The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Take Heart!'
1.1. So far, from Chapter 14 to today, we have listened to what may be called a will that Jesus left to his disciples at the Last Supper. Today's Word is the conclusion. I really feel that it is a word that can be said to be a summary of what Jesus has been talking about all the time. First of all, Jesus said, 'I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. 'He said that the long word of farewell from Chapter 14 is to give peace to the disciples and to us. Peace is the Hebrew word shalom. In terms that are easier for us to understand, it means peace and peace of mind. In other words, I think it would be fortunate.
1.2 Regarding this peace, Jesus said at Chapter 14, Verse 27, 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.' Jesus said here that the peace that he gives us is different from what the world gives. Then, what was the kind of peace that the world gives? He explained that it was a situation in which there was no anxiety or fear. The peace we seek and desire is, in essence, a state of no anxiety or fear. The peace that we usually think of is something that quickly disappears when we have anxiety or fear, right?
1.3 However, Jesus said that the peace that he gives us is different from such a thing. Today's word refers to that, right? Immediately following the words 'so that in me you may have peace ,' Jesus says: 'In this world you will have trouble.' He means that we have suffering in this world and therefore fear and anxiety. However, it means that we can have peace thanks to Jesus. It means that suffering and obtaining peace are mutually not contradictory and are compatible at the same time. Despite the hardships, there is peace that will never disappear. Jesus gives that to us. That is where it is decisively different from what the peace of the world gives us.
1.4 Today, we want to keep in mind that Jesus was trying to give us peace, and that is why, immediately after that, Jesus declared clearly, 'In this world you will have trouble.' Getting peace and suffering are never contradictory. Peace and happiness through Jesus can be given even in hardships. That's why we can be brave, right? Even if we have a hard time, we can still go on.
2.1. There are about 50 books that are rightly called my desk-side books on the right side of my desk in my study. At the center of this is, of course, the commentary used to prepare for the sermon. There are also a lot of books on Dr. Victor Frankl. Among them is the one titled Humans Who Suffer. The other day, I introduced a book called Homo Ludens (meaning a player) that is written by a person called Huizinga. In addition, there is a definition of humans that everyone is familiar with, and which are called Homo sapiens. Frankl defines humans as homo patiens. And he wrote something like this. It's a little long, but I would like to introduce it while omitting a part of it. 'By the way, we have feared suffering and have escaped from it for the past three centuries. We have been trying to beautify reality. In the meantime suffering, its inevitability, and the possibility of its worth, were neglected. We have deceived ourselves and each other into believing that humans can get rid of suffering, dying and suffering and death thanks to both our activity and to the power of reason. People devoted themselves to the active (action) and overlooked the passive (passio). They believed that ratio (in Latin), that is, reason (in English) , namely, science, would get rid of suffering. People have tried to turn away their eyes from the reality, from the inevitability of suffering, and from the possibility of satisfying the suffering with meaning.'
2.2 I would like to explain, immediately after that, why there is suffering (that is, passion Passio/passive is also connected to suffering linguistically) in this world. In Frankl's words that I have just referred to, the reason why humans are homo patiens is that they cannot escape what is called passio (the passive). We want actio (the active). It is, in essence, to control our own life by serving master of our life, as we wish, and that is where we can find peace and happiness. It IS the peace of the world. But Frankl says we can't do that, so humans are essentially Homo patiens, and they can never escape from here. There is no peace or happiness without looking straight at this. Jesus faces up to the reality that we are Homo patiens. Still he leaves his will that we, human beings, will have peace and happiness.
3.1, Then, although I mentioned it just now, why does Jesus say that we have suffering in the world? In Frankl's words, the passive (passio) was deeply involved in it. Although it was not read today, Jesus is telling us that it is the word of Verse 28 that was written a while ago.
3.2 Jesus said, 'I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father. '(John 16: Verse28) The literal subject of this Jesus' word is I. So, of course, I can say that the subject Jesus himself chose to go out of God or go back to God by his own will -in Frankl's words, as actio- . However, in Gethsemane's prayer (only John does not write this), Jesus prayed, 'Take this cup from me.' (Mark 14:35 and below, for example) It is clear that the suffering of the cross (passion) was due to the passive (passio). The resurrection was also 'resurrected,' (the Passive) and the dead Jesus himself was not resurrected himself on his own, so there is also passiveness there. Since Jesus' life itself in this world goes out of God and returns to God, the line made up of these two points is fundamentally not the activity (Actio) of Jesus. It is the passive, right? Perhaps it was on the line drawn by God, not by Jesus himself, wasn't it?
3.3 If Jesus's life was like this, then our life is still more the passive. It's fundamentally Passio , right? We have no idea whether or not we chose to leave God, and it is clear that we cannot choose when to return to God, that is, when to leave this world. Our life in this world is to begin and end on the line connecting the two points placed by God. It would be the passive (passio), not fundamentally the active. Therefore, it is necessarily a passion (meaning suffering). Passio and passion are never word play, but they are connected.
4.1 But, because that is the case, Jesus may teach us that there is peace and happiness here, right? We go out of God and return to God. Our life made up of these two points is Passio because that is the case. But at the same time, it also means that the course of our lives does not deviate from this line. There is a road set by God there. We cannot deviate from this road, because we are destined to leave God and return to Him. Here is the peace. I'll say it many times, but it's passion, but that's why we have peace and happiness. In Verse 6, Chapter14 Jesus said, 'I am the way.' Jesus himself will walk along this way as our leader, encouraging us and accompanying us. He teaches us that the way that God has set is Passio, but at the same time it is a happy way filled with peace.
4.2 Now, it is for some purpose that God makes us walk along the way that he has drawn, right? The line should not be drawn completely without any purpose. God drew this line to accomplish a certain purpose. I think this is the very point where Jesus teaches us as a leader and companion. It was this purpose that Jesus has repeated in the will since Chapter 14, right?
4.3 In Chapter 15, Jesus said, 'I am the vine; you are the branches.' He said, 'Bear the fruit as a grape branch.' In today's closing words, that's not directly mentioned. However, I feel that the same heart of Jesus is exuded from the words, 'so that in me you may have peace.' The purpose of Jesus' life in this world - the meaning of life lined by God - was for the sole purpose of 'gaining peace through me.' Your getting peace by me means that Jesus bears the fruit. It was not for me to obtain anything by myself, but for you to obtain something by me. Jesus tells us that God has drawn the line of our life so that we may bear the same kind of fruit. Jesus assures us that if we live for this purpose, we will always be able to obtain peace and happiness, even if there is suffering there.
4.4 Grape branches are common, but you cannot eat the fruit that grew there. Someone eats it and it tastes delicious. I always think that is the purpose of our lives. No matter how delicious a meal is, we often forget its contents. Meals are like that, right? It is something that will be forgotten, something that will not remain. The fact that delicious grapes can be enjoyed and eaten by other people may mean that nothing remains like this. We can't say that what remains is delicious. When parents do something to their children and when couples do something to each other so that the other person may say, 'That was delicious, ' or 'Thank you very much,' it is not something that God wants to do. As the word digestion expresses, delicious food should disappear. What we do for someone, not for ourselves, is gone. Our life will be peaceful and fortunate, even if it is full of suffering, if the dream of 'someone by me ' comes true. So let's take the courage to walk, shall we? We will be old and sick, maybe even be infected with Covic 19 virus, and we cannot help being called by Heaven in pain. But thanks to that, someone will surely get something. We walk along the life which God will draw and in which Jesus will guide us.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The Gospel according to John 16:33'
33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
(New International Version)
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Your sorrow will be turned into joy'
1 We continue to listen to the message of Jesus, or his will, which was told to the disciples, and to us indirectly. at the time of the Last Supper. The title of today's sermon is picked up from the margin of Verse 16 and from Verse 20, "sorrow will be turned into joy."
First of all, we are keenly aware how precious this message of Jesus is to us at present, because now throughout the world an innumerable number of people are overwhelmed with sorrow. Already more than 300,000 people have died of the infectious corona virus, COVID-19. A number of bereaved families were forced to leave them, as they were neither allowed to take care of them who had been suffering from the disease nor to hold a funeral for them.
Moreover, by far more people are now in critical conditions and their families are not allowed to come close to them to take care. Now the whole world seems to be flooded with sorrow. To us in such a situation, no one can tell us assuredly that "the sorrow will be turned into joy." We are filled with grief and there is no other way but we are left in sorrow endlessly.
As I will tell you soon below why Jesus taught that sorrow would be turned into joy, I tell you here in advance Jesus knew that there is joy beyond sorrow. He said in Verse 16 that "you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me." After Verse 21, by referring to the joy through a pain of childbirth, he taught that there is joy after sorrow.
2.However, hearing this message, the disciples were puzzled and talking among themselves what he was talking about, as they could not understand it, The disciples could not understand that there is joy beyond sorrow. Indeed, we, too, are the same people like them. At that time, 2000 years ago, they were much more short-lived people. Thus, they believed and counted on a belief by far more vividly that they could be connected with the people who have died and lost the body. I image that they put much less weight for their joy on "seeing" through the physical existence. Nevertheless, even for such people as the disciples of 2000 years ago, it was deep sorrow that they had lost the sight of Jesus.
If so, then how deep our sorrow is at the present, as our joys solely depend on those through the physical existence that is visible. Just like the disciples who were deeply saddened as they had lost the sight of Jesus, we live on joys by far more based on being physically together, talking, touching and meeting in the physical sense. The other day, there was a poem in a newspaper column. The painful sorrow is expressed in the poem, saying that "You (kimi) in Kanji (Chinese character) can be broken into "co-ro-na" in katakana, and due to the corona virus they were living apart.
You might feel how painful it is that you cannot see others in the worship service, even if you know they are fine. Last week I delivered the weekly report to several members of the church, one of them shed tears of joy meeting me after several weeks. As it shows, our joy depends on meeting in a physically visible way. When we lose it, how deeply saddened we are. There is no one who can tell us assuredly that "the sorrow will be turned into joy." We are filled with grief and there is no other way but we are left in sorrow endlessly. To those disciples and to us, Jesus left his very true will, a sort of dying message, that "sorrow will be turned into joy." As I have just said, though the disciples were puzzled what Jesus meant and that they could not understand what he was talking about, Jesus gave this promise to them. Then, this promise came true at the time of the Easter. The sorrow of the disciples was turned into joy. In this way, after hearing the scripture for today, if we cannot understand what it means, it is not much of a problem. The certainty of the promise by Jesus does not change at all. His will becomes an assured will and support to encourage us in the midst of grief.
