Gist of Sermon

Worship Service on July 25, 2021

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'My Hand shall Not Be Against You' 1.1 In the previous study of Books of Samuel, we listened to the words of the latter half of Chapter 16. Today I asked you to read the first half of Chapter 24. The Prophet Samuel told him that Saul had been abandoned by God, and he refused Saul"s desire to keep worship with him, and King Saul was never be able to see the prophet again, and he ended up finally becoming ill. That is deeply connected to what I'm talking about today. Knowing or not knowing that David was chosen to be the next king after him, King Saul called the boy David by his side and calmed his heart with the sound of David"s harp. It was over in a flash. When David defeated the Philistine Giant Goliath, his reputation soared rapidly. As Saul became jealous of David, his mental illness deepened, and Saul relentlessly tried to kill David.
1.2 The scene where women cheer and greet David and Saul who have made a triumphant return is described in 18: 7 and the following. When Saul heard the women sing, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands," Saul was very angry and said furiously, "They have ascribed to David ten thousands and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day on." Since then, David has been chased by King Saul and forced to wander here and there as a fugitive.
1.3 Today's word describes what happened along the way. David took 3000 chosen men to a place like a natural fortress called Engedi. Saul, who followed him, entered a cave to relieve himself. Just as David and his men were hiding there, David had a chance to kill Saul. The soldiers of his men also told David, "Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, 'Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you."Encouraged by their words, David wielded a sword against Saul and did not kill him, but he stealthily cut off the skirt of Saul's robe.
1.4 Immediately after that David regretted his behavior and said as in Verse 7, "The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD'S anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD'S anointed."So David persuaded his men not to attack Saul with these words. David called after Saul who was leaving the cave. Hearing David's words, and considering that he did not kill Saul, while he got a chance to kill, Saul sheds tears and speaks the words of Verse 17 and below. Verse 21 says, "And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. "Both Saul and David went upon their own ways. We readers think that they were finally able to reconcile and that Saul could peacefully hand over the throne to David, but unfortunately it wasn't. At the end of the Book 1 of Samuel, the conflict between the two will not stop until Saul is killed in action.

2.1. What attracts us most when we read today's words is that David did not exercise it, even though he had the opportunity to kill Saul. Verse 13, which we read today, says, "my hand shall not be against you." I gave the sermon title from this word. The reason why David makes such a statement is that, as in Verse 7, "The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD'S anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD'S anointed."
2.2 David's men said as in Verse 5. I will mention that later but, actually, God"s telling David that way is not mentioned anywhere in the Books of Samuel. Certainly God disqualified Saul as king and chose David as the next king. However, that does not mean that God handed over Saul as David's enemy and gave him what he wanted, that is, it does not mean that David can take Saul"s life. But David's men so received that Saul was branded disqualified as king and that his master, David, was chosen as the next king and it seems that there is no problem in fighting back against those who relentlessly aim for their lives and trying to kill them if there is a chance. It is so-called self-defense. David thought that way for a moment. But he stayed. He thought that he should not put forth his hand against the being that God anointed and chose as a special being.
2.3 For the first time in many years, I took up this passage in the worship service and remembered what I had forgotten. That is what I have often talked about in worship. When I was a pastor for about seven years, I was faced with great challenges as the pastor. Due to my immaturity and stupidity as a pastor, I had three women who had just been baptized leave the church. I can't tell you the details, but when I visited one of the women's houses, I was turned away at the door. And she said in a letter from her, "You did something unworthy of a minister. You should resign from your job." After that, wherever I was and whomever I met, it seemed like I could hear the words and it felt like everyone was telling me that way. I wasn't mentally ill, but I was certainly quite mentally tired out.
2.4 Just around that time, I have witnessed many times that I was encouraged by the words of the Gospel According to John, whom I preached in a cycle of once every three weeks. And it was today's words that encouraged me by my preaching as another cycle. Not literally, but I was pressured by someone who tampered with me like that, and I even started to think that everyone was doing that way, and it "handed down "me on my own. I came to think that I had to quit the pastor. However, when I heard David's words---which may be said to be irreverent and convenient for me---although I am as stupid and wrong as Saul. However, as a pastor, I was anointed, and I was sure that God would not allow anyone to judge me. And the words through the Gospel According to John, which I often talked about in this sermon, were also given.

3.1. We do not literally "put down our hand"or kill, but we sometimes judge ourselves, cut and categorize a certain person, and we are treated like that by someone. And we are sometimes put in a situation where David wielded a sword at Saul.
3.2 In today's scene, David's men who said they could kill Saul first did so. As shown earlier, it seems natural in this situation that they think so and advise David to behave that way. God himself never treats Saul as an enemy of David, and he does not say that David can do what he wants to, but David"s men think so at their own discretion. Then they will put down their hands.
3.3 It is shown that Saul himself did so, and that it was probably the biggest cause of his illness. When I recommended it from the latter half of Chapter 16 last time, by reading the interpreter's manuscript"Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul," in 16:14 , I learned that according to the English Bible, the English word forsake is used. I remember that forsake means abandon. However, I have repeatedly asked if God really abandoned Saul. Certainly God wanted to keep Saul away from the kingship. But Saul remains king until his death. I think that is a really mysterious part. If God had completely abandoned Saul, he should have immediately dismissed Saul from the king and made David king, right? The boy David should have had become king immediately after he was anointed by Samuel, right?
3.4 But for some reason God didn't do that. Saul remained king, had troops, and was therefore able to relentlessly pursue David. For that reason, David had to remain a fugitive for a considerable period of time, not just a single figures but fairly long years. Then, from the mouth of the fugitive David, the words"Saul is the LORD'S anointed" come out. He says, "We must not put down our hands." I take that point as a manifestation that God has never completely abandoned Saul. There is a part of Saul that God does not hand down. It is natural for David's subordinates, Samuel, and Saul themselves to hand down that way, but God does not. God leaves some room. There are still some mysteries or secrets that humans do not understand and cannot handle.

4.1. On the other hand, it seems that Saul hands down on his own. As it is now shown, Saul will eventually be dismissed from the throne, though not immediately. It is God's decision to be dismissed from the throne, and this is what God has done. However, Saul does it on his own. He does put down his hand in the form of stubbornly trying to be the king. He also tries to get rid of David, who was chosen as the next king. It is at the same root that we do not accept God's hand and that we try to do it when God has not done it, as is shown earlier. We are always just using our thoughts and perspectives to reach out to ourselves and those around us. As a result, you will get mentally ill, right?
4.2 So I remembered the advice column that appeared in the Saturday edition of the Asahi Shimbun last week. The consultation was from a woman. The woman has been suffering from manic-depressive illness for 20 years, and her husband seems to have had a really hard time. She says her husband died of cancer last year. He told the woman six months before his death: "I have had a hard time because of your illness. I have had a hard time both mentally and physically. I don't want to see your face anymore and I don't want to talk to you." And he even said,"You"re a murderer." The feelings of the woman who heard such words six months before her husband"s death and survived are beyond our imagination. She says, "The words that my husband said will not leave my ears when I sleep or wake up, and my heart will not clear." The advisor to the column was the famous Chizuko Ueno. I once again felt that the only thing that could comfort the woman was the word from God today.
4.3 In the Advice Column, she said that she herself forced her husband to make an unimaginable sacrifice. She said,"I thought my husband wouldn't forgive me if I apologized and apologized." Therefore, it may be natural for the woman to be told that by her husband. As it was natural for David's subordinates to tell David that he could kill Saul. The word "You"re a murderer" from a dying spouse would be the same as being half-killed rather than having the edge of his jacket cut off. That's how humans do it. However, God does not do that. There is a being who does not put down his hand unlike we people do. Even if it is said to be a murderer, the fact that the relationship between the couple, who is regarded as such, has continued for as many as 20 years has something that human beings cannot handle. It is exactly as David continued to be chased by Saul for perhaps the same number of years. So for a long time Saul must have played some role as God-anointed by chasing David. Saul remains the one anointed by the Lord, even if he is called a murderer. Likewise, the woman must have played a certain role for her husband. She may have been a murderer for sure. However, there is something that cannot be completely determined by that alone. There is something that we cannot know.
4.4 Having realized that, David did not put down his hand on Saul. That is where the joy and comfort of faith lies. Even if there is a judgment that is natural for human beings, that is, hands are put down, it can surely be said that God does not put down his hand. There is always room for it. That is where we stand.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'The First Book of Samuel 24: 1-13' 1 When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, "Behold, David is in the wilderness of En-ge'di." 2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats' Rocks. 3 And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 4 And the men of David said to him, "Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, 'Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.'" Then David arose and stealthily cut off the skirt of Saul's robe. 5 And afterward David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt. 6 He said to his men, "The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD'S anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD'S anointed." 7 So David persuaded his men with these words, and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave, and went upon his way. 8 Afterward David also arose, and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, "My lord the king!" And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth, and did obeisance. 9 And David said to Saul, "Why do you listen to the words of men who say, 'Behold, David seeks your hurt' 10 Lo, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave; and some bade me kill you, but I spared you. I said, 'I will not put forth my hand against my lord; for he is the LORD'S anointed.' 11 See, my father, see the skirt of your robe in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the skirt of your robe, and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. 12 May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me upon you; but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, 'Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness'; but my hand shall not be against you.
(New International Version)


Worship Service on 11 July 2021

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Do not swear at all' 1. This morning we listen to the word of Jesus, preaching "do not swear at all." This word is very difficult to understand just like other words of this series of preaching. There are those who strictly take this word and reject making a pledge even at a court. Because of such difficulty, in a series of my two sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, I skipped this Verse so far. In several commentary books at my hand there are church ministers who too skip this Verse. Or, even if they give a sermon on this Verse, it is hardly "clear and convincing" for the readers. My sermon today too may be not satisfactory for you, but I try to do my best in clarifying what is meant in this Verse.
Now, this is to remind you that in the Sermon on the Mount there is a kind of proposition or basic principle to understand it. It is that the intention of Jesus in this Sermon was not to impose a burden to the Israelites, but on the contrary to bring them a stronghold or prescription so that they can be relieved from heavy burdens on their shoulders and to find happiness.

