not like bitter memories that make us feel angry or sad. You have to be able to take up the uncomfortable part of your live as a warning, just as much as you appreciate the joy of life.

On the shore of the Red Sea, the Hebrew people faced a difficult situation. They were caught between the sea in front and the enemy behind. They complained bitterly to Moses, "Did you have to drag us all out into this God forsaken desert only to be killed by the Egyptian army? Back in Egypt we aere slaves, but at least we were stewing meat for supper." Obviously, they had completely forgotten all the miracles God performed to free them from the life as slaves. Those who refuse to appreciate God”s gifts, can see only the negative side.

When you don”t like a challenge and do not want to see any problem as a warning in life, you see everything in front of you negatively. Future is always hopeless for those who can not accept a challenge, because they have no eyes to see the gifts of God. They cling to the nostalgic memories of the past and refuse to go on with life. This is what happens when you do not recognize problems and hate challenges. You see future only as a pack of troubles.

In the face of water on front and enemy behind, Moses took a walking stick and dipped it into the water. A strong wind blew the water away and they were able to walk across the bottom of the sea. Those who were brave enough to face an unknown future as a challenge won the day. They had courage to wrestle the bull by the horn.

The Hebrews remembered God”s mighty acts of the past with gratitude, thus could see a potential trouble as a difficult path but as an exciting adventure. They must have been terrified but they trusted God”s unchanging love and found the way out of the trouble.

The Jews could run fast because they were a bunch of escaping slaves carrying very little possession. The Egyptians, on the other hand, were a mighty army wearing heavy armours riding the horse-drawn chariots made of metal and wood that weighed tons. So the Egyptians got bogged down on the muddy sand. When the tide came back, they drowned. How true this is in our lives too. We surround ourselves with stuff. We love stuff. There is nothing wrong in that. But we must also be ready to let go of it. Otherwise, possessions may drag you down and will make you immobile when you have to move fast.

Of course, you must give thanks for good things. But do not dwell in nostalgia of good things past. You must also learn to appreciate the lessons that the difficult experiences teach us. Otherwise, you will end up hating the world, and everybody and everything in it. This is why forgiveness is a most essential life skill. Forgiveness allows you to let go of the bitter past and go forward in your life.

It is clear from the Gospel reading for today that Jesus thought forgiveness most important. It is letting go of the bitter past in order to get on with life. Jesus said that we must forgive not just once, but seven times, even seven times seven – 49 times. Forgiveness makes it possible for people to let go of the past and to accept each other. Our lives can not go on without acceptance and support of each other.

Two things are sure in our lives. We can not go back to the Garden of Eden, no matter how wonderful it is. We can not look back on the pot of stew in Egypt and dwell on it. Also, we have to let go of the bitter memories of difficult times. Like Paul said, "When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways." Let us thank God for the good things, let us forgive the past while appreciating the lessons learned, and move on like adults. If you keep the balance of good and bad of the past, life before us is wonderful.

 

 

 

 

C: NINETY-NINE AND ONE – SECOND SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

NINETY-NINE AND ONE

Luke 15 : 1 – 10

September 13, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

 

I misplace and lose things all the time. I can do a lot more in my life, if I don”t have to look for things. I am very happy when I find what I have been looking for. But the Gospel suggests that what is lost and found includes people. The lost persons are those who have problems. Then suddenly the innocent stories of a lost sheep and a lost coin become a little bit more complicated and challenging.

 

We understand how happy it is to find lost money. We also understand that bit about leaving behind ninety-nine sheep to find one who is lost. When we can not find something, we look for it almost in panic: "The key, the key." And the car is locked. We don”t worry about those things that are not lost at a time like that. Let”s apply this to people: The whole family unites when one member is in trouble. We don”t worry even about young children who are OK, and attend mother”s needs, when she is very sick, worry when father lost the job, or when a little Johnny runs into a serious trouble at school and the parents are called to the Principal”s office.

 

We normally accept it as given that we have to look after the troubled or the weakest first. We spend more time, energy, and money to take care of one person in need than we do on normal persons. A famous Anthropologist, Margaret Meade once said, "The mark of a healthy society is how it looks after its weak members." It is normal that we spend time to try to find the lost. We don”t worry about those who do not need immediate help. They are OK without our help: thank God. Jesus said, "a healthy person does not need a doctor." It is easy to understand the story of the lost coin. A coin has no mind or legs. It does not walk away to be lost. It has no responsibility for its own demise. Likewise, there are people who are in trouble for no fault of their own. Like disabled persons or the sick. Only a barbaric society that treats them like problems. Nazi society was the most barbaric in that sense, even though it was highly developed in science, strong militarily, and efficient economically.

 

It is also easy to understand the sheep who wandered away and lost. It was stupid, but it knew no better. Yes, we should be willing to spend time and to travel far to find the lost souls and bring them back. We should be happy when they are back, though they may need a bit of re-education. What is difficult for us, however, is persons whom Jesus called the lost people. Jesus spoke about people who have made wrong decisions and get into trouble. We think that it is their fault. It is difficult, for example, to be sympathetic with people, who got hooked on the drugs or threw away all money in gambling. It becomes even more difficult to accept the kind of people Jesus was talking about in today”s Gospel. You see, Jesus started all this discussion about ”lost and found”, when the Pharisees found tax-collectors and sinners with Jesus and questioned the wisdom of keeping such a company. They saw Jesus treating them like friends and eating with them. For the Jews during the Roman occupation, the tax-collectors were considered to be the most despicable people. You see, the Romans privatized the whole of tax administration. They gave the whole enterprise of assessment and collection of tax to a selected few people as their profit-making business. And the tax collectors made money, lots of it.

 

The Jews did not want to admit that such scum could be among their own people, and wished that they would just disappear. They were sellouts, traitors, blood suckers, people without any moral values. They became very rich. But nobody spoke to them nor wanted to be seen with them. Only Jesus did not reject them when they came to hear him. He even went into their homes, ate with them, and in fact, one of them became his disciple. His name was Matthew.

 

Jesus welcomed everyone who wanted to hear his teaching. He did not discriminate against people according to their reputations, names, jobs, nor their social standing. He accepted everyone, even the prostitutes. He believed in the potential of people, instead of blaming them for their past. He only saw their willingness to hear the word of God. This is because he saw the lost people as redeemable, so long as they had a willingness to change. No matter how immoral some of his followers might have been in the past, Jesus could see that some of them were willing to try to be better human beings. Serious intentions to change was good enough for Jesus. God is willing to forgive and welcome them back, when he sees seriousness about changing their lives.

 

In my father”s church, there was a retired Professor, who was Minister Emeritus. He was the Japan”s best known Old Testament scholar. He was not only a good scholar and a respected professor, he was also a powerful preacher. He preached a few times a year, and always attracted a standing-room-only audience from across the city. My father had a huge downtown church. The amazing thing about this man was that he was once a drug addict for many years in his youth. His hands trembled uncontrollably when he pronounced the blessing, because of that past. One day, as he told us, when he ran out of drug and he went into convulsion. When he regained consciousness, he found himself lying in a pew of a Salvation Army auditorium in a midst of an evangelistic meeting. There he sat and heard the good news about conversion and forgiveness. He decided to change his life right there and then to follow God”s way. He withdrew from heroin cold turkey, and went through several days of seriou