3.Then, based on what did Jesus say that sorrow would be turned into joy? We are taught about that from the analogy of childbirth after Verse 21. Though it is not sorrow, a childbirth accompanies a pain of delivery. After the pain, however, there is always a joy of giving birth to a new life. In other words, without a pain, there is no joy of giving a birth. Through a case of childbirth, Jesus seems to have taught us a kind of universal truth, that a joy always accompanies pain or sorrow in the process. It means that a joy such as giving a birth always accompanies pain and sorrow. Furthermore, in other words, whenever we have sorrow and pain, definitely there is a joy beyond sorrow and pain. Jesus teaches this by referring to an analogy of childbirth.
From the analogy of childbirth, we think over various things. Why does childbirth always accompany pain? It is because in childbirth there is a new start into a totally different world. The situation of a baby after birth out of mother's womb is decisively different from the time while it was an unborn baby. Though both are the humans, it seems that they live in entirely different dimensions. An unborn baby in mother's womb is connected with the mother through the umbilical cord, and there is no need to breathe, eat, move by itself. In short, it lives entirely depending on the mother,
When such fetus is separated from the mother's womb and comes into an entirely different world, it is a birth. After that, a baby must breathe, eat, digest by himself and then eventually must stand by himself and live. A pain of childbirth is, in short, a departure from an old style of existence in mother's womb into a new dimension of life. Because of this, there must be pain in itself.
Nevertheless, after a birth from mother's womb which accompanies a pain of birth, there are far greater joys of growth and independence. Certainly there are challenges in standing, walking by oneself and living, but even so no one would wish to go back to mother's womb. In spite of easiness in all depending on mother' s body through the umbilical cord, no one wishes to return to the tiny womb connected through the umbilical cord. A pain of birth brings us greater joys eventually.
4. By referring to an analogy of a birth from mother's womb, which can be remarked as the first birth, Jesus suggests us to leave from living based on the visible existence of body for a new living that is the second birth. Of course, there is no positive proof that when the first birth came, then the second birth will necessarily come. Some people think that once we die physically, all will come to nothing. Nevertheless, Jesus did not tell us that once we die physically, all will come to nothing, concerning himself and us all. Jesus knew that there would be the second birth, through his wisdom that was given to him only. With its certainly, as his will full of truth, Jesus teaches us about the second birth. When there is the first birth, isn't it naturally possible for us to believe that there is the second birth?
Because there is the first birth through which an unborn baby can come out of mother's womb to start a new life, then, through the second birth, we can leave behind various physical restrictions. While we live in this world as a physical existence, our life is just like being connected to this world through the umbilical cord within a tiny space of mother's womb. No matter how long we might wish to stay there, after ten months and ten days if a baby remains there, it would lead to death both to mother and her baby. If a baby could remain there for long, there would be no death, but because a baby cannot stay long, a death would come.
It is in this point that we can see a necessity of the second birth. No matter how deeply we might wish to stay in this world with a physical body, after a certain passage of time, death comes to us. It means death to us when we stay in this world over certain passage of time. And because it brings death in various senses for us to stay in this world, naturally the second birth comes to us. Just like a birthday that comes for a baby to get out of mother's womb, the second birth comes to us who now live in the "womb" called this world. Life after the second birth must be entirely different from a life living in the "womb" of this world. It must be a wonderful world enough to convince us that we do not want to come back to the previous world connected with the "womb."
5. Then, Jesus tells us what kind of joy can be given to us when we have the second birth, through the joy given to the disciples. Jesus said, "I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you (Verse 22)." What Jesus promised assuredly here is that Jesus who has achieved the second birth will bring us joy that no one will take away. It is said to be a joy from the bottom of heart. I understand it is a joy in the deep inner heart of us. A joy that is given through meeting in our physical existence may be lost. It can be lost by not meeting or by hurting, hating each other. We often give not joys but something else. On the other hand, Jesus who has achieved the second birth, having left the physical existence, brings joy only to the disciples and to us. Nothing else but joy only is given. It is brought to the deep inner heart of us.
Such thing does not happen to Jesus alone, but it can happen to us, too. When we leave our body and get the second birth, we would be able to give joy from the deep inner heart of us and it will not be taken away. It suddenly occurred to me that we might get a sign of such joy from a joy in our dreams. It is often said that we experience death in advance while we sleep and have a dream, being apart from body.
A person from Koriyama Church once said to me that her late mother had appeared in the dream. Her mother in the dream looked happy filled with joy. Having the dream and her heart filled with joy, I remember that she was somehow led to get baptized shortly after that, Meeting in the dream is, of course, not meeting in physical existence. Still, it can bring by far deeper joy from the deep inner heart to us. It can never be taken away from us but support our heart. The woman wished to get baptized after having the dream, because she realized that it could bring such enormous joys being with the Lord and Jesus. in other words, a joy given to the dead can turn to a joy to the people who are left behind.
To such world full of joys, we can get through pains and sorrows. Sorrow will be turned into joy. We would like to look forward to seeing the world beyond sorrow.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The Gospel according to John 16:16-24'
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'The Birth of Samuel'
1. From today once every three weeks I would like to tell about the words of the First Book of Samuel of the Old Testament. Talking of Samuel, I remember a picture on the wall of the chapel and kindergarten where I used to go in my hometown when I was small. It was a picture of a cute infant with curly hair, who looked like a pretty girl, kneeling in prayer, putting his hands together. Of course at that time I did not know that it was Samuel.
When I grew up, I realized that this infant was Samuel who was suddenly called by the Lord when he as with Eli to whom the picture was given, and answered to the Lord, "Speak, for Your servant hears." As is depicted in his response to the Lord, Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord, to hear the words of the Lord and tell them. Also he was committed in establishing the King in Israel which had not had a king until that time. Today's Scriptures tells us in what circumstances this Samuel was born.
Having read today's scripture, what attracts me most is the word of Verse 18, "her face was no longer sad." How she looked before is depicted from Verses 5 to 7, that even though she was loved by her husband, Elkanah, she had been severely provoked by another wife Peninnah because she had not become pregnant. Hanna kept weeping in her prayer at church. Thus, the priest Eli thought she was drunk. She prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish so much that Eli asked her "How long will you be drunk?" (Verse 9) Then, after such an intensive prayer, Hannah looked no more the same as before. She looked much better as if she was no more in sorrow or anguish.
What made Hannah change so much? Was it because, as is written in Verse 17, Eli said to her, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him" to her? Or, was it because she was convinced to get pregnant and make her wish come true that had changed her look? However, there was no such guarantee that her wish would come true. There was no sign that her wish might come true, either, because it was much later that her husband Elkanah knew her and she got pregnant. Thus, we see that it was not because her wish came true that made her look change.
We, too, have worries and agonies, thus we pray our wishes come true. To our regret, however, not all of our wishes come true as we expect. If our look can change only when our wishes come true, then unfortunately our look will not change because our wishes often do not come true. But, even if our wishes do not come true, it can happen that our face looks "no longer sad." Even if we are not blessed with a baby, it happens that we get free from worries and sufferings that we have held long time. How deeply consoled we could be with it.
2. Then, let us consider what had brought her worries and agonies to the extent that she looked sad. You might think it was needless to say because she was not blessed with a baby. Let us think about it more deeply. What attracts our mind is the word in Verse 5, "he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb."
This is a word of great significance. Her husband Elkanah deeply loved his wife Hannah. At the end of Verse 8 he said to his wife, Hannah, "Am I not better to you than ten sons?" This is why his other wife, Peninnah, regarded Hannah as her enemy and provoked her. For Hannah, however deeply loved by her husband, the greatest worry was that she was not blessed with a baby because the LORD had closed her womb."
Here in this point we see the cause of worries that each of us holds. In other words, no matter how deeply we might love in husband and wife or parent-child relationships, there still remains something that is not given by such relationships. In the context of today's scripture, what mattered was that a baby is not conceived, but there are many other things in the contexts of each of us.
However deeply parents love their child, there still remains something that parents cannot produce, something beyond the reach of parents. Furthermore, however deeply we might love ourselves, there still remains something beyond our control. It is because the Lord has closed the door. It is because the Lord does not open the door, not because of anyone else. In today's scripture, it was not because of Hannah.
3. However, we usually do not take it in this way. Penninah provoked Hannah "severely, to make her miserable, because the LORD had closed her womb" (Verse 6). In the society 3000 years ago, infertility was considered to be a curse and punishment by God. Penninah, too, cursed her and said to her that even if she might be loved by her husband, she was cursed and hated by God and because of that she was not blessed with a baby. Hannah, too, took her infertility in this way. That is why she was in anguish, I think.
Did God really hate Hannah? When God closes something from us, does it because God hates us? No, it was not true. It is the work of God. It is what God closes, and if so, then isn't it good work wrought out of deep love of God?
In Chapter 9 of the Gospel according to John, when the disciples asked Jesus about a man who was blind from birth, in other words he was closed to see, "who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind." This was exactly the same way of thinking with Penninah. Then, Jesus answered that "neither this man nor his parents sinned, but the works of God should be revealed"(John, 9-2).
There are situations/circumstances which God has closed to us and that are beyond our control. We try to find who is to blame or we might blame ourselves by anyone else, and try to change the situation by ourselves. But, we cannot do so. God has closed it from us, then we cannot open it by any means. As far as God has closed it, there must be other ways to open it. It is not by our power but through the power of God that it can be open. We will see it. We will experience it exactly because it was closed to us.
4. Then, to Hannah, too, it happened that a way was opened. It happened to her not by getting pregnant, as I said again and again. It is just a consequence. What is important is that her face did not look like before. Before having born a baby, deep in her heart it had happened to her, and as a consequence her look changed.
Then, by what was Hannah opened? It is depicted in her way of praying after Verse 9. What is symbolic is that Hannah arose. In Greek translation of this original Hebrew word is "anistemi", which is a combination of two words, ana, (moving forward) and histemi (rise)." This word represents the resurrection of Jesus in the New Testaments. Perhaps for the first time, Hannah in her prayer was given time to stand upward to God. Until that time, she was not standing upward but praying in the context of horizontal human relations.