2.Regarding the Scripture for today, we would like to think based on this principle. By preaching "do not swear at all," how Jesus intended to alleviate a burden which the Israelites were imposed to them? For that purpose what stronghold or prescription was prepared by Jesus in this Sermon on the Mount? Here in this Verse, Jesus says, "do not swear at all: neither by heaven", "nor by the earth," "nor by Jerusalem," and "nor shall you swear by your head." It means in other words that the Israelites at that time used to swear in such ways, and by doing so they tended to be imposed heavy burdens as a matter of fact, I think.
For us to swear means something like making a promise or a contract. Though making a promise or a contract generally does not bring a heavy burden to us, what would it be if we make a contract of building a house and take out a home-loan over decades to come? Though I am neither willing nor able to take out such loan, I believe many of you have taken such loans for granted.
It would be generally possible to take out a loan over decades and keep repaying the debt, but in an unusual situation such as now under the Covid-19 emergency or natural disasters that take place repeatedly, such loans might turn to heavy burdens beyond their capacity to return. At the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake or the Great East Japan Earthquake, it became a big social problem that home loans remained even though their houses were lost. Though such loans later became to be covered by the insurance to some extent, the fundamental problem was not solved. I have heard that in the US and Europe when a house is lost, the mortgage loan for that house too is generally cancelled. On the other hand, in Japan the loan still remains as if it ought to, and by a joint liability system a debt is imposed on the family or friends who signed the contract.
To swear seems to mean something like this. It is something like what we take it for granted that we can keep living in a house by repaying the loan, while the future is always uncertain for us. We push our wishes to the future over decades. It is something like, as Jesus says in Verse 38, making our future as if we change our hair while or black. Though we cannot make the color of hair as we like, we try to do so. This is what is meant to be overloaded with a heavy burden in our life.
Apart from a home loan, there must be many other promises and burdens that are too heavy for us to carry. We try to fulfill heavy responsibilities by setting an agenda /aspiration to ourselves, by swearing or making a promise in order to respond to expectation of our spouse, family and institutions which we are affiliated with. It is as if you are turning the color of yourselves in order to fulfill the swear and respond to expectations. Believing that you can become someone that has achieved your aspirations, in order to meet such expectations, you impose something that Must be done to yourselves. Not a few people cannot fulfill such expectations or fulfil the swear, then as a consequence they tend to regret life is worthless and they agonize themselves over the swear.

3. As a heavy burden accompanies making a swear, Jesus preaches us "not to swear at all." Not to swear means not to try to own what does not belong to us essentially and not try to change our lives to our disposal. It means not to force ourselves and our neighbors that they Must be someone or do something. By doing so, we are relieved from a burden and we can find a stronghold.
Jesus says in today’ s Scripture that "the heaven is God's throne, the earth is His footstool and Jerusalem is the city of the great King" in rapid succession. ?It means that the world in which we are made to live belongs to God. The time in our life, our bodies and hearts are all what we have borrowed from God. There is God’s throne where God stands, and we are, so to speak, renting a place at the corner there. The owner is God and we are just renting a place, and nothing more. As we rent a place, we cannot change a hair, of which God is the owner, at our disposal.
This might make us feel very miserable, leaving no room of our own discretion. As I told this at the time of the Bible Study meeting last week, I enjoy listening to the NHK radio program, "Flying Classroom" at 9 PM on Friday. The moderator of the program is a writer and commentator, Mr. Gen’ichiro Takahashi. In the first half of the program, he makes a book review of his recommendation and the second half is for a talk with a guest speaker. Two weeks ago, the guest speaker was a professor from Nippon Sport Science University (NSSU), or Nittaidai, who majors muscle training. When he was asked why a muscle training is important for the public at present, he answered that it is almost the only opportunity that we can become a master of our body. However old we might be, we can make muscles and build our body at our disposal if only we keep training. In the current situation of various social restrictions which often frustrate us, the time when we become a master of ourselves makes us comfortable and peaceful. This is my interpretation of what he said, and we can understand the point of his talk.
At the same time, however, his way of thinking is based on a contemporary idea that "my life is mine" as Mr. Yoshihiko Morotomi who I have introduced you sometimes already stated. This is an idea that it is happiness that I am a master of my life and my body in particular. If we can really make it happen, we can understand that we are certainly happy and peaceful. Nevertheless, a time definitely comes when we cannot make a muscle training, how much we might wish to do so, and we cannot make it white or black even though it is our own body. Then, how those people who used to find a joy in building their body at their disposal might feel and in what else do they find happiness? I suppose those people might feel very miserable and unhappy if they cannot change a hair at their disposal. When one becomes a master or someone becomes my master, there emerges relations of "Must." As such a burden is loaded. When we cannot fulfill a swear or expectations, we feel our life is worthless.

4. Having said so, we should not take it negatively but positively that we only rent a place and cannot change a hair at our disposal. We can take it positively as a prescription or stronghold which enables us to find happiness. Except for the period while I spent with my parents, I have lived in rental houses. As such there was a sense of easiness. Two years ago we had the roof of the Minister’s house blown off by a typhoon. As it is a rental house, we do not need to worry much about that. If a house is damaged, we only find a new one. If you cannot change a hair at your disposal, it means in other words you are not responsible for a hair, much less for your life. It is God who takes a responsibility for your life, as the owner.
If you had your house blown off or lost in fire or hit by Tsunami, God will fulfill his responsibility for that. Thinking in this way makes us relieved and peaceful. It has something in common in his well-known words, "do not worry about your life" (Matthew 6-25), "Look at the birds of the air… your heavenly Father feeds them"(6-26), " Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow" (6-28). There is no need to worry about whatever you cannot change at our disposal, such as a hair or our body. All happens at the God's throne, or His footstool, thus there is no need for us who rent a place to worry about what happened to us.
Needless to say, there is a responsibility as a lessee who rents a place. There is an obligation called, "duty of care of a good manager" in a legal term, It is called "Zen Kan Gimu" in Japanese. We must make use of our body, our life time, which we rent from God, for the proper purpose to fulfill the "duty of care of a good manager." In this sense we are responsible for what we rent from God.
Then, what is the proper purpose? It is as what we have been taught so far from Verses 21 to 43, the relations with our neighbors. What was the purpose of God in giving us neighbors? We learned that God said, "it is not good to be alone," and God created neighbors to help us. The purpose of God in giving us neighbors is to be helped. The purpose of God in lending us part of his throne and footstool is not to enable us to make money or success or help others, but to be helped by others, and feeling a sense of happiness in being helped.
If it is our responsibility to fulfill the "duty of care of a good manager," we think we can do it. Jesus said in Verse 37, " let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No." We can quickly respond in this way because we are not the owner but we rent a place. Because we are not the owner, when there comes an offer of reformation of house, condominium or painting the outer walls, we can immediately say "No" without hesitation.
While we can help others, we keep helping others, and if we cannot help but we need being helped, then we say "Yes, I am willing to be helped." The title of the first page of the monthly journal, Kokoro-no-tomo, was "Ne need to live properly." The author writes at the end of the essay, " there is no need to live properly. There are many social resources that can help you. The mother who starved her two infants to death could have asked for help, then her children could have survived." It was an overlapping message with the sermon for today.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'The Gospel according to Mathew 5: 33-37' 聖書


Worship Service on 6 June 2021

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Peter was brought out of the prison' 1. The first three Verses depict how Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some people from the church at that time. This Herod the king is not Herod the Great who had ruled the whole area of Judea at the time when Jesus was born. Instead, it was his grandson, Herod Agrippa. He was a cousin of Herod Antipas who executed John the Baptist. Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee at the time when Jesus was crucified. Herod?Agrippa's had dwelled in Rome for a long time but in AD41 with the patronage of his friend Emperor of Rome named Caligulai, he was appointed to a ruler of Judea. But it was a short period of four years only that he was the ruler, because he died in AD 44. The last moment of his death is depicted after Verse 20 of Chapter 12.
Thus. Herod Agrippa stretched his hand to persecute the church in Jerusalem and killed James, who was one of the leading members of the Jerusalem church and one of the four most mentioned disciples; namely Peter, his brother Andrew, and John, out of the 12 disciples of Jesus. He killed James with the sword and because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter and tried to kill him. What was the background of this situation at that time? ? In our previous learning of the Acts, we listened to the words of Verses 19-26 of Chapter 11. There those who were Jews speaking Greek were scattered after the persecution of Stephen and after they had kept moving, they reached Antioch. There they got new followers and built a church. Those followers were called Christians for the first time. After Verse 27 it is depicted how the disciples helped the followers and even sent relief to the people dwelling in Jerusalem.
It must be quite surprising for the Jews who persecuted their church in Jerusalem. They must have anticipated that once they persecuted the leading members of the church in Jerusalem, the church would perish and those who were expelled from Jerusalem too would soon perish, they must have thought so. They wished those people to disappear as soon as possible, because they believed in Jesus that the Jews crucified and disseminated that Jesus was the savior. To their great surprise, however, those scattered people, far from being disappeared had greatly increased in number at Antioch and built a church there, and even they had sent relief to a church in Jerusalem at a time of great famine. It is not hard to imagine how those Jews got angry when they heard this news.

2. It matched the interest of Herod Agrippa. Because he had dwelled in Rome for a long time, he did not have support from the people in Israel. As such, he wanted to please the Jews so that he could be supported by them. Then, he stretched his hand to persecute some people in the church in Jerusalem. Verse 1 says "Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church," but it does not mention the specifically targeted people. Considering that in verse 12 after Peter was brought out of the prison, he came to the house of Mary and many were gathering together praying, the people in Jerusalem at that time had lost a place to worship and pray in public, thus they had to keep moving from house to house of the followers in a clandestine way. Nevertheless, Agrippa found James, a brother of John and killed him, then he seized Peter and intended to kill him after the Passover.
The martyrdom of Stephen resulted from a kind of infighting among the Jewish churches. However, the persecution by Herod Agrippa against the church in Jerusalem meant that the persecution by the public power finally started. Luke, the author of this Acts, might have sensed a symptom of such persecution by the Roman Empire, which had started to emerge around himself. Even so, it must be beyond his imagination that such persecution by the Roman Empire had lasted for two hundred years. Being aware of the symptom of persecution by the Empire, Luke intended to tell readers of this Acts that whatever persecution they might face, church would survive in a wonderful way. Though James was killed, Peter was brought out of the prison in a wonderful way, and church could survive. On the contrary, he wrote impressively that Herod Agrippa who persecuted them died just four years after that.
We strongly feel the weakness of church, whatever era it might be. Church cannot resist against the power that seizes its leaders and tries to overthrow church. Church is really powerless. Here we also see difficulties overlapping with church under the pandemic of Covid-19 at present and in the post-pandemic period. Though it may not be a literal persecution, there is power that works against church to overthrow it in various ways. Church is always weak against it. Nevertheless, we should not get disappointed at that. Church has never been strong at any times. A great number of people were seized and killed by the sword. Nevertheless, even though those persecutors died, church has somehow strangely survived.