As is written before Verse 9, she was standing in the relations with her husband who loves her so much than ten sons. Perhaps, because of this, I imagine she might have looked down on Penninah. That is why Penninah, too, looked her as a rival and hated her as an enemy. The two women were competing each other and this was the cause of worries and anguish of Hannah. The word from Verse 4 to the early part of Verse 5 is also significant: Elkanah gave portions of offerings to Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. but to Hannah he gave a portion for herself. He loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb.
Though she boasted about being loved by her husband better than having ten sons, materially she is given a portion for herself only. From here we can get an image of Hannah who was happy one moment and sad the next depending on being given by others in the social contexts of husband-wife or family relationships. This is actually the bottom of her worries and anguish.
5. It was her prayer that made her suddenly stand upward not in the horizontal relationship. It is not clear what caused her to do so, but perhaps the word of her husband in Verse 8 affected her. It was not enough even if she was fully loved by her husband. It was not enough to change her look. She realized it was of no use to feel boastful of being fully loved by her husband competing with Penninah. Thus, she decided to stand toward God, pray and arise in relation with God.
This actually made Hannah open, I think. This was the intention of God to close the womb, I think. Through this prayer, Hannah was made open in relationship with God. Then, when she got pregnant at the long last, she could think that the baby could work for God, quite apart from her own wishes or not making the baby as a means to gain love or portions from her husband in competition with Penninah. Above all, the relations with God opened. In this sense, the "womb" was opened. When the "womb" in terms of relationship with God opens, the blessings given from there are enormous. It may not be a baby realistically. But something precious must be given, that is something far beyond our capacity. Samuel was nothing but a symbol of such thing for her. Having noticed this, Hannah's face was not the same as before.
Wasn't it because Hannah had changed in this way that Verse 19 depicts "Elkanah knew Hannah"? Then, Hannah gave a birth to a baby boy. We learn from this that when the relationship with God is opened, something that has been closed for us can open in itself.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The First Book of Samuel 1:11-20'
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Prayer of Jesus at Gethsemane'
1 We are observing the first Day of the Lord of the year 2020 as Palm Sunday. It is my practice on this day to tell you why this is called Palm Sunday. This is so because the Bible says that the people [the great crowd of pilgrims who had come for the festival] waived palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem, mounting on a colt of donkey (cf. John 12:13). According to our day of the week, it was on Thursday when he had the Last Supper [with his 12 disciples] and it was the night of that day when he prayed at the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was caught there, and by noon on Friday he was hung on a cross to be executed. As it is written, Jesus was resurrected in early morning hours of next Sunday. That was how this week came to be called Passion Week and the first day of the week Palm Sunday.
The scene of Jesus praying at Gethsemane rose, since early days, serious doubts among the readers, and sometimes invited even stumbles and mockery. The greatest of the doubts were about why, 'Horror and anguish overwhelmed him [Jesus],' and about why did he say, 'My heart is ready to break with grief?' In our learning from the Gospel according to John, which we do these days at a pace of once in three weeks, Jesus left his will to the disciples at the Last Supper during which he unfailingly accepted the coming of his death on a cross, and never failing to comprehend its significance, and appeared with full of peace and conviction. In the Gospel according to Mark, from which we are learning today, there are the words of Jesus at the Last Supper written preceding the passage for today and say, 'Take this; this is my body,' and 'This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, shed for many.' He had a clear consciousness that his body so broken and his blood so shed on a cross are indispensable for us.
That being the case, it looks utterly unfit that, faced with the critical time drawing near, 'Horror and anguish overwhelmed him [Jesus],' and that he said to the disciples, 'My heart is ready to break with grief,' and prayed that 'if it were possible this hour might pass me by,' and 'Abba, Father, take this cup from me.' Such of his state looks a way too miserable, doesn't it? But that was the way many people felt about him. This was why, I would guess, John the author of one of the four Gospels chose not to write about the scene of Jesus praying at Gethsemane. If even Jesus fell in such a state, ordinary believers would back off wondering what we are going to be like. It is also said that the Greeks and Romans with a knowledge about Socrates, a famous philosopher, having been force to take a cup of poison without just ground, nevertheless took it in tranquility and even having a pleasant chat with his close followers, compared Jesus in such a miserable state and ridiculed him.
I just said John the author intentionally chose not to write about the scene. I wonder why Peter, James and John ― I suspect that this is the same John who wrote the Gospel ― had to write about Jesus in such a state. Writing the scene amounted to writing also about them in their miserable state ― that they fell asleep [and had to be awaken for] three times. Yet they wrote about Jesus and themselves in a miserable state. Three Gospel writers, with exception of John the author, wrote about Jesus in a miserable state. What was in their mind when they decided to write? There must have been something which they could not help but write. They had to write it because that was something they could not dispense with as disciples or as part of their faith as followers of Jesus.
2 I should like to make 3 points and tell you what that something was. First, the most important of the three, is that even for Jesus there lay a deep ditch between the will of God and what Jesus wished. Surely, we don't find in Jesus at the time of the Last Supper anything which suggests and makes us feel even a bit that there was such a ditch between the will of God and what Jesus wished. Jesus at the Supper table was fully convinced in his heart of the will of God that the sacrifice of his body and blood was indispensable for us. Yet when the time drew near in which he had to experience suffering and pains with his own body, even Jesus was caught by horror and anguish, and with his heart broken with grief he asked God [his Father] to take the cup away from him. It means that the will of God is so horrifying to us humans that we must anguish and taste the grief almost of dying. Jesus taught us with his own body that it takes that much from us for God's will to be manifested; it takes something extraordinary; there is that deep ditch between the will of God and what we wish.
At the beginning of his prayer on verse 36, he first called on God saying, 'Abba.' While 'Aba,' is a dialect of Akita prefecture [where I was brought up] to mean mom, 'Abba,' by the language Jesus spoke is a word with a nuance which an infant just beginning to speak uses when calling 'Papa,' or 'Daddy,' as I told you number of times. Jesus trusted God as somebody like that. Be that as it may, the will of the Father ― the cup which was going to be given him ― was inestimable for him, an infant; something he felt he could only implore to be taken away. For an infant, someone he doesn't have any doubt about is Abba or father, right? Yet the will which he plans to realize was to bring anguish, pain, and an experience of grief almost of dying. That was hard for the infant, without saying, but it was possibly even harder for the father. The grief may have been so great that the father would take it from his child to bear it for him.
That may be the very point where we Christians will find something of the quintessence of God, I gather. God is Abba, daddy. He has truly deep love for us, his infants. He will do anything which we need. What the beginning words of the prayer on verse 36 mean is exactly that. Yet, because of it, he must do when necessary what we can only wish to be taken away, what we anguish about and suffer from. Our Father, God, himself is also taking pains at it. Yet it is something he cannot do without for the sake of our benefit. Our Father, God, isn't such somebody as will give us inconsiderate benefit. Our wish and the will of God aren't going to meet on a shallow dimension. The blessing of God is to be found where there is a ditch that divides us, and at which we anguish about and suffer from.
Reading an article by Mr. Shinichi Fukuoka on the Asahi-Shimbun press last Friday I was caught by surprise and thought how he could dare put such a content at this very moment in time. According to him, virus was something that originally came out of animate beings. He went so far even as to write that it is why virus and we have something in common which are drawn toward each other, and that we kind of invite virus into us. For that reason, there could be cases where virus brings an end to an animate being. Thanks to it, however, biodiversity (in his word, dynamic equilibrium) is created, he says. That may well be the will of God. And his will could prove to be real horror, anguish and grief for us. Yet I guess that the will of God can only be realized through such sequencing, don't you?
3 The second of my three points today is revealed by it that, though the prayer of Jesus began in horror and grief, finally ended saying, 'Yet not my will but yours,' and changed him to be one who could say, 'Up, let us go!' as on verse 42. Does the fact that the prayer of Jesus so changed its tone have any meaning for us? You might think that the prayer of Jesus changed because it was Jesus who prayed and that we will only have to remain horrified, anguished and only continue to pray for the cup to be taken away. But I doubt that Jesus told the three disciples to stay awake and see him pray for the sole purpose to show up and make them feel the difference of his prayer with those of his disciples. In that case, I wonder if the disciples chose to tell us how Jesus prayed. I think the disciples were convinced; Peter, James and John must have had their own experience of faith in telling us how Jesus prayed. That is to say that whereas they were horrified, anguished and grievous almost to the point of dying and only prayed for the cup to be taken away like this Jesus did, they too were changed in the course of their prayer just like Jesus was. They got to be able to pray saying, 'Yet not my will but yours.' [They came to be able to tell us through their own experience] that is the wondrous power which prayers bring upon us, and that is the guidance of the Holy Spirit given us in our prayer.
To us it means what Jesus taught us with his own body through the testimony of the three disciples was that it is good for us to pray like Jesus did and that we can also pray like he did. Learning of this prayer of Jesus gives me a great encouragement. We tend to be advised that prayer is not some sort of a bill we send to God asking for this and that to be done, but it is an act of giving him a receipt of thanks. Yet we cannot give a receipt of thanks right from the beginning. It is good to send our bill at the beginning like Jesus did. Yet, in the course of our prayers and over time, we'll come to learn that it is not the will of God our Father that we should only pray in such a way. We will come to realize that our wish and the will of God are deeply divided. And we will also get to be able to pray at the end of our prayer, 'Yet not my will but yours.' It is only when we get to be able to pray in such a way that we get to have indescribable peace in our heart. We cannot tell what the will of God is in concrete terms. Though unable to tell what it is, still we can feel that God has his will. We can discern that God has his will which is separate from our wishes. And so we get to be able to pray that his will be done. That is how we, just like Jesus did, get to be able to say, 'Up, let us go and see!' and get to be able to turn ourselves headed toward what God has unveiled for reality before our eyes.
4 Now the last point; it is what the three disciples had in mind in telling us that all the three fell asleep for three times [while Jesus was praying]. I say this out of my sheer imagination though, what the state and words of the prayer of Jesus suggested here was that it was due to the great horror that the disciples were not able to squarely look at him, rather than it having been that they fell asleep. As I repeat saying, even Jesus fell in such a state, and it had to be more so with the disciples. That was why there was no way the disciples could squarely look at Jesus who was horrified and was in anguish. They could only see him with their eyes barely opened. They could not look at the reality of the deep division between the will of God and our wishes, which the fact of his crucifixion revealed. Jesus dared to take such disciples for his witnesses. He picked two or three to be witnesses for him. That, I think deep in my heart, is nothing else but a church. It is good for us to barely see with our eyes narrowly open what was going on with Jesus, and good for us to be his witnesses.
Yet even the testimony by such shaky witnesses properly tells us the state of Jesus. And the testimony kept on catching the heart of many over the period of the last 2000 years. What was more to it was that even such disciples as were unable to look at Jesus squarely and could only see him with their half-closed eyes were changed to be ones who got to be able to pray like Jesus did. The message given us is that we don't have to worry about us, ourselves only being able to see Jesus with our eyes barely open, and only that way being able to believe God.
Translated by Hiroshi NISHIDO from a gist prepared in Japanese
(Note: Words in [ ] are those of the interpreter.)
Scripture for the day is 'The Gospel according to Mark 14:32-42'
32 When they reached a place called Gethsemane, he said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.'
33 And he took Peter and James and John with him. Horror and anguish overwhelmed him,
34 and he said to them, 'My heart is ready to break with grief; stop here, and stay awake.'
35 Then he went on a little farther, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible this hour might pass him by.
36 'Abba, Father, he said, all things are possible to you; take this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours.'
37 He came back and found them asleep; and he said to Peter, 'Asleep, Simon? Could you not stay awake for one hour?
38 Stay awake, all of you; and pray that you may be spared the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'
39 Once more he went away and prayed.
40 On his return he found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know how to answer him.
41 He came a third time and said to them, 'Still asleep? Still resting? Enough! The hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
42 Up, let us go! The traitor is upon us.'
(The Revised English Bible)
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'What the First Church Treasured'
1. Peter preached a sermon shortly after the amazing phenomenon called Pentecost happened. Those who gladly received his word were baptized, and according to Verse 41, "about three thousand souls were added to them." What those newly joined people were doing together with Jesus and his disciples is depicted in today's Verses: "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of bread and in prayers" (2:42). For the first church, these four points were the features written from Verse 44 to the first part of Verse 47 in different words. All believers came together and had all things together, praising God. In this way, the first Church gained the "favor from all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved "(2-47).
It is clearly depicted here in these Verses how the people were added to the first church that was just born. Peter gave a sermon first, then those who believed in his word joined the fellowship of the church. Those believers conducted activities which have the four features as are written from Verses 42 to 44, and because they continued such activities the Lord added them to the church daily. At the present time, we often worry how we can gain more people in our church and think over this and that. However, when the first church could add those people, it was the work of God, not work of human, as is depicted in Verse 47. It was not because the people took special measures to increase the number of believers. It was because the people did not care about that at all, but they gave a sermon and those who listened to them conducted the activities of the four features and their fellowship grew in number. When they kept doing the activities, the reality followed them in itself. The Lord will make it. Here is encouragement by the Lord any time it might be.
Concerning the four features, I will tell you soon later. Now, in advance I would like to tell you that what the first believers did was in one word "getting together." It is what joining the church fellowship means. Those people joined the fellowship because they were attracted by a charm of getting together there. At present, due to the outbreak of the new Corona Virus, COVID 19, it is restricted or prohibited to get together for a worship service in Europe and US. In Japan, too, there are churches that have restricted worship service and I hear some churches have changed their service methods to the Internet service. There are people who cannot attend the service due to fear of infection to their family. Even in such a situation as the present time, I am amazed to see that around 60 people have come here in this church. The other day last week, when my wife came in the chapel to do something, she happened to see a person who had never been absent from the worship service until the COVID 19 got a serious public concern. She said to my wife that she could not dare to join the service as she was afraid of getting infected. Nevertheless, at heart she wishes to attend the worship. What attracts all of you to come to church?
There are other various circles and events that have a charm of getting together, such as music concert, drama performance, Rakugo and sports events, but I hear all those events are now faced to a precarious situation, like a candle in the flickering in the wind, due to this COVID 19 pandemic. Nevertheless, there is a charm in getting together that church only can provide. It is exactly what is depicted in Today's Scripture, and it is a charm of the four features which the first believers found at church. It is my comfort and joy in having such an opportunity of getting together. As far as the church keeps these features, the Lord will add the people to our fellowship whatever difficulties we might face in the future.
2. Now, I tell you about the four features one by one. The first feature is that these people were dedicated to what the disciples preached them to do. This is written in Verse 44 that " Now all who believed were together"､and they praised God, as is said in the first half of Verse 47. This preach of the disciples actually means Peter's preach that is depicted immediately before these Verses. Three thousand people listened to his preach, which is written as "his word" in Verse 41, got baptized and joined the church fellowship. Thus, the feature of church community is that above all a preach is given as word of God and Jesus through the Scriptures.
In the previous sermon we learned from Verse 36 of Chapter 2. The point of Peter's word is nothing but his word in Verse 36, "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." All that is preached and taught to us at church is essentially based on this point always. There were various reasons why they crucified Jesus 2000 years ago. For instance, what we learned in the previous sermon is that the people had conflicting viewpoints with Jesus on the blessing of God, because Jesus taught, " Blessed are the poor, Blessed are those who mourn" on a mountain. It was a viewpoint of happiness which was usually never acceptable for the people.
At present, a great number of people are suffering and mourning due to the new Corona virus, COVID 19. Where on earth can we find happiness in such a situation? We, though not directly, crucified Jesus who taught that "blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn." It means not literally killing Jesus, but excluding unacceptable disasters and sufferings from ourselves. We will crucify what the new Corona virus brings about and try to eradicate them as our enemy.
Nevertheless, we are taught that "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." This is not what happened to Jesus only, but to all that we have repeatedly tried to crucify again and again as something that should not exist in our life as enemy, infectious diseases such as the COVD 19. From this preach we can learn that God will make all that we try to eradicate as a savior that brings a salvation for us. Here is a purpose of God for salvation that is far beyond our value and our view of life in general.
Of course, I do not mean that the infectious disease is a blessing, but however hard we might try to crucify and kill it, God will make it come again. This is a master. Faced to this suffering and grief, we cannot be a master. There is no other way but we lose, but in such grief and hardship, we will find a salvation from God,that is far beyond our idea. In short, what we are taught at church service is the tolerance given to us through the cross. That is a hope of salvation by accepting hardships and grief,
3. The first feature has taken long so far. The second feature is that they were eager to keep mutual relationships at the first church. Their behavior is depicted in Verses 44 and 45. Some say that what is written here is an imaginary story, not a fact. Others bitterly criticize the real situation of church, by referring to this Verse, that church has never been in such an ideal situation as is written here. Many Christians have tried to realize the ideal situation as is depicted here in this Verse.
What inspires me most from this word is that in the first church they were willing to share their weakness and poverty with one another. As is taught just now, the first feature of church is to accept the weakness and suffering represented in the cross. However hard we might try to eradicate problems by crucifying them, God makes them a master, and through such hardships, God will give us salvation and leads us to resurrection. Being taught by this way we get together and accept such suffering and grief.
However, it can hardly be done if we are alone. We do this in our relationship of church fellowship. As is said earlier, perhaps there was no time in the past that a church could do perfectly well what is depicted here. Nevertheless, even if a church cannot do it perfectly well, there is always a possibility that a church fellowship can do it. I would rather like to be pleased that there is a church fellowship which can somehow do what is written here, rather than criticizing that "no time in the past church could do what is written here."
I have often referred to the Emperor Yurianus of the Roman Empire. He was a younger brother of a different mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great. He disliked Christianity thus tried to return the Roman national religion to the old religion of the ancestors. Nevertheless he could not ignore the Christian community that had survived the religious persecution for two hundred years and had widely spread all over the Roman Empire. Thus, he sent a letter to the local officials and ordered them to "follow the way the Christians do." As the Emperor who hated Christianity said so, the Christians are trusted, though I am not flattering myself. What he said to "follow" was the following three points of Christians. seriousness in living, politeness in burying the dead and love for humanity, as is mentioned in the first feature earlier. Wasn't it exactly this feature of mutual respect and tolerance which was learnt by accepting hardships and grief through the cross that had sustained this Chritians' love for humanity?
4.The third feature was that they were eager to "break bread," which of course means to join the sacrament that is originated from the Last Supper with Jesus. It means we take the Cross of Jesus which is the foundation of the first feature of our belief. Joining the sacrament means that we take the will of Jesus that "this is my body for you and my blood that is bled for you." That we take the sacrifice of Jesus means that we cannot live without having the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus.
Though I always talk figuratively, we cannot breathe and filter out poison by ourselves, thus we need to be tied to an artificial respirator and artificial dialysis. We cannot live by our own blood, thus we get blood transfusion. The feature of our Christian community is that we are eager to join the Sacrament. In short, this means that we are the community of the sick who are aware of the weakness and the sickness of ourselves.
The second feature is that the relationship of the fellowship, as I told you earlier, cannot be separated from this point. The people of Church, figuratively speaking, are the sick people who are taking an artificial respirator, artificial dialysis or blood transfusion. That is why those who have somewhat recovered are willing to take care of the sick. In a hospital, you would never be excluded by getting sick or suffered. In this point a church is decisively different from other gatherings in this world.
Without our noticing, church tends to turn into a gathering of people who scramble for pursuing vigor, strength and wealth. But for me, as I was once hospitalized when I ruptured my Achilles tendon, I can feel there is something unique and different from other places in this world. In a hospital, grief and groan which would be excluded in a place where the healthy people only gather is never excluded.
Due to the outbreak of the new corona virus, it seems that the society as a whole is getting more exclusive and antagonistic against the weak or the unhealthy people. The society seems to be more hostile against getting sick and try to eradicate and exclude it. The gathering in Church is different. There is the weakness of the cross at the bottom of the church community.
The fourth feature is the seriousness in prayer. I cannot talk any more, but a prayer is an entreaty which the weak people who lack something would do. It is a Church community that is serious in prayers and accepts our entreaty.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The Acts of Apostles 2: 41-47'
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'The Church, Which Is Christ's Body'
1.1 Our church was founded on March 21, 1978. This Saturday March 21st,
is the 42nd anniversary of foundation of our church. In the Foundation Commemorative Service, I always talk about the words listed as the subject verse of the year. The words listed in the Book of Isaiah this year were dealt with as subject verses several years ago. Therefore today I would like to talk about the Book of Ephesus.