3. Now, the important point that we can learn from the Scripture for today is what has enabled church to survive. The other day in the sermon we learned about the word, resilience. What was the essence of power or resilience to push all kinds of persecution aside in order to survive?
The church did not resist by the sword against the sword that killed James and by power against the power that seized Peter. Certainly. church was powerless in the sense of the sword or power to put a person in prison. However, they were strong in other power, by which they could resist against the power of Herod Agrippa. What kind of power was it? It was, as is mentioned at the end of Verse 5, the constant prayer. It says, for Peter who was kept in prison "constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church." This means that constant prayer was given in the worship service. It does not mean that they gathered to pray especially for Peter only but they gathered at a regular worship service as usual and in the worship service they prayed for Peter who was kept in prison.
In the Scripture for today what particularly attracts me is the phrase in Verse 3, "he saw that it pleased the Jews." Herod Agrippa conducted what pleased the Jews. As it pleased himself too, he did the persecution. However, shortly after that he died and he could not survive. Here we feel a kind of principle is given on what makes us survive and what leads us to perish. It is that if we try to please others in order to get our gains, we will perish. It cannot last long to keep catering to others.
On the contrary, the church kept having the regular worship service and kept praying earnestly for Peter. This was the essence of power that enabled church to overcome all kinds of persecution and to survive up to present. Who do we please by having worship service and offer prayers? After all, our worship service and prayers might be in pursuit of our gains. As by praying we feel better and encouraged, just like we get full when we eat. Nevertheless, it is not to please and cater to others. Why can we be filled with joy and deeply spiritual food by offering worship and prayers?
One of my favorite Verses is "the Joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah: 8-10). It means that our worship prayers please the Lord, thus we are given power from the Lord. To please and worship the Lord means we are pleased to whatever please the Lord. The Joy of the Lord matches what pleases us. As the Joy of the Lord is our pleasure, it becomes the source of our power.
Under the pandemic emergency at present, I am sure our gathering to worship service like this does not please others around us. Rather this kind of gathering is seen something harmful and annoying to others in fear of spreading the infection. Even so, we still keep the worship service and prayers. It might not please others or they regard our gathering as something useless and harmful. But there is the joy of the Lord if we keep worship service and offer prayers. Church can survive because we offer worship service and prayers to please the Lord.

4. In this way, as is depicted after Verse 6 Peter was brought out of the prison in such an amazing way. When we read this Verse, we wonder how such a miracle could happen to us as it happened to Peter. After this Acts was written, the people who were plagued with worse persecution by the Roman Empire might have deplored saying that such a wonderful miracle had not happened to them at all. They might have deplored what happened to them was the same with what happened to James.
We are told that such an amazing thing as is depicted in Verse 6 could happen only in a much longer time span of history. In a time-span of our individual lives from birth to death or a history of a certain church, it could happen that a church perished due to persecution or its leaders and followers were killed. As a time-span of our individual lives is short, we tend to expect that we can be brought out of persecution or other difficulties in the short period of our lives. However, what we expect does not come true, on the contrary what happened to James could happen repeatedly as we learn from history.
Then, we are tempted to consider that it was because our prayers were not enough to make the same miracle happen to us as it happened to Peter. Indeed, a number of people interpreted this Verse in such a way that James was killed because their prayers were not enough but Peter was brought out of the prison because their prayers were heard. The difference of seriousness of their prayers brought different results to James and Peter, so they might think.
However, Luke seems to imply that what happened to Peter might happen to church in a much longer span. The image of Peter who was put in prison, bound with two chains and watched by guards before the door seems to symbolize power and various difficulties that church is faced at present. They are not only the literal persecution or the pandemic but all other various prisons and chains that have bound church.
What would it be if we could attend the worship service of 1000 years ago? Much of the ritual procedure that we take it for granted at present might not be done there. Reading the Scripture for the day or singing Hymns as we do now at our church might not be done at that time. The church leaders at that time had power of the sword and power to seize people, much stronger than that of Herod of this Verse, and it was the time that few people opposed against such power of church. In reality what bound church may be not so much persecution or pandemic as leaders themselves of church. Just like Herod Agrippa, we ourselves and church itself have long pursued for what please others. We must cut such chains that we made by ourselves and by offering prayers we could cut such chains that have bound church.
Now at the end of my sermon I would like to recommend one point that touches our hearts. Verse 17 ends saying, "And he departed and went to another place." Actually after this Verse in the Acts, Peter suddenly disappeared and he was not mentioned again. Concerning this Verse, there is an interpretation that this part actually depicted the situation that Peter died a martyr. Hearing this, it just occurred to me what the angel told to Peter in Verse 8, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals." It reminds us of what Jesus after the resurrection had told Peter " when you are old, ….. another will gird you." When Peter came to the house of Mary, the mother of John, and a girl told that Peter stood before the gate to the people who gathered there praying responded as if she saw the ghost. Aa a matter of fact, Peter might be killed like James, or he might be brought out of the prison as is depicted in the Scripture for today. In whichever case it might be, Peter was not seen after this.
The point is that there was no need to see his vision any more. Because it was not through Peter that church could survive. Church could survive by offering prayers by the followers who got together like this, even if the hall was lost and church ministers were gone. Due to persecution or else, they lost leaders and halls and various other things without which they thought they could not survive. There comes a time that we lose various things. Yet, church is invulnerable against any such losses and difficulties.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'Acts of the Apostles 12: 1-17' 聖書


Worship Service on March 28, 2021

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'We Boast of the Cross' 1.1 This week is called Holy Week. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of his colt on the same Sunday as today, as we call it today. According to The Gospel according to John 12:13, at that time people shook the branches of dates and cheered Jesus. Therefore, it says that the day was specially called Palm Sunday. Jesus had a final supper with his disciples this Thursday night. It was called The Last Supper, and even now, 2000 years later, it continues to be preserved as a sacrament. Jesus prayed at Gethsemane after the Last Supper. He was then arrested, tried, crucified, and died on the cross on Friday afternoon. Then, early next Sunday morning, the women and disciples who came to the tomb were told that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.
1.2 I was wondering what kind of Bible word to use on this Sunday of the Palm Sunday. And I remembered that it was shown at the worship service on March 11th, which is 10 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, sponsored by the Kanto Parish. In that worship, I really wanted to be proud of Jesus' cross. So, in today's worship, I decided to make a recommendation from the words of The Letter of Paul to the Galatians.
1.3 First of all, I would like to briefly introduce what I recommended at the worship service on March 11th, a little away from The Letter of Paul to the Galatians. In that worship, I read the words of Genesis 50:20. That is the last part of the Joseph story. Joseph was half killed by his brothers and sold to Egypt by slave traders. However, due to a strange fate, he became like the Chancellor of Egypt and survived a large famine brilliantly. Then he summoned his father and brother's family from Israel to Egypt to save them. Looking back on that process, Joseph spoke to his brothers in the words of Genesis 50:20 like this.
1.4 'You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good ,' Joseph said. In the evil that his brothers had planned for Joseph, I saw the earthquake, the tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear accidents. The word says, 'God meant it for good .' However, when I think of the victims, I felt that it was impossible to say that evil and disaster itself would turn into good. The evil that the brothers did to Joseph will never turn into good. I thought that what the word meant was that God had created good through evil. God has already produced good through events that are evil for us humans and can only be described as disaster. Evil and good are so deeply and inseparably linked. We hate evil and calamity and try to keep them away from our life. However, God connects evil and good, and through evil, produces good.

2.1. I felt that evil and good were connected as inseparable in the cross of Jesus. Evil and calamity that we humans can never accept according to their values ??are the suffering of the cross. Since ancient times, it has been said that a person named Joseph is a model of Jesus. Just as Joseph carried the evil of his brothers on his back, Jesus carried the evil of man on his back. And just as Joseph produced good from it in his decades of carrying it on his back, Jesus also produced good while carrying the cross on his back.
2.2 In 1 Corinthians, Chapter1, Verse 23, which the deacon chose in last week's Exhortation, says that 'Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.' 2000 years ago, and even now, the cross is stupid and a stumbling block. It shows that we can never accept the evils and calamities that occur to us. The evil and calamity that occurs to us is the cross given to each of us. We have no choice but to reject it as a stupid and stumbling block. A lot of people who have been affected by the disaster still receive the evils and calamities that have occurred to them just as such. Such people as us are given the cross of Jesus. As I say a lot of times, there is an inseparable link between evil and good. Goodness is born from the evil of the cross. If it were not for Jesus' cross, we would have had no choice but to reject the reality of the cross given to us. Perhaps it was only accepted as something that should be cut off as evil and calamity, right? However, due to the events of Jesus' cross, we have come to carry our own cross on our back. We have come to think that goodness mysteriously arises from the evil, calamity, and suffering that we carry on our back. How can we not boast of such a cross of Jesus? I really enjoy having the cross.

3.1. So I consider the meaning of boasting of again. The word boast may not be used in a very good sense. However, it does not mean something shallow to brag about. I think it refers to a state in which we boast of our existence and have a firm grasp of the significance of our existence.
3.2 The other day, last year's suicide statistics were released. It was reported that while the number of male suicides decreased, the number of female and young suicides increased. It is killing oneself that is deeply connected to boasting. Verse 13 of today's Word says 'boasting about your flesh ,' and in Verse 14, the word 'world'appears. The boasting about our flesh is, in the end, the boasting of the world. I think our boasting of this world is that we are physically healthy, affluent, and have a lot of things. When the Olympics are held, I feel keenly that it is a symbol of boasting of the flesh of the world. However, there are a lot of people who cannot boast of things like that. How can people who have lost their jobs, deprived of their livelihoods, and even lost their homes due to the Covid 19 boast? Can they boast about the significance of their existence?
3.3 In the Galatian church Paul had to confront those who relentlessly tried to boast in the flesh. Those who try to boast in the flesh seem to have forced circumcision. Circumcision is, needless to say, an operation to remove a part of the foreskin of the male genitals. I once had a similar operation. Even with local anesthesia, the pain was still strong because the place was very delicate. Postoperative bleeding was also terrible. Imagine how painful and dangerous it was in the era 2000 years ago. I am keenly aware of it as it symbolizes what I boast of in the flesh. Just as in the Galatian church the people who forced other people to boast of their flesh were so relentless, we are truly deeply rooted in the same. It is deep in our roots. But, as circumcision symbolizes, the more we try to boast of flesh, the more we hurt. It bleeds. You will be driven to the point where you will kill yourself. Nevertheless, it is essential for us to boast. Even if we shed blood and hurt ourselves, if we can boast, we will try to boast of our flesh.