1.2 I entitled the sermon 'The Church, Which Is Christ's Body.' However, this word does not appear in the place that we have read today. We can find the following words in Verse 23 at the end of Chapter 1: ' the church, which is his body.'That the Church is the body of Christ is one of the pillars throughout this book of Ephesus. And what we have read today is going to deal with how the Church, which is Christ's body, works and what is the food and grace that we receive by belonging to the Church, I think.
1.3 So the first thing that we would like to pay attention to is that when Paul talks of 'The Church, Which Is Christ's Body,' the word ' Soma,' is used in the Greek text where it is translated. Speaking of Soma, you might recall the word- play adage Soma Sema which you must have heard so many times that you were sick of listening when you learned Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Soma means a body, while Sema is a graveyard. The body is a graveyard, and the thoughts and ideas expressed by such a word- play aphorism were widespread in the Greek and Roman world 2000 years ago. The city of Ephesus would have been no exception. Rather, Ephesus may have had such a strong mindset. This is because the city of Ephesus was a town that had produced famous scholars of Greek philosophy one after another for a long time. What scholars and others were asking for is to be free from a 'body,' which gets injured, sick, old and dies, and therefore which strongly binds our hearts and drags them into a graveyard in a chain. People asked for peace. They wished that they had no body. They hated their body and despised it. Isn't such an idea the same as today's situation where the coronavirus infectious disease is spreading? It is the body that gets sick. Because the body is sick, the peace of mind and spirit is lost.
2.1 Paul deliberately uses the word Soma to say, 'The church is Christ's soma,' to the people of Ephesus who considered Soma Sema that way. There I feel like a challenge from Paul.
2.2 The reason why Paul talks this way is above all that the 'body' was indispensable in that Jesus is Christ, I think. If Jesus had not had a 'body', Soma that drags him to the very Sema, namely, the cross, he could not be Christ or Savior.
2.3 What we are always taught from the fact that Jesus is our Savior, and Christ, in that Jesus is'a body,' is that we still keep it as a sacrament 2000 years later. It is Jesus' will at the last supper where the ceremony originated. Jesus took bread and wine at this meal and said,' This is my body and blood for you. ' He told that he would give you his body and let you drink his blood, that is, the sacrifice of his body and blood would save you. Because this is at the heart of our faith in Jesus as our Savior, we have remembered this word of his for 2,000 years and have observed the sacrament originating from the Last Supper.
2.4 We have been repeatedly taught why having Jesus' body, blood, and its sacrifice is essential to our salvation. I always compare the salvation of Jesus as the Savior to the cure and treatment by a doctor. Seriously ill patients cannot fight the virus with their own immunity alone, so they are provided with IV infusions and resupplied with outside weapons to fight with. If your kidneys have become so bad that you can no longer filter out the toxins in your body, then you will have them connect to a dialysis machine to get rid of toxins. If you can't breathe on your own, you will be connected to an artificial respirator to help you breathe.
2.5 I interpret receiving the sacrifice of Jesus' body and blood as follows: That is to connect with Jesus in the faith and at the cost of his sacrifice to have immunity, remove toxins, and help us breathe. Jesus, who hangs on the cross, tears himself, sheds his blood, and sacrifices himself, has a noble immunity that we do not have, and a purity that filters our poison. There is a breath of life that sends us oxygen. 'I am the vine, you are the branches,' said Jesus. It is by connecting ourselves to sacrificed Jesus that we receive both the support (because of the branches that lead to the trunk) and nutrients that we can never obtain by ourselves.
3.1 In this way, first Jesus had a body as Christ, and then this body of Jesus as Christ actually exists in the church, Paul says, I think. We will be baptized and be connected with Jesus. And we will take part in the sacrament where Jesus' body and blood are sacrificed. There, Jesus does not exist specifically as an infusion or as a dialysis machine or respirator. After all, we are a living body, so it is essential for the salvation of those who have a sick body that there is a specific body of Jesus, right? Paul says it is a church.
3.2 We may wonder if the church is doing some real remarkable work, like a real infusion or an artificial respirator or an artificial dialysis machine, to save us from getting sick. But, as a person who has been taken to the church by my father since I was born and who has continued to belong to the church, I feel keenly that the church has certainly done that kind of work for me.
3.3 The word 'The Church, Which Is Christ's Body', again reminds me of the word which I often quote from the Gospel according to Matthew 18:20 and which Jesus said. It is 'where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. ' Jesus said that he could create his own body specifically in this world, with only two or three people. It feels exactly like Soma Sema. That group of people is a small, fragile and weak gathering that can be taken straight to the graveyard. This is in stark contrast to the tremendous number of people who gathered at the temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus. There are really few who gather in the name of Jesus. But by being a part of Jesus' body, though it is small, we have strong immunity to live with, are helped to breathe, and we have our poison filtered out. Maybe we will be provided with the nutrition and support that we need, right?
4.1 What kind of support, nutrition, and immunity do we receive by belonging to the Church of Jesus' body, which is made up of two or three people together? I think that is talked about in the words that we have read today.
4.2 What Paul wants to say here is, first and foremost, that we are an integral part of the building where Jesus is the cornerstone, which is the holy temple and the home of God, I think. As for the stones that make up our buildings, we are only two or three stones, just as Jesus himself was unnecessary in this world and was abandoned because he was disturbing. So we are like stones that don't do anything useful. What could a collection of such stones normally do?
4.3 However, such stones come together to make up the body of Jesus and make the temple of God. It is also the home of God. That is why God rejoices in this building and values ??it as his home. Everyone keeps their homes clean and always takes good care of them. In the same way, only two or three of us are valued so much by God in making up the body of Christ. We are loved. That is why we think we can be supported, nourished, and immunized and also our poison can be decomposed in being part of Christ's body.
4.4 I have been observing the evening worship service for a long time since I was in Fukushima. Sometimes it was attended by only me, and sometimes it was attended by a music performer and me alone. In that case, we just read the Bible, sing a hymn, and pray. But when only one person comes, I will be happy to give the message. When there is only one or two persons, one person joins them and the value of being a gathering of two or three people is really appreciated. In that way, in the church, which is Christ's body, only one person is valued. Because of the gathering of two or three people, a single person's presence is really valued. I think that being treasured in this way gives birth to nourishment, support and a new life that we are given by belonging to Christ's body. I think it will be an immunity that protects us from pathogenic bacteria that make us sick, and we will have our toxins removed.
4.5 I grew up in a small church in a small town called Yuzawa in Akita Prefecture. There, as in Verse 19, Church members were'members of God's household.' I was treated like a child of every church member there. A man at the church had difficulty in walking and had some trouble speaking. I am not sure, but probably he earned his living by collecting garbage. I cannot forget the indescribably gentle feeling that he had. Such people might be neglected or discriminated against in this world. But in that church, that was not the case at all. It was a precious stone that had to be present. It was so important that the loss of one would open a huge hole throughout the church. Is there a place in this world where only one person is so valued? In the coming age and society, the church may become smaller and more like Sema in Soma Sema. But you don't have to fear or be ashamed of it. Jesus said,'where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them ' and that it was his body. Only when there are fewer and fewer people, can we appreciate the value of one person.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians' 2: 19-22'
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household,
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
(The Revised English Bible)
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'My Peace I Give You'
1.1 We are listening to the long words of farewell that Jesus left for his disciples at the last supper, the words that may be called his will. Jesus said in verse 27, "I will leave you peace and give my peace." The original Greek word translated as "peace" is Eir?n?, in the Latin notation: Eir?n?. That word is Shalom, a familiar Hebrew word. What is more familiar to us is the word peace or relief.
1.2 In any age, there is nothing more urgent for us than security and peace. I feel that the urgency for seeking this has not changed at all since 2000 years ago. Right now, we are terrified of the fear of being infected with an unknown virus. Even in such an era of technological advances, such a small virus threatens our security. Jesus promises such people like us 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 'We regarded Jesus' word (14: 6 ), 'I am the way, 'as the message to the effect that'There is always a way, no matter how you think you are in the midst of fog. Please be assured. ' So you can accept Jesus' statement of peace as a promise, 'You are safe even if you are put in such a situation as this, because you are protected all the time.'
2.1 However, I think there is a very important point here. The point is that the peace that Jesus gives us is 'my peace.' Furthermore, Jesus continues, 'I do not give to you as the world gives.' Jesus teaches that the peace that Jesus promises to'give' is the peace that Jesus himself has, and that it is completely different from what the world brings to us. The peace that Jesus promised is completely different from what we normally seek and what we are given in this world. If we do not know that, we will not be able to find the peace that Jesus promised. You just have to say,'Wasn't Jesus' promise a lie? '
2.2 The first thing that makes me think is what kind of peace the world gives. At the end of verse 27, Jesus tells his disciples, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.' Even at the beginning of the long farewell message at the Last Supper (14: 1), Jesus said, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled.' I don't think it's literally saying ' Don't let your heart be anxious,'as it was already taught. In a situation where something terrible is about to happen to Jesus, and where it is keenly felt that they are in danger, it is impossible'not to let your heart be troubled or to be anxious.' It is natural to be afraid. Jesus says 'In such a situation you still have a way to go in that I am the way. ' That is why there can be peace.
2.3 In this context, the peace given by the world and the security that we normally seek in this world in a common sense may mean a situation in which there is no anxiety or no fear at all. Maybe we want to be in a situation where there is nothing to worry about, right? That's why even a little bit of anxiety can cause our peace to be lost if we feel uneasy at all. But can we ever be in a state of no worries or fears? Last year, there were so many typhoons, and as soon as this year started, an unknown virus arrived. We will come to see this anxiety and fear one after another. If we try to find peace in a situation where there is no anxiety or fear, we can never find it.
2.4 With regard to what I have said now, what is suggested by the peace given by the world is the phrase in Verse 30, 'the prince of this world is coming.' It seems that this word symbolically represents that 'rule' is deeply connected to this world. If so, the peace that the world gives us is something that comes from 'the ruler of the world' linked to'rule,' right? 'Rule ' can be called 'control.' A few years ago, the prime minister of Japan succeeded in inviting this year's Olympic Games, saying that the situation after the nuclear power plant caused a meltdown was completely under control. However, the situation in which even such a small virus has not been controlled in the year of the Olympic Games is spreading, and there are voices who are worried about whether the Olympic Games can really be held. Even in this era of AI technology, we have no idea about how to cope with the evils caused by such small pathogens.
2.5 When we get down to it, actually maybe there is nowhere else to find peace in a situation where we humans can rule and control at will. We cannot find out such peace anywhere, but we may assume that there is such peace. I remembered that in Jeremiah the words 'They say 'Peace, peace, ' when there is no peace ' are repeated several times (6:14, etc.). There were people who searched for impossible peace two thousand and six hundred years ago in the days when Jeremiah lived, and today also, the same is true with us.
3. Unlike the'Peace given by the world' as described above, what is the peace of Jesus, the peace that Jesus gives us? Now Jesus has finished his last meal with his disciples and has left a will for them. He tells his disciples, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid, ' but that is not to say that Jesus himself did not have such a thing at all. The Gospel according to John does not describe such a scene, but other Gospels refer to a prayer at Gethsemane shortly after the last supper and just before his arrest. There Jesus said to his disciples,'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death ' (Mark 14:34). 'My peace ' is the shalom that can be held even in such a situation. It is not peace, as taught earlier, where there is no fear or anxiety. Rather, it is the shalom that can coexist with fear and anxiety. I keenly hope that such peace will be provided.
3.2 Then what is at the source? I think Jesus' words in Verse 28 tell us that. 'You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. ' What do these words indicate as giving shalom to Jesus at that time? First of all, Jesus interprets that being killed on the cross is going to God the Great Father, which is a joy.
3.3 To be killed, even to Jesus, must be an indescribably sad and painful event. That is to say, in the word 'control' mentioned earlier, Jesus loses control over his life, loses control, and on the contrary, is controlled by those who try to kill himself. But Jesus went his steps to God the Great Father, and that is why Jesus was provided with something great and magnificent by God, and made it something like a souvenir again for his disciples. Jesus regards such steps that he took as those that he will take toward his disciples again.
3.4 Certainly, that step is not under my control. Apparently you are controlled by your killer and death. But still, it is a step under the rule of God the Great Father. The ruler of this world 'has no hold over me', that is, he cannot do anything with the process of my going to his father through the cross and my returning again (at the end of Verse 30). There is shalom there. This is a good step. It's a joyful thing. In order to bring good things from the great God to his beloved disciples, it is a necessary step that has to be taken. It is there, where you accept it that way, that peace lies.
4.1 It's a little annoying, but it makes us wonder why Jesus said at the end of Verse 28, 'for the Father is greater than I.' In fact, these words of Jesus' have a history to them, because based on these words, a theology has emerged that regards Jesus as one step lower than God. Many people who insist, "Jesus himself says that God is greater than himself. He is smaller than God. He is not equal. He is not God." base their arguments on this word of Jesus'.
4.2 The reason why Jesus here purposely refers to God as 'being greater ' is that he says so in contrast to the smallness of human beings, including Jesus himself, especially as a physical being in the world, who sometimes suffers when he is sick and who has to die in the end. Jesus, and we as well, go to the great God through a small and painful walk because of his physical body in this world. This is my selfish image, but I have the image that the smallness of this modest walk in the world is enlarged, enriched, and widened under the great God. By being invited to the great God, our smallness and suffering in this world will blossom and bear great fruit. As we always recommend, our suffering and sorrow in this world are never wasted. Just as flower buds and bulbs bloom only by having the cold winter, so do our sufferings in the world, and they will bear great fruit in the great God alone. And with the fruit, Jesus returns to his disciples. Jesus returns and teaches that the suffering of the cross in this world has yielded such wonderful fruits only under the great God. So far, the Cross has done so much work within us only because it has come to fruition under the great God.
4.3 This is Jesus' peace. We are able to move forward by being provided with this peace, even if our hearts are troubled and afraid, right? We cannot control the situation at will. Rather the opposite is true. Because of its physical existence, it is also infected with the new coronavirus, suffers from various diseases, and is controlled by various rulers of the world. But that walk will go toward the great God, bear great fruit under the great God, and with that fruit we will surely return to those who remain in this world in some way. It's such a step. 'The ruler of the world has no hold over' the fact that we are fortunate walkers like this. What a wonderful word it is that 'He has no hold over me' ! 'I'means me who walk like this. With Jesus as the lead and companion, ascending the cliffs of the cross and using the Haken and karabiners that he hammered into them, and using a rope that Jesus himself bound himself and us with, we also head for the great God. The ruler of this world has no hold over me who walks this way. Don't be afraid of losing control. God and Jesus are in full control. Here is peace. We can move forward in this situation by following the voice 'Come now; let us leave.'
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The Gospel according to John 14: 27-31'
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28 "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.
30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me,
31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. "Come now; let us leave.
(The Revised English Bible)
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Choose the successor to Judas'
1 Since January 19, once every three weeks, we have been listening to the words from the Acts of Apostles. As we learned in the previous sermon, the author of the Acts of Apostles is Luke who wrote the Gospel according to Luke. He wrote this Acts of Apostles as a sequel to the Gospel according to Luke. The reason why he decided to write this sequel was that, though it might sound like a word play, those who believed that Jesus was a savior did not decrease in number.
There were a number of critical problems at that time and because of such difficulties, usually the number of believers could have decreased and perished. The first crisis was, needless to say, that Jesus was crucified and killed on the cross. Nevertheless, overcoming the crisis, people continued to believe that Jesus was the savior to them. Thus, the purpose of the Gospel was to clarify the reason why it happened.
The second crisis is what I am going to tell you today. As it is depicted in Verses 9 to 10 which we learned in the previous sermon, Jesus was taken up to heaven and became invisible to the disciples. As the person who had preached various things and encouraged them was gone, usually the community relying on his presence could have come to an end. Nevertheless, it was not the case. In order to clarify the reason why it did not occur, Luke wrote this as a sequel to the Gospel.
It is very useful for us to learn this point. Above all, we can learn how our churches can survive in the difficult times from now on. We can learn not only how churches can survive but how each of us can individually sustain our belief life. Moreover, we can learn not only how to sustain our belief life but the secret of resilient survival in life itself. 2. Then, how did the disciples overcome the decisive crisis after Jesus was taken up to heaven? Verse 12 depicts that "they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey." I have just realized for the first time that it was the Sabbath day and "they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying," which was probably the house where they had the last dinner. There were the eleven disciples after Judas Iscariot?was gone. They continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. In short, the disciples were giving a prayer together with other believers on the Sabbath's day.
It is in this scene that we can find the essential driving force to overcome the crisis after they could not see Jesus as before any longer. There are the words of Jesus, which we remember again and again that "for where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them (Matthew 18-20)." These words might not be the words of Jesus himself, but originated from the experience of the disciples who were gathered together two or three after Jesus was gone and yet, strangely enough, they felt as if Jesus had been together in the midst of them while they were praying. Such experience of the disciples might be depicted as the words of Jesus here.
What I imagine is how the situation would have been, if Jesus after the resurrection could have stayed with the disciples in a mysterious way for long. Jesus after the resurrection said to Mary Magdalene, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father"(John 20- 17). If Jesus after the resurrection could have stayed close with the disciples for long and kept teaching everything directly to them, wouldn't it mean that the disciples kept clinging to Jesus for long? When and in what way Jesus who has resurrected can show up in front of the disciples and us depends on Jesus, It is beyond our capacity, and there is nothing that we can do about that. If we would try to know it, it is what Jesus meant to cling to him, Thus, Jesus said to Mary Magdalene not to cling to Jesus, I think.
In order to avoid making the disciples and us as well cling to Jesus, didn't Jesus ascend to heaven and create on purpose a situation in which he has become invisible? As a consequence, there was nothing left for the disciples but to get together and pray, but because of this, when they got together even just two or three, strangely enough they felt as if Jesus were there together with them. It is great indeed that they felt so when they got together even just two or three. They did not need any gorgeous chapel to pray. Be it in a humble house, or outdoors, in a hospital or in a kind of a detention camp, with a really minimum number of people we can set an opportunity when Jesus can be with us. How encouraging it would be to us.
Without noticing this in particular, we get together and give our worship like this. We usually do not realize how it brings us power and blessing. Last week after the worship service was over I had a chance to chat briefly with a person who came with a wheel chair. When she came to church with a help of her husband, she looked pale and not in a good condition, but after the worship service was over her face looked vivid and fine. Not only myself but other people who are close to her also said the same thing, saying that she looks totally different after attending the worship service from when she is at home. Like this, we know how greatly we are empowered and blessed by getting together to attend the worship service and praise the Lord. It makes us overcome all kinds of difficulties and exercise resilience to get together and worship, even if it may be just two persons only.
3. Now, the second crisis that the disciples and the first believers were faced with was, as is depicted after Verse 15 in the Scripture of today, what had happened to Judas Iscariot who was one of the 12 disciples. We can imagine how critical the situation was for them. One of the 12 disciples who were selected by Jesus himself sent off Jesus for money.
It makes us doubt the ability of Jesus in selecting persons and give us the impression of the weak power of Jesus in selecting people and above all the extraordinarily tragic death of Judas. It is said that Judas committed suicide. While he was selected by Jesus as one of his 12 disciples, eventually he had such a tragic death. It was not a matter of strangers. It is not a matter of others to us, either.
Peter, too, denied Jesus three times. Would we not do something similar, if not literally in the same way, by denying and selling off Jesus? Everyone has something weak. Would such weak persons like us have eventually such a tragic end even if we are committed with Jesus? Isn't Jesus supposed to bless us whatever happens to us? Verse 19 says that "it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem." It was widely known to the people that if you were committed with Jesus, your life would eventually result in such a tragic death.
In such a critical situation, what was the driving force for them to overcome it? It was what Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples and about 120 people and said. I used to think that the first preach of the newly started church was the sermon of Peter written after Verse14 of Chapter 2, but today I first realized that I was wrong. Peter preached how they could overcome the crisis related to Judas Iscariot, and he preached it quite mercifully based on the Scriptures. I realized again the profound meaning of the scriptures.