4.1. Therefore, it is essential for us not to boast of hurting ourselves deeply, but to boast of really keeping us alive. It must be a pride that you can still have, even if you are in a situation where you cannot boast of it at all in the flesh. Because all of us will one day be in a state of losing all pride in the flesh. We are subject to the cross in that sense. So we must be able to boast of the situation in which the cross was imposed. It is shown that it is Jesus on the cross who lets us do that. When you can boast of Jesus' cross, which is foolishness and a stumbling block for the people of the world, you will be able to boast of your own cross for some reason. We are allowed to boast of what we would normally never boast of. The cross of Jesus has such power.
4.2 A good example is Paul's event in writing this Galatian book, which we always recall in worship many times. In Chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, the following is written. Paul had a very negative disability in his work as an evangelist. He called it a thorn given in his flesh, and he prayed over and over again to remove it. But he couldn't have his prayer answered. However, at one point, he was told by Jesus as follows. :'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Upon hearing this word, Paul was proud to say, 'I will boast of all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me.' Now he was able to say that he is strong when he is weak. It will be none other than Jesus crucified who enabled Paul to do that. Jesus showed himself crucified and taught that 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.(2Corinthians 12:9)' Thanks to the cross of Jesus, we can know that our weaknesses also have important meaning and that they are precious. Therefore, you can boast of the situation that you could not usually boast of.

5.1. The reason why Jesus enables us to boast of our weaknesses is probably that Jesus himself was able to boast of his own cross, right? What on earth did Jesus boast of on his cross? What made him boast of himself? I think that the pride of Jesus appears above all at the Last Supper. That is why we have kept the sacrament from this Last Supper for 2000 years. I think that next week's Easter will not be able to be actually served, and it will be a sacrament just to read the ceremony. The formula cites Paul's Letter to 1 Corinthians 11:24 and the following. I think the word for you is what represents Jesus' heart above all else. Jesus could not avoid the cross for you. It is for us that Jesus bears suffering and weakness on the cross and takes on evil and calamity.
5.2 In what sense is it for us? Verse 14 of today's Word says, 'Through the cross the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.' As I was taught earlier, there is a deep-rooted thing in the world that tries to make us boast in the flesh. In that way it hurts us, sheds blood, and, as a result, deprives us of the pride which is a means of living. Weakness, poverty, and suffering, which are the ones who bear the cross on their backs, are cut off, and they end up in killing themselves. So you have to crucify such things. To achieve that purpose, there must be a cross. It is essential that Jesus himself is willing to accept the cross. Jesus boasts of the cross because it is for us. The cross is not for Jesus himself. The cross is not for the one that we carry on our backs. If so, we can never boast of the cross that is imposed on each of us, considering that it is for ourselves. If you can boast of the cross, it's for someone. Our cross is definitely for someone.
5.3 At the end of Verse15, Paul says, 'What counts is a new creation.' What is a new creation? It is that good comes through our cross, just as God created good through Jesus' cross that is 'for you.' Isn't it a truly amazing new creation? Good things are created from the weaknesses of losing jobs, losing homes, losing health, and eventually losing everything in the world. I think God created us from the earth. Dirt is a symbol of weakness and poverty. For us, there is nothing that we can boast of. However, God does use it. There is no description in Genesis that God created non-human animals and plants from soil dust. It is said that God made only human beings from the soil on purpose. That is because the weakness of us, who are made from the dust of the earth, contributes to our creativity. Let's be happy and proud of our weaknesses. Let's boast of Jesus who boasted of the cross.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'The Letter of Paul to the Galatians 6: 13-15' 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which?the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.? 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.?
(New International Version)


Worship Service on 7 March 2021

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'The First Word of Good News' 1 Though I wrote in the notice last week that we would read the scripture up to Verse 17 for today, we have just listened to the words up to Verse 22 of Chapter 4. After this part, the step of Jesus called "Public Life" to deliver Good News starts.
What is depicted first here is how Jesus was motivated to start his new step. It is depicted in Verse 12, when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. John who had been put in prison was John the Baptist, who had been preaching on God to the people and baptized Jesus, was captured by Herod Antipas the tetrarch, who was one of the sons of Herod the Great and the ruler of Galilee at that time. The situation at that time is depicted in Verse 3 of Chapter 14. Because John the Baptist said to Herod Antipas who had his brother’s wife, Herodias. that it is not lawful for him to have her, John was captured and put into prison.
Hearing this, Jesus"departed to Galilee,"as is written in Verse 17. There have been many interpretations for a long time. Some said Jesus feared for being held like John the Baptist, so he fled. But, as I said earlier, Herod Antipas the tetrarch was the ruler of Galilee that was his hometown, thus if Jesus had wished to escape, he must have departed to somewhere else, not Galilee. Nevertheless, Jesus departed to Galilee on purpose. There, there must be other purpose rather than simply departing to escape.
While I was reading the Bible Commentary, I suddenly noticed that the Greek original word of the word "depart" is the same word that we find in Verse 22, Chapter 2 in the verse, saying that "he turned aside in to the region of Galilee." This phrase, "turn aside,"attracted me. When I looked into the original version, it was exactly the word, "ana-coreo (?ναχωρ?ω)" which is a combined word of a prefix,"ana" and a verb"coreo."According to a Greek dictionary,"coreo" means not only "retreat" but also it figuratively means to "have a space in mind, "and if it is attached to a prefix,"ana."it means"again"or"upward." When"ana"is followed with a verb,"histemi," it means to "rise again,""stand up"or "resurrect."
Having these points in mind, we feel we can somehow understand what Matthew intends to say. Hearing that John the Baptist was captured by the ruler of Galilee, Herod the tetrarch, and put into prison, Jesus intended to have a time to turn aside somewhere in Galilee. Nevertheless, as the word, "ana" implies, Jesus tried to look up while he turned aside, tried to be with God, and waited for a call from God.

2. Then, why did the capture of John the Baptist cause Jesus to hear the call of God? The call that Jesus heard from God is deeply related to the verses 15 and 16 quoted from Isaiah. These verses are originally depicted from 8-23 to 9-1 of Isaiah. The call from God was meant to accomplish these words from Isaiah. Verse 16 depicts, "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those…. Light has dawned."
John the Baptist who had kept preaching on God to the people was captured by Herod the tetrarch, the ruler of Galilee. Accordingly, the people lost the opportunity to hear about God. What a deep darkness it was for the people. It was because of such situation that God called Jesus to tell him to take over John the Baptist to preach on God to the people and bring the light to the people who are left in deep darkness.
It attracts me again when I realize what triggered Jesus to leave the quiet daily life and to start the public life, to hear the call from God and realize his mission was the unfortunate tragedy that John the Baptist was captured by the ruler of Galilee, Herod the tetrarch. As I told you again and again, it was the tragedy that made Jesus depart and turn aside, which on the contrary enabled Jesus to hear the call from God. Jesus was clearly given a mission from God to bring Good news and the light to the people.
Similar things could happen to us. For us, there is time that we can do nothing but to retreat and turn aside as if we heard that John the Baptist was captured. There is time that we ourselves or our beloved family members are captured by a ruler or dominant power in this world such as disease or natural disaster. When we hear this, we tend to retreat and turn aside in ourselves. Nevertheless, it is in such an occasion that we hear the call from God and we are led to a new step or new work which was beyond our expectation before.
Due to Covid-19, there may be those who have started a new step of life which was beyond expectation before. At our church, there are those who have kept attending the worship service every week in the midst of COVID-19. If we face the situation that forces us to retreat and turn aside, there are not always negative things only in such a situation. There is time that we are led to turn aside to start a new step, just like the time when the Holy Family was led by an angel to Galilee and Jesus, too, turned aside hearing the capture of John the Baptist,

3. As we have just learned, the mission that was given by God to take over John the Baptist was to show the light to the people living in darkness. This is exactly the good news from a long time ago of the time of Isaiah. What good news means for us has not changed since 2600 years ago at the time of Isaiah. It is the same still now. We all live in a valley that is covered in darkness of death. There is no place that is not covered by shadow of death in darkness. People might think that such shadow of darkness is wiped out with man-made civilizations and high-technology. But, it is not true. Shadows still exist around us, such as COVID-19, conflicts and oppression such as what is going on in Myanmar now, and deepening darkness of shadows. The darkness at the time when Herod Antipas captured John and beheaded him still covers us. Therefore, we still need the light in darkness now. Jesus was told by God to tell the people that such light exists. The message that there comes the light in darkness is what Good news means. Then, what is the light that has dawned in darkness? That is shown in the first word of Jesus in Verse 17: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This word is exactly the same with the first word of John the Baptist, as is depicted in Verse 2 Chapter 3. Both John the Baptist and Jesus started to preach by telling that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "The kingdom of heaven" does not mean the heaven to go when we die but what God has done. Even this world is covered in darkness, a helping hand of God is given to us, here and there. In the midst of COVID-19, I have told you this again and again, because it is good news to myself. We are covered and surrounded by dark shadows of grief, due to destruction and/or death.
Nevertheless, through such destruction and dark shadows, there exists God to create and bring us something good. The first word of the Bible starts: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,"and then God said,"Let there be light."It is light for us that God is the creator at any times. Act of God sometimes appears in destruction and disorder, but even in such situations it means that at the root there exists the hand of God.
By holding and clinging to this hand of God, we are able to start a new, diametrically opposite, way. This is what the word " repent" originally means. There is no implication such as regret or remorse there. A drowning man in the water desperately tries to catch at a straw, and by holding it he can change the situation from death to life. This is what "repent" originally implies.
To a drowning man a helping hand of God is definitely given. It is the light. If a helping hand is given to a certain people only, then it is not the light. For a drowning man sinking into darkness, if a hand of God is not visible, it is neither a help nor the light. But the hand of God is not like that. It is given to us even in the shadow in the valley of death. Nevertheless, we need the words to convey it to us. It was through messages of John the Baptist and Jesus. And when we recognize that the hand of God is given to us, then we must cling to it. if we take hold of God’s hand, our life will be diametrically different. By taking hold of God’s hand, we will be able to turn around our way of life to the opposite way, and we will not be ruled by darkness or the ruler in this world.
In this way, we can turn around our way of life. This is truly good news, I think. Just like John the Baptist who was captured by Herod Antipas, we too are captured by power, surroundings and situations that we cannot manage by ourselves. Last week, I went to Ishioka Church where I work as acting minister for worship service. After the Board Meeting was over, one of them who attends the service every week told me about a tough situation to which he is faced at present. It is difficult for him to escape from there easily, but even so, it is possible to change a way of life. The source of power that can change the situation is, needless to say, in the hand of God. God can give a hand to us even in darkness. All we need to do is to take hold of God’s hand. By doing so, we can change our way of life. We will be no more slaves of our surroundings. This is the light.