Then, what above all does Peter preach about the happening related to Judas? At the end of Verse 16, "this Scripture had to be fulfilled." The original Greek word for the words "have to" is "Dei," which has a special implication of "God." Thus, this special word is often used in the context of the will of God or the plan of God that is necessarily fulfilled. When Jesus implies his suffering, this word, "Dei" was used. Related to the transgression of Judas, who certainly sold off Jesus for money, it was, too, necessarily fulfilled as a will and a plan of God. Jesus himself regarded the suffering in this way, and also mentioned Judas in this way.
Thus, Jesus did not make a mistake in selecting Judas, Jesus was not weak in choosing persons, either. On the contrary, it represented the wide selection of Jesus and his strength. He chose a person who would betray him. The selection of Jesus is much wider than the transgression of Judas. This is what the will of God is represented.
4. In Verse 17, Peter said remarkable words about Judas, saying that "he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry." Perhaps Peter meant that Judas who was selected as one of the 12 disciples and working as a treasurer of the church, according to the Book of John , In such a positive sense, he was a member of them and working a part of the church. However, by far beyond such a positive sense, even the transgression of Judas itself seems to be what he was supposed to do. In this sense, Judas was an indispensable part of them, I think.
Peter, too, was commissioned to deny Jesus three times. Similarly Judas was commissioned to betray Jesus while he was selected by Jesus as one of the 12 disciples. It was because Peter could testify the love of Jesus and Judas could prove through his transgression the broadness of selection of Jesus and his strength.
It is often said that Jesus is cursed forever. But, I do not take in such a way. If Judas, too, was taken in God's will (Dei) or in the wide selection and strength of Jesus, how should he be cursed forever? "Dei" that is God's will and the selection of Jesus with love are much broader and stronger.
Being encouraged by such a preach of Peter, the disciples and bereaves decided to choose the successor to Judas by casting the lots. It might have been better not to choose the successor and keep the 12th disciple as an empty position in order to prevent a Judas-type person from being chosen. Wouldn't it be better not to choose a successor to Judas in order to demonstrate the firm determination of the church not to make the similar thing happen again?
Nevertheless, the first church did not do so, and chose the successor to Judas. They did so by choosing from those who had seen the resurrection of Jesus, by a very easy method that by casting lots. Shouldn't they have taken a more appropriate method for selecting the successor? Should they have carefully examined a person who had a diametrically opposite quality? Nevertheless, they did not do so. Above all, it was impossible for them to choose such a person.
Those disciples, too, had no such intention. Nevertheless, the way by which the successor to Judas was selected, figuratively speaking, suggests that a person like Judas can always emerge in Church. Among us, a person like Judas always appears. There is no church where a Judas does not appear. Nevertheless, Church is a community that can overcome it by getting together, praying and listening to the sermon, like us here today, and make up for what Judas fell short of.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The Acts of Apostles 1: 12-26'
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Jesus who was taken up into heaven'
1 From today for the time being once every three weeks we will listen to the words from the Acts of Apostles. It is because at the time when I recommended the Acts of Apostles at the joint worship service for the Thanksgiving day last November, I found that there is much we can learn from this for considering how our church should be from now on.
Needless to say, the Acts of Apostles depict the situation when Christian churches just started. For all kinds of creatures, the time when they were just born shows what is crucially important for them. The same is true with a church, I think. When we read the Acts of Apostles, we understand what is fundamentally important, in other words, what are unimportant matters, for a church.
From now on, not only our church but churches in Japan or in the world as a whole will have to change and face difficulties. Faced to such difficulties, it is important to firmly keep in mind what is crucial for Church and what can sustain Church. Not only to churches but to each of us the Acts of Apostles teach how the solid foundation of our belief should be.
Now, Verses 1 and 2 say, "Theophilu……I made." Here, "the former account I made" means the Gospel of Luke. Luke wrote the Gospel first, and then wrote, "of all that Jesus began both to do and teach" and presented a complimentary gospel to a person named Theophilu. The Gospel according to Luke says (Luke 1:3) "It seems good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus.
It is not known at all who this person, Theophilus, was who was also addressed His Excellency in the older colloquial version of the Bible. Thus, it is said that he might be an official of a considerably high position of the Roman Empire. According to the annotated book there was a legend that Luke a slave and doctor serving under this Theophilus. As Luke cured a heavy illness of Theophilus, he was liberated from being a slave.
Later, it seems that Theophilus either became to learn and believe Christianity through Luke or turned to a truth-seeker by himself. It is reflected in the last part of Luke (1-4)," you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed." In order to make the belief in Jesus more certain, Luke first wrote the Gospel and presented it to him. Nevertheless, he thought it was still not enough and he needed to add more, thus as a sequel to the Gospel he wrote this Acts of Apostles.
2. What matters is what he felt was missing in the Gospel. Verses 2 and 3 of today’s scriptures say that he wrote "of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up. He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." The content written here is first of all the same with what is depicted in the Gospel. Nevertheless, as I just told you, he felt it was not enough and that he had to write a sequel to what was written in the Gospel.
What was missing is, according to the today’s scripture, the event as is written in the margin of Verse 6, that Jesus was taken up to heaven and became invisible to the disciples. And even though Jesus turned invisible, those who believed that He was a savior did not decrease in number. On the contrary, they kept increasing, and in spite of various difficulties churches where the Christians got together were built here and there.
Usually at the time when Jesus was crucified, people would have thought that this person could not be a savior to them but it was not the case. That is why Luke wrote the Gospel to tell the reason to Theophilus. Then, when Jesus was taken up to Heaven and became invisible to the believers, usually such believers would have decreased. But it was not the case. Why was it so? it was the intention of this Acts of Apostles to tell about that. He had to write a sequel to the Gospel because there still remain those people who believed that Jesus was a savior to them. What kept them believing in Jesus? The reason is actually still valid now 2000 years after the Acts of Apostles were written.
3.Then, in today’s scriptures, according to Verse 4, Jesus commanded the disciples "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father" which, He said,"you have heard from Me." When I read these words of Jesus, I was attracted by that Jesus commanded them to wait. Why didn’t they disappear who believed in Jesus, and why has Church survived a great number of difficulties after that? It is because they were to wait for the promise of the Father and they were from a community who wait for that.
What is a decisive difference between waiting and not waiting? Waiting means that there is something decisively missing in the current situation and thus looking forward to being fulfilled. In other words, waiting means that we are open to the future. Those who wait open the way to the future. Thus they can accept a change. On the other hand, those who do not wait are satisfied with what they are now, and they try to keep what they have with them now. Thus, they are not open to the future.
Jesus commanded the disciples to wait first of all, not by keeping the current situation but by opening themselves to the future. When they are open to the future, as Jesus continued after that, they will know "the Promise of the Father"come to them. If we try to keep only what we have now, we will not see that the Promise of the Father is given to us. We will not see that something good that is unknown to us now is given by the Lord from the future. As I tell you shortly after this, the promise of the Lord is the Holy Spirit, Jesus said.
The Holy Spirit literally means the "wind". Having the Holy Spirit upon you is realistically something like being blown by the strong wind as a matter of phenomenon. Thus, as a visible matter it is what is not very welcome for us as it is like a trial or hardship. What come from the future to us are for our age mostly uninvited matters. Nevertheless, if we are open to the future, we can find something good in it. We can accept it as something good from the Father. Those newly born believers at that time were the people who could wait. It might be fortunate for them that they did not have anything that they had to keep with themselves.
3.Well. what Jesus meant by "the Promise of the Father" was, as I said earlier, was having the Holy Spirit upon us. I will tell about this later soon. Hearing this word of Jesus, the response of the disciples was asking Jesus, saying "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Then, Jesus answered to them saying that, "it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority."
From this dialogue, when we wait, we learn what we should wait as a belief community and what we should not wait. that question and answer, What the disciples were expecting and waiting for was the restoration of the kingdom for Israel by the Lord. The kingdom meant the state of Israel in this world. Once the disciples expected Jesus to build the kingdom and appoint them to a position of Minister (for instance, Mark after Verses35 of Chapter 10). Nevertheless, Jesus taught those disciples not to wait for the kingdom on the earth. Of course, we are not waiting for such Kingdom to be built. Nevertheless, as we are always taught, the state means a sphere in which we can behave as if we were a king. Aren’t we waiting for the time when the church can behave in such a way in the secular management? Also, are we not looking forward to behaving like a king?
Nevertheless, Jesus told us that if we wait for such a kingdom, we cannot find the promise of the Father. Jesus said "it is not for you to know times or seasons." To know means to govern, and it implies that there is something that we should neither pursue nor know. There is something that, as a church and a believer, we should not pursue to know, because it is above all to govern. If we wish to wait for that, we as well as church cannot continue.
4. Then, what should we wait for as the promise of the Father? It is, as I told you again and again, to have the Holy Spirit upon us. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we will receive power and we will become "witnesses to Jesus till the end of the earth." I am impressed to find how diametrically different what Jesus told us here from what is told earlier about building a state.
When the Holy Spirit comes, we as well as the disciples receive power. But the power is not for building a kingdom and keeping it in this world. On the contrary, it is like being blown away till the end of the world, as the Holy Spirit comes like the wind. Thus, when the Holy Spirit comes upon, we will be blown by the wind, against our own will, to unexpected situations and eventually till the end of the world to bear witness of Jesus.
I am always encouraged with the verse that "you shall be witnesses to Me." A witness can tell simply what he saw, without telling a lie. It is sufficient. There is no need for a witness to tell anything special. It is just like the moon which shines when they reflect the sunbeam. The moon itself does not have any beams but when at the time of the full moon it shines in such a way. though at the time of the new moon it is entirely dark without light. There is a time of the full moon and the new moon. It is actually the image of us as the witnesses.
As the believers, we have a variety of images how we can reflect the rays of Jesus. There is a time like the shining full moon and there is a time like the new moon that is totally dark. Nevertheless, that is our way as the witnesses, Jesus says.
At the end of today’s scriptures, Verse 9 depicts that "He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight." The picture of these disciples is our fundamental figure, I think. Here is a man we are waiting for. That is Jesus. And we are those who cannot see him clearly. We are those who cannot see Jesus who is decisively important for us. Thus, we are always waiting for him. What does it mean? It means that all that we do is done in the context that we are waiting for him who is invisible to us. It is done in the context that we cannot see Him who is the most important person for us. Thus, everything is imperfect and it is like the moon not the sun. Ours are the steps of those who are imperfect. As such human beings it is crucial for us to move forward, says Jesus. it is great encouragement and comfort for us.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The Acts of Apostles 1:1-9'
The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Samson and Delilah'
1.1 There appear 12 people called Judges in The Book of Judges. Of the twelve judges, we were able to read only two in the worship service: They were Gideon and Samson. As for Samson, we read a passage that described his birth in the first half of Chapter 13 last time. Today we listen to the words that describe how he breathed his last. The middle part of Samson's life is completely gone, but today we want to finish listening to The Book of Judges.