4.The way how their life changed is written in Verse 18 by depicting the way how the four fishermen changed to disciples of Jesus. These four men were just as usual fishermen. They work fishing, mend fishing nets and row finishing boats as ordered by their father. When those ordinary people living ordinary daily life found a hand of God and took hold of the hand, their life got diametrically changed and the new life started.
We might mislead this Verse that just like Peter who cast a net, a boat, his father and his life as a fisherman, we must cast work and family in this world. Certainly there may be something that we must give up. But it does not mean that we must quit the job and leave our family relations. If so, then it would be impossible for most of us to start a new way of life.
Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." It seems that Jesus was suggesting Peter and other fishermen to change the field to throw the net, and change the purpose and direction of life toward others. They were throwing the fishing net toward their own purpose of eating and having subsistence. It is so to speak"fishers of themselves." They followed their family and themselves to become fishermen in this style. Certainly they must cast such a life, but by following Jesus, listening to Jesus and fishing of others, they could cast the way of life depending on fishing nets, boats and father, without difficulty. They would start casting the fishing nets toward others not to themselves.
Needless to say, "fishers of men"does not mean to fish others and eat. Instead, just like Jesus who did so in this way, we give a helping hand to others and by doing so it becomes a hand of God for them. Such a way of life does not mean that they must quit jobs or break up their family life. They can keep their work as they have done and take care of their family as usual. But it should not be closed to their lives only.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'The Gospel according to Mathew: Chapter 4 Verses 12-22' 聖書


Worship Service on 18 October 2020

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'People ask Samuel for a king' 1 In the previous sermon on the First Book of Samuel, I preached onthe words from Chapter 7. The battlefield where more than 300,000 people were killed 20 years earlier turned to a place where the Israelites got a victory over the Philistines. The Israelites called the place Ebenezer, which means "stone of help."Though it is not very certain, today's passages in Chapter 8 seem to depict the situation 20 years after that.
Then, after the process as I tell you later, the elders of Israel came to Samuel and asked him to make a king to judge them like all the nations. This request displeased Samuel, and as is depicted in Verse 7, it displeased the Lord, too.Though it sounds strange to us, the Lord said to Samuel, "you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them"(8: 9).Verses 10 is followed by the warning at the end of which the Lord warned that "you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day." Even so, the Israelites did not give up their request to make a king for them. Eventually, the Lord said, "Heed their voice, and make them a king" (8: 22).Since then, the king was made for the Israelites who had never lived under the reign of king.

2.On the Peace prayer day in August last year, I gave a sermon referring to the passages of today. Whenever I read the passages after Verse 10, I am always impressed with the message particularly with an idea on how a king works. Obviously it was written more than 2000 years ago and the period of today's passages is almost 3000 years ago.And yet, I am amazed to see that the passages shrewdly pointed out the essence of the king's power, which is more or less common with all kinds of political power.Such old message is stilltrue with the present time.
In the passages after Verse 10, the same word, "take", is repeatedly said six times, meaning "collect" or "being forced to work" in Japanese. In the original version, it is the same word, "take". The king will take his sons first, then he will take daughters, and a tenth of products and sheep from the field. It is clearly intended to wage a war, as is written in Verses 11 and 12, though it is not written explicitly.In this way, eventually, the people will become servants of the king, and the people will cry out, because it was done by the king whom they made by themselves.
There is no overly optimistic word by which we can expect that a king works for the benefit and well--being of the people.Some might oppose to an idea that a king mobilizes the people to a war.Nevertheless, while it is true that the political power provides us with peace and well-being of the nation, when we look back history of a number of nations, we see that kings or rulers unfortunately seldom worked for happiness and well-being of the people.In case of Japan after the Meiji Restoration till the end of WW II, the people were drafted into the army, which had not existed in the Edo-period, and a large number of people were mobilized into wars incessantly.
We have inherited such words of the Bible as the words of the Lord, fortunately we can see a king or those who have political power objectively. Because of this, we could rise against a king or oppose strongly against the political power.They made Constitutions or other various laws in order to restrict power of the king so that the people would not become servants and cry out as is warned in Verse 9.

3.Then, the biggest puzzle for us, after reading this Chapter 8 is why the Lord accepted such request of the people to make a king for them.According to a sermon collection of Samuel by Walter L?thi, which I keep at hand, he interprets the intention of the Lord in this context as "do as you wish."It reminds him of his mothers' words toward him when he kept whining when he was small, and he says that the Lords might have the same feeling like this.
A more conventional interpretation on such contradictory words of the Lord is that it represents contradictory stances of the Israelites in making a king for them. In other words, while there is a belief among the Israelites that some approved to establish a kingdom and have kings such as David or Solomon, others regarded a kingdom as evil. And they regarded this Chapter 8 basically written from the latter's perspective, which regards a kingdom as evil, and yet they accepted the reality which needed a king by any means at that time.
Thus, we see the background how the Israelites began to wish to make a king, though it was a complicated story as follows. It is depicted from Verse 1 to Verse 5 in today's passages. The cause was that Samuel was old but his sons could not be qualified to become judges over Israel. So, the elders of Israel came to Samuel and said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations."
From this passage of today, we wonder why the two sons of Samuel "turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice."
It seems to me that the contents of "judgment" had crucially changed from the time of Samuel.The word "took" in Verse 3 happens to be the same with the word "take" which is used repeatedly in the warming passages after Verse 10, related to power of the king. It perhaps means that the sons of Samuel, too, had taken authority/power like a king.
Originally Samuel and the previous leaders who were addressed as Judges were all leaders of belief in essence. Then, over the time the circumstances changed and they turned to leaders in battles and/or politics. Samuel, too, became a leader in this way. At the time when Israelites were refugees in Palestine, the role of judges was to work in such a way.Then, during 20 years after they won against the Philistines and the "stone of help" was set in Ebenezer, "the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel. ….there was peace" (7:13-14).
The point is that Israel had developed in the territory during the 20 years to the extent that they got equal to the Philistines.The Israelites in today's passages repeatedly say, "like all the nations."As this phrase shows, they got equal with other nations in the territory of Palestine. They got a certain territory to rule, then it became crucial for them to get power of a king to keep their lives. What they crucially needed was not only a religious leader but a political leader to defend their territory and prepare for a war in order to defend it. In such circumstances, the sons of Samuel, fortunately or not, did not remain to be religious leaders but got power to behave like a king, and to "take" various things, as a consequence the sons of Samuel turned aside, as is depicted in Verse 3.
What the Israeli elders wanted was, in short, a leader who was needed in such new circumstances.They did not reject Samuel as a religious leader.The Lord, too, said to Samuel, "they have not rejected you" (8: 7). This seems to be the reason why the Lord accepted the request of the people, after all, It means that once they were settled in the territory of Palestine, thanks to the grace of the Lord, it was inevitable that they began to make a king just like all the other nations.
This is true with us at the present time.In reality we live in a territory, and in order to protect our lives we need political power like a king. We cannot escape from this reality. The Lord, too, admits this reality.However, what is important comes after this, I think.

4. As we have just learned, the Israelites did not intend to reject Samuel as their religious leader, much less to abandon the Lord, I think.However, once they establish a political authority/power, as a consequence wouldn't it happen that all things turn to be ruled by a king in this world before we notice? This is what the Lord means in Verse 8.Precisely because of this, the Lord tells us what would be the consequence if we are entirely ruled by a king in this world.This is the essence of the warning passages after Verse 10.
Nevertheless, even if they were told such warnings, the Israelites wished to be like all other nations. They wanted a king and expected him to bring happiness to their lives.They wished a king to stand at the front in a battle and to bring happiness to them.The Lord asks them if it is really true. Do they really become happy if only they make a king just like all the nations?No, it is not true, the Lord warns.If they leave everything to a king, just like all the nations who do not have anyone but a king in this world, you will eventually become servants to a king and cry out. We need to stand firm based on our belief.By doing so, we will be saved from getting servants of a king and crying out.
At this point, we remember the well-known phrase of Jesus, "Render therefore to Caesar that things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Luke 20: 25). Jewish rich men asked Jesus whether it was lawful for them to pay taxes to Caesar in the hope that Jesus denied the Roman Emperor and the rule under his power.However, by answering them in this way, Jesus accepted the rule by the Emperor.This is common with the words of the Lord in today's passages.They lived based on the coins on which the Emperor's face was carved.In this way, we cannot but live under the rule of the political power of a king in this world, and at the same time we enjoy benefits in doing so.
Nevertheless, in spite of this, we can hold things that are God's, that are not rued by the emperor and not coined with the Emperor's name on the surface, but things that are God's. It is what we do now, giving worship services and prayers.Life of worship and prayers is not measurable by coins and money. On the contrary, it may be rather a waste of money in this world.Nevertheless, we provide worship service and prayers.The Lord accepts us as precious members of the belief community.
Due to the COVID-19 infectious disease, more people tend to evaluate themselves by money only and worry about the decreasing money at hand.According to a radio program in the morning the other day, the suicide rate is rising in women in their 30s and 40s, and the economic difficulties seem to concentrate at their ages. If we cannot evaluate ourselves other than by money only, we would be ruled by a king who rules circulation of money.Therefore, instead of wishing to be all other nations, we must live by making the Lord our king and having values that the Lord takes as good.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'The First Book of Samuel 8:1-21' 聖書


Worship Service on September 13, 2020

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'The Lord Gave, and the Lord Has Taken Away.' 1.1 Today, we observe the worship service on Respect for the Aged Day listening to the famous words of The Book of Job. First of all, I would like to say a few words. When I looked closely at the desk calendar, the 21st of the following week (in the calendar of this world) was Respect for the Aged Day. By convention in our church, we were supposed to observe the Respect for the Aged Day worship on the 20th of the following week, just before that. However, even with the deacons' meeting scheduled, we are supposed to observe the worship service today on this celebration day, so I would like you to forgive me, although it is held a week earlier.
1.2 Well, it's easy to say, 'Let's celebrate Respect for the Aged Day ,' but to put it straightforwardly, I think the biggest challenge for us is whether we can accept the old age as a blessing. In an essay by Writer Aiko Sato, there was a book entitled 'Ninety years old, what are you happy about?' The other day, I can't say who the person is. It was not just apersonal matter, but there was an event that made me feel the harshness and pain of the old age. When it comes to the situation where you have to get the help of a child who is nearby, it seems that you will be intervened or interfered unexpectedly in such a way as you never thought possible. 'Teacher, we should obey our children when we are old, right?'he said lonely. (Hearing that) I talked with my wife, ' It's painful to be old.' I feel like a person who never seems to obey his children when he is old. And now I think I would like to die lonely rather than I would be complained about by children.
1.3 As described in the book of Job today, it is difficult to accept the old age as a blessing because it is all about being robbed and lost in the old age. Job suffers from repeated looting and loses all his property and children due to natural disasters. In Chapter 2, he himself suffers from a serious skin disease. It is not written that Job was really old, but he is probably old. And for us as we grow old, this naturally happens. I don't think we have any power or grounds to take this as a blessing. How on earth can we take the deprivation of what was fortunate and the source of joy for us as a blessing? We humans do not have that kind of power. That is why we are convinced that it is essential for us, who are getting old, to believe in God. It is indispensable to accept that you have been robbed and that you have lost in your relationship with God and to be able to accept it as a blessing.

2.1 Through today's word, I think we can learn three things that lead to the secret of being able to take the old age as a blessing by believing in God.
2.2 First, at the end of today's word, Job says, ' Blessed be the name of the LORD.' Job calls the name of God the Lord. It's not just calling it that way, but having God as our master. The first thing that faith gives us is to enable us to regard God as our master. By doing so, you can move away from being your master.
2.3 I think that many people think that it is not suitable for the present age and it is not accepted at all that someone is the master and that I am his servant, regardless of whether it is God or anyone. As I have introduced several times during the worship service, a counselor wrote something like this. :The values ??and philosophy of life that are pervasive among modern people are 'my life is mine,' that is, the idea that I am my master. And that is the reason for the 'paradox of happiness' that people today cannot get happiness even if they chase after it, and the counselor firmly said that it is the 'root of all evil.'He says that the idea of ??being a master appears to bring happiness to us, but actually it drives ourselves into self-denial.
2.4 I really think so. Because we want to continue to be our master, we want to have the strength, health, and affluence that we were able to possess in the past. However, that is why we cannot accept ourselves for losing it. The idea that my life is mine and that I am my master is a value that no one doubts, but in reality I think that the negative effects that it brings are very large. This is exactly the reason why many things that are robbed and the lost old age cannot be regarded as a blessing.

3.1 It is the belief in God as the master that rescues us from here. I just learned that happiness at the Bible Study Prayer Meeting last week. Jesus teaches us how happy we are to wake up and wait for our master to come back from the wedding reception in the middle of the night (Luke 12: 35-40). What makes the servant happy is that Jesus said twice, 'It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes ,' in the middle of the night with their lamps burning. The servants are fortunate to be able to find their master watching them waiting for their master. I think it would be difficult for them to have their master who returns home in the middle of the night every day, but I think that is probably not the case. I have read some book about Israel. In those days finally poor people used to manage to get married with the money that they had saved for about a year. So there weren't many receptions, right? All that they had to do was to wait for their maser who attended the wedding reception once or twice a year to come back late. There was no need for anything bigger than that.
3.2 God, the master, is pleased to see our really small and trivial work as his servant, right? We find our happiness in seeing God watch it. On the contrary, when we are our master, the demands that we have on ourselves as our servant are high. For some reason, we are not satisfied no matter how far we go. We cannot find any happiness there. However, the master, God, sees and praises our tiny work, as his servants, and regards it as happiness. If we can regard the happiness of the master as our own happiness, it accepts us. In this way, what God, the master, regards as happy is quite different from what we consider to be happy, right?

4.1 The second point from Job's words is about what in us as his servants God, the master, feels happy. 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return ,' says the beginning of Verse 21. What we were taught earlier is that God feels happy about having us born naked. I feel a big and deep acceptance of us, the servants, by God, the master, in that God made us born naked.
4.2 Why are we naked? Naked means that we cannot live without being wrapped up, fed, or being nurtured by another person even for a short while. God is accepting that of ours as his servants as good, right? I think that the fact that we are born as such an existence in the first place also means that we have such an essence for the rest of our lives. As we grow up, we may not be more and more naked. As was the case with Job, we come to wear rich things, but we have not lost our original form that we were first born with, I think.
4.3 I think that our getting old and losing various things is the process in which this fundamentally naked essence is reappearing. It's painful, but as a naked person, it appears as a way to be taken care of by your companion, children, or caregivers. It's time to gradually return to being naked, just born. That is what pleases the will of God, the master, who gave birth to us like that, right? Isn't it the joy of God, the master, to see us as such servants? Then we will return to God again. That's because there's nothing in the world that wraps us who are naked. Because our food is no longer in the world. This time, God will be the mother and the nurturer for us.
4.4 The other day, the NHK program 'The Close-up Modern Day'reported that the harsh reality is that there are a lot of people who have lost their homes due to the corona wreck and are likely to become homeless. Would I be happy if I lost my job, if I lost my house, if I were literally made naked, and if I am still naked? God gave birth to us as naked human beings, of course, on the premise that there is a nurturer there. There is always a'mother' who has just left the womb and happiness can come from being naked. Therefore, in order for people who are socially naked to be happy, the existence of a 'mother' is still indispensable. The surroundings have to prepare it.
4.5 On top of that, we can prepare something that deeply accepts the reality of being naked as a blessing. It is not necessary for us to deny or despise ourselves when we are naked. A middle-aged woman who was accompanied by a rental housing guarantee company came to apply for a subsidy for housing expenses, and she said with tears at the counter of the City Hall in a certain city, 'I'm really embarrassed.' However, there is no need to despise such a state where we are made 'naked from our mother's womb,'right? The word 'Naked I came from my mother's womb ' is a word that deeply accepts us who are naked.

5.1 Finally, Job says, 'the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away ,'These words of Job's do not mean that God, the master, will give until a certain time and take away from a certain time, I think. Rather, I think that the work of the Lord God is that giving and robbing are two sides of the same coin. We want God to be the one who always gives us what we think is good. However, God, the master, is not. Whenever something that we think is good is given, it is taken away. However, on the contrary, it is sometimes given when it is robbed. When we believe that God is such a master, we are blessed there. You can also take the old age as a blessing.
5.2 In my weekly report the other day, I introduced a sentence from Mieko Kamiya's book 'Looking at Humans ,'which I read during the summer vacation. Kamiya, who studied biology before becoming a doctor, says, 'I have felt through natural phenomena like this.' 'Death itself is also a natural phenomenon, and it is also supported by the 'outer nature' that supports life. What supports life is also what supports death.' (Page 17 of the same book). In Kamiya's writing, what supports life is a natural phenomenon. If you look more closely, you will reach God, the Lord of all things that created nature. The master, God, not only supports life, but also death, right? The sentence 'supporting death' shocked me. For the Lord God, giving and robbing are one thing in doing the work of creation. Supporting life is supporting death, and vice versa. We were born naked because after we are naked, we receive various things from our surroundings. So, when we get down to it, to die means being naked and robbed, but there are also times when God is trying to give a new life. I hope that by believing in God as the Lord, we will accept the old age as a blessing.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'The Book of Job 1: 21' 1 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."


Worship Service on the Fifteenth Sunday after the Coming of Holy Spirit 6th September, 2020

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'The Martyrdom of Stephen' 1. From Acts 6:8 to 8:2, Stephen made a speech at the Supreme Court (Sanhedrin), the highest political institution of the Israelites at the time, as a result of his speech, his martyrdom, and consequence of this event, the state of persecution of the Church of Jerusalem followed by is the written part. Today you read only the last part.
First, I would like to talk about what a person called Stephen was. As taught in the beginning of Chapter 6, he was the leader of the Jews called the Greek-speaking?Jews?of the Diaspora in the Church of Jerusalem. Originally, the Church of Jerusalem was composed of Hebrew-speaking people (who spoke almost exclusively Aramaic) who were born in Israel and centered around Jesus' disciples, but as the number of believers gradually increased, the Greek-speaking Jews of Diaspora -those who were forced to live scattered throughout Asia and Europe throughout Israel's long history-had returned to settle in Jerusalem and come to join in many. What was taught in the beginning of chapter 6 was that there was gradually becoming a gap between the Aramaic native Jews (the Hebrews) and the Greek speaking Diaspora Jews(the Hellenists). It was Stephen who was the top of the seven people appointed by the Jews of Diaspora to adjust this groove-that is the beginning of the role called elder or deacon) Most importantly, he was a leader of the Hellenists who lived scattered around.
It's just a moment to see how he gave a speech at the summoned Supreme Court, in short: it wasn't necessary in faith to have a building like the Temple of Jerusalem. This led to a violent backlash from the Jews who absolutely needed a temple, and Stephen was stoned to the martyrdom's death. Furthermore, as it was in the latter half of 8:1, it led to great persecution of the Jerusalem Church from the Jews. As a result, only the believers who originally lived in Israel, centered around Jesus' disciples, would have been able to remain in Jerusalem as "everyone except the apostles."
As taught at the beginning of Chapter 6, the Church of Jerusalem did its best to bridge the gap between Aramaic Hebrews and diaspora people. But as a result, mostly only genuine Jews remained in the church and Greek-speaking people were forced to leave Jerusalem. As you can see in 8:2, what they lost, including Stephen, was very large.