1.2 Well, that's what I said last time. I'm not sure when it was, but when I was in elementary school, I watched a movie about how Samson lived on TV. Samson, who was deceived by Delilah and ended up being captured by the Philistines and enslaved by them with his eyes gouged out and with himself chained, regained his marvelous physical strength at the very last minute and destroyed the palace. What he did remains clearly in my mind. I remember that my mother, who saw me moved greatly, told me that this story was written in the Bible. This was the only time I heard about the Bible from my mother.
1.3 What of Samson's figure attracted me so much when I was a child? To put it simply, I may have been excited that Samson, who had been badly treated by the Philistines, took revenge on them finally. Last time, I introduced the explanation of a book with notes. Israeli people have long been excited and inspired by this story of Samson's, like me when I was a child. What was it like?
1.4 That is what I told you at the Christmas Eve worship service last December. Last year, there remained the word 'resilience,' strongly in my heart. I heard it for the first time on a program for the elderly that was broadcast around May last year. Recently, many books on resilience have been published, and lectures and seminars about it have been popular, I hear. According to the TV program that I saw, the word 'resilience,' means the power to endure even if a person is put in adversity or to push aside his adversity and continue to survive it tenaciously. In the feature of the radio at the end of last year, one commentator was repeatedly referring to this resilience as an important pillar in surviving the society of the future. I feel that this resilience is what Samson's figure is showing. At the very end, Samson dies himself in the form of revenge on the Philistines. However, even if he is deceived, his eyes are gouged out, he is used as a slave, and he is made fun of, the very power which has not been lost is resilience, right? Including these points, I would like to give the message of encouragement provided for me through today's words.
2.1 First, what remains in my mind was that the Bible made me feel that the figure of Samson, who was a judge, was described as it was. As we close the text from Chapter 13 that described his life, the words in Verse 31, Chapter 16 are as follows: 'He had judged Israel twenty years.' That means that he played the role of an Israeli leader for 20 years. Then, what on earth did he play such a role?
2.2 We have not seen all of Samson's life starting with Chapter 13. However, regarding what is written here anyway, the point is that Samson falls in love at first sight with the women who belong to the Philistines, one after another, and the trouble occurs between the Philistine people and him, an innumerable number of times. The first woman whom he fell in love with at first sight was a woman at Timnah, who belonged to the Philistines. There occurs trouble with Samson's parents and next with the Philistines over his marriage. As soon as it is over, again he falls in love at first sight with a prostitute in Gaza, who belongs to the same Philistine, and trouble arises again. Still, again he falls in love with Delilah this time. And this time, it leads to a terrible disaster on his own.
2.3 What kind of woman she was is described in Verse 4 and the following of Chapter 16. In short, she was such a woman as was blinded by money and tried to sell Samson to her Philistines. She tries to find out the secret of the marvelous physical strength from Samson three times, but it doesn't work. So we are at the place where we have read today. At last, for a fourth time, she has succeeded in finding out the secret perfectly. We are stunned at Samson's stupidity. You may normally be aware out of what motive she is trying to find out his secret. However, prompted by feelings, Samson behaved as Verse 16 says, 'when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.' He was so foolish that he felt obliged to reveal the secret of his marvelous physical strength finally, and he was nicely caught by the Philistines. His eyes were gouged out, and he ended up being made a slave.
2.4 What on earth can this personality of Samson's be called 'judge'? Where can we find a figure suitable as a leader in him? There is only one or two books with notes and explanations about The Book of Judges. In those books, every author mentions that Samson was a real Don Juan, and they said that he was not suitable as a leader. They explain that because he repented on his behavior, he regained his marvelous physical strength. I think that would be a normal interpretation. However, I cannot help feeling that that is not the case with such an intention in the description of The Book of Judges. Rather, I learn that such a really ugly and foolish figure of Samson's is also an essential thing that God used as a judge. Samson is a judge in demonstrating with the example of himself that he was used by God, right?
2.5 What drew my attention was the words of Verse 14, Chapter 4. As I summarized the chapter earlier, regarding the woman with whom he fell in love at first sight at Timnah, Samson first asked his parents to allow him to marry the Philistine daughter. His parents object to his plea as a matter of course. However, regarding the response of these parents, the word of Verse 4, Chapter 14, says the following: 'His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord; for he was seeking an occasion against the Philistines.' Astonishingly, the Bible says that Samson's foolish love for the Philistine women whom he loved at first sight one after another was God's plan to make the Philistines, who ruled the Israelites at the time, and Samson involved. As a result, various troubles arise, but as Samson put forth his marvelous physical strength, he ended up protecting the Israelites from the Philistines. The above mentioned word says that that was God's plan. If that is the case, it would be possible to say that he was deceived by Delilah, and captured by the Philistines, he had his eyes gouged out, and he was enslaved. It was God's will, right?
3.1, There is a word that I would like to introduce in the recent worship service. We have learned that there were mysterious words'Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin' (Daniel 5:25) that Daniel read and interpreted, and through them, we were taught that it is what we cannot count, what we cannot measure, and what we cannot separate that we have to depend upon for living. For Samson, who served as the leader to protect the Israelites from the Philistines, that is to say, Samson, whom God entrusted with a mission to serve as a place of dependence for the Israelites, his love for the woman, his foolishness, and his roughness cannot be separated from his precious work as the judge, I think. As we have seen earlier, we immediately decide that Samson's attitude toward women is stupid and unworthy as a believer. They try to separate this as if it were garbage and to throw it away. So did his parents. They tried to abandon their son's desire to get married to a Philistine woman as unfit for an Israeli. But that was not the case with God's plan.
3.2 Verse 28 contains the following words as Samson's last prayer, 'I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be avenged upon the Philistines for one of my two eyes.' We understand well that it was a desire to retaliate that pushed the judge named Samson until the last minute. Verse 30 shows that the dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life ,' and that his work as a judge was exclusively to kill the Philistines out of revenge. Everyone thinks that such a thing is not suitable as the driving force or as the work to move the chosen person as God's leader at all. But for Samson, a desire to retaliate was also indispensable in order to make him fulfill his duties as a judge, even if he is deceived, has his eyes gouged out, and he is enslaved, right? We are taught that regarding Samson's resilience, in fact, love for the woman, stupidity, and even a desire to retaliate were indispensable. The thoughts that arise very naturally in our hearts, and sometimes really stupid steps, are also necessary so that God may use us. In order to demonstrate our resilience, we sometimes need stupidity and even something like a desire to retaliate.
4.1,There is one more point that impresses me strongly about today's words. There is a motif running through the entire story of Samson about whether hair should be cut or not. If he is moved by the foolish feelings toward Delilah, and he reveals the secret of the marvelous physical strength, his hair is cut off, and as a result, his marvelous physical strength is lost. Samson had his eyes gouged out and he was fettered and he ground at the mill in the prison day after day. However, even in these days, as is said in Verse 22, the hair of his head is beginning to grow before he knows it. Without the awareness of both Samson himself and the Philistines, the lost power is restored. We can't help feeling something like the resilience that is hidden within ourselves.
4.2 I think that the source of the marvelous physical strength given to Samson in the first place derives from his being dedicated to God from the time he was in his mother's womb, as Verse 17 says. We literally don't have such marvelous physical strength, but I think that we are dedicated to God, that is, we are God's treasure, which actually brings tremendous power to us. The phrase 'from the time in mother's womb ' means congenital, and not acquired. It means that it is not influenced at all by what we do in the society or in the human relations or what kind of person we are. No matter how people and society look down on us, we never lose our so-called self-esteem by thinking that we are God's treasure. That is a great power for us.
4.3 The fact that Samson revealed the secret of his hair to Delilah means, when you get down to it, that he made nothing of the innate value of God's treasure and sold it in an acquired relationship - even if it's a relationship with a loved one, right? I think that in the very relationships between parents and children and loved ones, we sometimes make the treasure that we have in our relationship with God invisible or throw it away. The events between Samson and Delilah feel like that way. Samson gave Delilah the treasure that he had been given before he was born, and as a result he lost his marvelous physical strength.
4.4 But that wasn't completely lost. No acquired relationship can deprive us of the power that God gave to us before we are born. It only temporarily causes us to lose our power. It is only temporarily covered by the relationships with, and the events of, the world. I think that it appears in the phrase 'the hair of his head began to grow again.' I think it's a really symbolic and meaningful word. The power of the Philistines, the wicked feelings of Delilah, and all the acquired power cannot prevent Samson's hair from growing. I've heard that hair grows even after we die. It's really trivial for the hair to grow. I think it's an everyday thing that doesn't make any sense to us. However, it is a crucial meaning for Samson's resilience that his hair is cut and that it grows again. Even if we are placed in Samson's position, our hair will grow. There is resilience there.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)
Scripture for the day is 'The Book of Judges 16:15-31'
15 And she said to him, "How can you say, 'I love you,' when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me wherein your great strength lies."
16 And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.
17 And he told her all his mind, and said to her, "A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If I be shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man."
18 When Deli'lah saw that he had told her all his mind, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, "Come up this once, for he has told me all his mind." Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands.
19 She made him sleep upon her knees; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him.
20 And she said, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" And he awoke from his sleep, and said, "I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free." And he did not know that the Lord had left him.
21 And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with bronze fetters; and he ground at the mill in the prison.
22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice; for they said, "Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand."
24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, "Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has slain many of us."
25 And when their hearts were merry, they said, "Call Samson, that he may make sport for us." So they called Samson out of the prison, and he made sport before them. They made him stand between the pillars;
26 and Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, "Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them."
27 Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson made sport.
28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, "O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be avenged upon the Philistines for one of my two eyes."
29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars upon which the house rested, and he leaned his weight upon them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other.
30 And Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines." Then he bowed with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were in it. So the dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life.
31 Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Esh'ta-ol in the tomb of Mano′ah his father. He had judged Israel twenty years.
(Revised Standard Version)