2. Now, what kind of message did Stephen tell? Today, he read only the conclusion from verse 44. Even just reading this, I feel that the core of what he meant is well manifested. Verse 44 begins with "Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness". The message from 7:1 is spoken by Stephen from an Israelite ancestor named Abraham. From his ancestor Abraham, he said, "There was a witness tabernacle in the wilderness."
A tabernacle is a tent in which a special ark containing two stone boards engraved with the Ten Commandments is placed. Needless to say, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses, so there was no tabernacle in Abraham's time. However, even though there is no literal tabernacle, Stephen intends to say that it was an image of God who speaks to humans in the wilderness, much like a poor tent, and in that way God gives him a firm bond with himself and gives support for the people who lives in the wilderness. I think that such figure of God is said to have existed since the time of Abraham. He tells that God is the one who, from his ancestor Abraham to the present day, is consistently trying to prove himself through the 'Tabernacle' in the 'wilderness'.
At 7:3 Stephen made mention of the word of God to Abraham, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee."-This is the famous word from Genesis 12:1. I think this is nothing but the course of the "wilderness". Abandoning the familiar land -the farm and house that provided us with food for our daily lives-and also the bond with our relatives who provided us with various kinds of assistance, without knowing destination, God unilaterally shows the land where to go, that is exactly the "wilderness". However, there, you can discover the existence of God who is the path in which we live by and the harvest and grace of food given by beyond those things, not from the "land" of this world, and from the "kindred", "relatives" that are the relationships of this world.
It is a message that Jesus had specially engraved in his heart, and it is stated in Deuteronomy 8:3 that "man doth not live by bread only, but by every?word?that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. " We know that we can live in a difficult life in the wilderness, not by the fields of the world or the "bread" of the income that we produce, but by what God gives us-the center of which is the word of God.
What was stored in the God's ark in the tabernacle was nothing but a tablet engraved with the word of the Ten Commandments. What kind of bread will it be? What do much to help for our lives? Just a stone board and bread. There will be no more contrasting combinations. The word of God, a stone plate, and the one that contains something that can hardly become our bread, is the characteristic of the tabernacle. However, God is trying to prove us, to set a bond with us, and to support us through what has the characteristic of this "tabernacle" in the "wilderness".
Although Stephen has not quoted it, it follows God's word to Abraham, " I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great " (Genesis 12:2)). Why are those who live in the wilderness blessed? Why could they become a great one? This is because Abraham's descendant could live by the things that God gives, even if there is no harvest or support from the land and connections of this world. We will always leave the familiar land we are accustomed to and live when we lose our bond with family and relatives. We cannot avoid such circumstances. However, when placed in such a situation, those who know that they can receive bread from God at the tabernacle in the wilderness, can survive.
Again, the tabernacle is a poor tent. No house can be built in the wilderness, let alone a special sanctuary. You can just set up a poor, simple tent. Stephen says that this tent is symbolically shown in the "witness" that God supports us in the wilderness. We can meet God and get his supports in such a humble tent in the wilderness. I feel strongly that there is the gospel and joy that only those who can grasp it in the message of Stephen who wandered himself in the wilderness as Jews of Diaspora, and could only build a tent. Stephen says that the gospel that appeared to Jesus has been consistently witnessed since his ancestors.

3. However, as seen in verse 46 onwards, Stephen criticizes severely that Israel, after Solomon had built magnificent houses and temples for God, is as opposed to the tabernacle. In contrast to the wilderness, we will build a kingdom, build a temple suitable for it, and let God live in it-more simply, lock the god in a house built by people and confine it. We are always doing the same.
It may not have built a visibly literal temple. However, he builds a "kingdom" for each person, tries to live a life in which he could be a king, and thinks that it is happy to do so, and builds each temple in the middle of it. People try to push God into a magnificent temple built in the middle of the kingdom, hoping that the kingdom will last.
However, this violates the will of God who builds the "Tabernacle of witness in the wilderness." We are but all living in the wilderness. We can never build a magnificent temple in the wilderness. We can only build poor tents. That is why God tries to be with us in the tabernacle and bless us. Jesus was the poor tent that God built for us living in the wilderness. He was the one who showed God's word as a person.
Stephen quotes the words of Isaiah 66:1 onwards from verse 49, "The Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands " What a wonderful word, "Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool"! If so, then we, who roam between this heaven and the earth, are also able to live on God's throne and footsteps. We live in a reality where we can't see it as the throne of God or a footrest, but because Jesus died on the cross as a person, we in the poor tabernacle can believe that our life is the throne and the footstool of God as well.

4. Well, finally, what was Luke's intention to write such an event so long? First and foremost, Stephen was the first martyr of the newborn church. Surely, Luke must have been anticipating and superimposing on that figure the many persecutions and martyrdoms that will occur to them.
Why do persecution and martyrdom occur? I think Luke argues that it is not because Christians are so-called wicked people. Instead, it is at the core of how God and we are connected. In today's lections, God "witnesses" himself through "a tabernacle in the wilderness," as a manifestation of the greatest of which is the presence of Jesus, and its joy, this message will always lead to persecution.
Isn't it the same in today's society? There may be no open persecution. In the Coronal Era, however, there are some people who cannot meet for worship due to the opposition of their families. We are forced to self-restrain more than necessary under "conformity pressure". We are being reproached for why we are doing unnecessary things such as worship. But we still have got joy in gathering in worship. I feel that worship is exactly the "tabernacle" in the "wilderness" as of today's Word.
It's like a really poor tent. It is a humble gathering centered on sermons where the foolish minister, who is only a human, explains the Bible's words. But there we find a bond with God. You will receive bread from God. Luke says that such a way of life, unfortunately, can cause friction and persecution in this world.
There is another reason why Luka is so willing to talk about Stephen's events. His message caused death and the separation of Greek-speaking believers from the Church of Jerusalem. But, strangely enough, it sent the church to new scenes and enabled new missions. I didn't read it today, but that's what it says in verse four and below.
Verse 2 says, "devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. " After all, due to the coronal disaster, we are also sad because we bury and lost so many things. The number of people who gathered at the worship service was almost half of what I had never imagined. As I mentioned earlier, many people have completely stopped attending worship because of opposition from their families who worries about and self-restraint about unnecessary and urgent matters.
Even so, we are doing our utmost to keep the worship service. Evening worship has continued. On the one hand, the posture of the church can provoke antipathy. However, on the other hand, why not capture a person by the heart to quest on holding the worship of those people in such a situation? What is the attraction and joy of worship so devoted? Isn't it that it will be reported at such situations? It's time to unveil what's essential to the Church, as the various meetings are cancelled, to know the things that can't be closed until the very end.
(This is a translation of a sermon prepared in Japanese. Translated by Machiko Kobayashi.)

Scripture for the day is 'The Acts 7:44-8:2' 7:44 "Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house. 48 "However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: 49 'Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest? 50 Has My hand not made all these things?' 51 "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it." 54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. 8:1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.


Worship Service on August 9, 2020

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'The Panic That the Ark of God Causes' 1.1 Chapters 4 to 6 of the Book of Samuel (Volume 1) are the parts where the events around what is called the Ark of God are recorded. Last time we read Chapter 4. I would like to talk about the outline, including today's Chapter 5.
1.2 The Israelites suddenly attacked the Philistines for some reason. The Philistines were probably an ethnic group that had advanced from Europe to the western edge of the Asian continent. In the 11th Century BC, when it was set in the Book of Samuel, the Philistines were at their peak. They were much more economically, militarily and culturally superior to the Israelites who were slaves in Egypt for a long time. The area is now called Palestine because of the word Philistine. That also tells us how great their power was. For some reason, the Israelites fought against such Philistines (the reason for which is not mentioned here). Sure enough, in the first battle, as many as four thousand Israeli men were killed. Therefore, the Israelites decided to bring the Ark of God, which had been placed in the shrine and temple of Shiloh, to the battlefield. It says at Verse 3, Chapter 4, 'Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.'
1.3 We will consider carefully later what the Ark of God is, but as we have been taught repeatedly, it is a box containing two stone plates with the Ten Commandments carved into them. The Israelites wandered through the wilderness for 40 years after they escaped from Egypt, carrying it. Then, when finally entering Palestine, the priest carried it and stood on the Jordan River, and the river was dammed upstream, and people were able to cross the river, according to Joshua Chapter 3. Also, as is well known, the wall of Jericho, which was proud of its impregnability, collapsed when the priest carried the Ark of God around the town seven times, according to Joshua 6 also. Therefore, it is no wonder that the Israelites who lost the battle thought that if they put this ark of God into the battlefield, they would win. However, when the Israelites carrying the ark of God cheered, the Philistines were frightened, but ironically, they gained momentum. Instead of winning, on the contrary, as many as 30,000 Israeli men were killed. After all, the Israelites were robbed of the ark of God by the Philistines.
1.4 From that point on, comes the story of today's Chapter 5. The ark of God was first placed in the shrine dedicated to the god Dagon, in the land of Ashdod, which was the base of the Philistines on the Mediterranean coast. The god Dagon is a god derived from the word harvest and is said to be the parent of the well-known god Baal (meaning possession) in the Palestinian region. On the morning of the next day after being placed, the statue of Dagon was found to be collapsed, and the next day it was said that its head, hands and torso had fallen apart. It also brought about the disaster of swollen people in Ashdod. As the Philistines were fed up with one disaster after another, the ark was now moved to the town of Gath, where the tumors broke out on the people, and the same thing happened in Ekron, too. The latter half of Verses 11 to 12 says, 'there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there.' People who escaped death were struck by tumors, and the screams of the city reached heaven. Thus, the story of Chapter 6 is that the ark of God is finally returned to the Israelites.

2.1 Now, what is the message spoken to us today from the story of the ark of God 3000 years ago?
2.2 So, first of all, we would like to think again about what the ark of God is. As I have said many times, this is a box containing two stone plates with the Ten Commandments carved into them. The word of God who ordered that this ark be made is written in Exodus 25:8 as follows.: 'Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.' Immediately after that, we will find the instructions about how to build the ark. The words of the elders of the Israelites at Verse 3, Chapter 4 of the First Book of Samuel, which I also mentioned earlier, said, 'that he( the Lord) may come among us.' It was based on God's own words that God would 'come among us,' by carrying the ark of God. It was by no means the Israeli's arbitrary intention.
2.3 But what matters is what kind of way God is among us. The Ten Commandments are words spoken by God. Having learned that many times in the worship service, the Bible's first account of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1, begins as follows. :'God spoke all these words.' The Ten Commandments are, above all, the word of God. Not human language. Nor did God make a word from what humans wanted. Therefore, when we get down to it, to carry the ark of God is to carry the word of God. By carrying the word of God, he said, 'I will come among us.'
2.4 How surprising this was can be seen by comparing it with the Philistines in today's passage. When we compare it not only with the Philistines, but with many peoples of the time, and not only of us at that time, but of us today, we can see the decisive difference. The Philistines make a statue of the god Dagon and place it in the temple to worship. In that way, we would believe that the god Dagon is among them. Then, what are the thoughts and 'words' contained in them? Dagon came from the word harvest. People make an image of the words with the wish that they hope they will get a lot of harvest and benefit from the god Dagon whom they worship. The image is nothing but the words of the human side. It was probably the gods of most ethnic groups in the age society 3000 years ago. Even now, with these wishes and words, we make the image in the visible form. A statue of gold, a huge statue, a statue with a thousand hands and eyes, and so on. We may no longer make visible images, but the words and wishes that come out of us create various gods, and we rely on them. The Israelites certainly wanted to carry the ark of God. However, it was not trying to bear the word of God, but merely their wish to defeat the Philistines. Actually it was the same as the Philistines worshiped the god Dagon.

3.1 At that time and even now, God commands us to worship and carry things that have our own wishes and words expressed in a form, saying, 'Shoulder my words.' As a concrete example, God tells us to carry an ark containing a stone board on which the Ten Commandments are engraved. In that regard, God tries to be among us. There is something about God's heart that cannot be fathomed in any way. It is shown that it is the first word of the Ten Commandments that really shows up above all.
3.2 Exodus 20:2 says, 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.' The sentence was translated into the past tense as brought. As we have been taught many times, the original nuance of the original text is to mean 'continue to bring.'God's greatest will for us is to continue to bring us out of the 'country of Egypt ,' and the'house of bondage ,' forever. That is why God gives the Ten Commandments to us. I always find the words country and house very symbolic. The biggest thing that makes us slaves is the country and the house, right? 3.3 But I don't think it is all that. The first thing that God forbids us in the Ten Commandments is to regard gods other than God as God, and to create an image of God. Then, who is the creator of the image of God? It is the country and the house, but more than that, it is we ourselves. As we have been taught earlier, the wishes and words that come from within ourselves create an image that shapes it, and we worship it. This makes us slaves above all else. The wishes and words that come out of our heart become a god as a result. We must be healthy. We must be in high spirits. We must live long. We make gods with these words meaning We must and we depend on them. As a result we are bound by them and become slaves. Our tragedy is that the words of desire that come from our hearts make us slaves. That's why God rejects the words from the country, the house, and ourselves and why he says, ' Listen to what I say and live in response to it.'
3.4 Of the 10 commandments that God has spoken, the first to be said as a guideline for our concrete life is to consecrate the Sabbath and to rest on the seventh day. In an age when we are all driven by the words that we must work, work, or that we cannot live unless we work, the word that God gave us above all as a concrete guideline for life is rest. What a surprise that was! It also means that we can rest without anxiety. There will always be a safe day on the 7th day without fail. The day will come when you can feel at ease and rest after being freed from your hard work, hard work, and desperate days not to get infected with COVID 19. For us, to worship is to rest in response to this word of God's. It is to have a rest because we live by the word of God, not by the words of the country, the house, or ourselves.

4.1 I have long explained the significance of carrying the ark of God. From the above, it becomes easy to understand why the ark of God moved the disaster to the statue of Dagon and the Philistines, and even to the Israelites who carried it in search of their victory. When we get down to it, the ark of God is nothing but God's fight against what makes us slaves. I think it is God's battle because he tries to free us. The things that are happening can only be seen as disasters. Verse 6 says, ' The hand of the Lord was heavy upon the people of Ashdod,'while Verse 11 says, 'there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there.'However, I think that God's hand is not just heavy on us and it does not bring just disaster.
4.2 Right now, COVID 19 is a disaster for us. It may be said that our cry reaches heaven. However, I think that there I see the hand of God that destroys the statue of Dagon. The idol gods that we humans have set up here and there are being destroyed. The way of living and values ??that we human beings are the master or the main character are being shattered. I have quoted it many times today. As Exodus 25:8 says , 'that I may dwell in their midst,'or as the First Book of Samuel 4: 3 says, 'he may come among us ,'all these things have occurred to us because the Lord, or God who is not us has just come among us and has brought these events, right?
4.3 Therefore, this COVID 19 has provided us with the blessing and freedom. Isn't it rest above all, as we were taught? Various things are no longer given or carried out as we wish or as we plan. But that's why we were set free from the thought that we had to make various plans and to carry them out. The parish general meeting, which was postponed until September, had no choice but to be cancelled. If the current situation continues, it is feared that the general meeting will be next May. My term as chairman should be until then, but I have no idea what will happen. In that way, we have been freed from the way we live as protagonists. Right there, we can find rest, right? The 'three C's ,' in the church that we have pursued as wonderful values ??up to that point---that is, the worship service and the membership are full---have become impossible to pursue anymore. Many pastors, including myself, were relieved of the worship attendance. It seems that people are flowing from the densely populated cities to the countryside. Just as the prevalence of the past plague brought an end to the Middle Ages in Europe, and led to the Renaissance and the Religious Reformation, the calamity caused by COVID 19 of today will also bring about great changes in what churches should do. The hands of the Lord are not just heavy.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'The First Book of Samuel 5 : 1 - 12.' 1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they carried it from Ebene'zer to Ashdod; 2 then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day. 6 The hand of the LORD was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. 7 And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, "The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us; for his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god." 8 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, "What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?" They answered, "Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath." So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. 9 But after they had brought it around, the hand of the LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out upon them. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But when the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, "They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to slay us and our people." 11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, "Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not slay us and our people." For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there; 12 the men who did not die were stricken with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
(Revised Standard Version)


Worship Service on July 19, 2020

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'The ark of God was captured' 1.The Bible passage for today is about the scene as follows: Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, who controlled the area of Palestine as the ruler along the Mediterranean Sea, and Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men in the battle. As they lost so many soldiers in the battle, the elders of Israel tried to bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD, which was the box containing the two stone plates on which the Ten Commandments were engraved,
Samson in the Book of Judges fought against the Philistines several times. The Philistines had been expanding its sphere of power since the BC 11th century and at the era of Samuel their power was getting to the peak. By the way, this area is called Palestine which is originated from the Philistines. So much the power of the Philistines was enormous.
Now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout for joy of the Israelites when the ark of the Lord had come into their camp, the Philistines were afraid, then empowered. Eventually, Israel lost thirty thousand soldiers and the ark of the Lord was captured. The two sons of Eli in Shiloh were killed in this battle. Though we do not read today, Verse 18 writes when Eli who was 98 years old at that time heard that his sons were killed and the ark of the Lord was captured, he was shocked to death. The passage of today from Verses 4 to 6 depicts a very mysterious story.
The passage of today from Verses 4 to 6 puzzles and brings us a number of questions to the readers from long time ago. The utmost question is that it is not clear how the first half of the Verse 4 is related to the second half, Also, it is unclear why Samuel is not mentioned at all throughout Chapters 4 to 6. It is after Verse 3 of Chapter 7 that Samuel is mentioned again.
Some people interpret that the first half of Verse 1 of Chapter 4 and the story about the Ark of the Lord were originally different stories and that is why Samuel is not mentioned from Chapters 4 to 6. The Japanese translation of our Bible separates the first half of Verse 1 from the latter half in different paragraphs, perhaps due to such background of the interpretation.
Others, however, interpret that the first half and the second half of Verse 1 are related to each other. At least those who edited the Bible in this way interpreted so. I, too, would like to preach in this way. Then, how are the two parts of Verse 1 are connected?
It means that "the word of Samuel came to all Israel" either directly or indirectly caused the Israelites to go to battle against the Philistines. Nothing is written what the word of Samuel was that "came to all Israel." The Jewish preachers traditionally understand that the word simply suggested to go to war, saying something like "Now it is the time to battle against the Philistines." But, I do not think it was possible.
'If the word of Samuel had simply suggested to fight against the Philistines, at least in the scene of battle or after the Israelites were defeated, Samuel could have appeared to console and encourage them. But Samuel did not appear. Then, doesn't it inexplicitly mean that Samuel was not supporting the battle against the Philistines, thus he could not do but keep silent in that situation?
2.Then, what was the word of Samuel that "came to all Israel"? Though all we can do is to stretch our imagination, we can guess based on the story depicted in Verse 1 Chapter 3, immediately before the passage for today,
When we recall what we learned in the previous sermon, Samuel was called by the Lord again and again, while he was a boy just above 10 years old and doing subordinate work for the priest Eli. Samuel did not recognize that it was the Calls from the Lord, however. It was because Samuel had a preoccupation that the Lord would never call a boy like him, I think. According to Verse 1 of Chapter 3."Lord was rare in those days," As such, most people at that time thought that they could not hear the call from the Lord, but a kind of special people only could hear the call from the Lord. Also they thought that through a special occasion only the Lord would show up. Thus, many people could do nothing but live in a way that had nothing to do with the Lord.
Nevertheless, the Lord called a boy, not a formal priest, who could not recognize that the Lord called him again and again, and came to him. As is depicted in Verse 3, "before the lamp of God went out," the God really came to him. For the majority of people at that time, the Lord was gone long ago and they could not know where the Lord was, much less they could expect to hear the Call from the Lord. But they knew that they were wrong through what happened to Samuel. Certainly the Lord calls and shows up as a "lamplight." Through the boy Samuel, he emerged, in such an unexpected way that Samuel himself could not recognize that he was called. It means that the Lord calls anyone and waits for a response as Samuel said, " Lord, Speak". Wasn't the word of Samuel that reached all Israel something like this? The core of the message was that the Lord calls us in quite an unexpected way. The point was that there was joy being called from the Lord.

3.Such word of Samuel brought about a recurrence of belief, or Revival to the Israelites to notice that "the lamp of God did not go out. The Lord calls us. We can live in relation to the Lord." Such recurrence of belief caused the Israelites to go out to battle against the Philistines, being convinced that the Lord would lead them to the victory against them. In Verse 3, the elders of Israel said,"Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?" It means that they were convinced that the Lord would lead them to win the battle. It must be due to the belief revival that was caused by the word of Samuel.
'However, for Samuel it was not what he intended. It must be against his will to see that his word triggered the Israelites to take actions in such a way. He might have persuaded them that it was not his intention . But the voice of the young priest Samuel was not heard by the elders. After this, Samuel disappeared, and we imagine it was because he was kept away from them or his voice was not heard. '
Now when we recall what we learned last week from the Acts of the Apostles, we were taught it is very difficult to know what was from the Lord and what was from humans. At that time the Israelites were convinced that it was from the Lord to go out to battle and win against the Philistines. It was not the case with Samuel, however. Definitely such a brave idea to go out to battle against the Philistines came out of the revival of belief. Without the word of Samuel and the belief revival that the Lord calls them and stands for them, no one could have thought of an idea to go out to battle against the Philistines who were much more powerful than them.
'Nevertheless, even if it came out of the belief, it could be connected with desires and wishes of humans and eventually justify them. In the Acts which we learned last week, the Jewish leaders crucified and killed Jesus and tried to kill the disciples. They believed that it came from the Lord to kill them. But it was actually not from the Lord but themselves. In this way, a belief could be used to justify killing conducts. Here is a dreadful aspect of having a religious belief. '
That is why we need to be wise enough to know what is from the Lord and what is, on the contrary, from humans. Here the word, "lamp of the God" indeed impresses our hearts. Just like Samuel who heard the call from the Lord again and again in a way that was not known clearly, what is out from the Lord always takes a shape of a lamplight. On the contrary, when the Israelites went to the battle to win against the Philistines, the banner that was raised in the camp was something far opposite to the lamp of God. The battle was what no one could oppose. "And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted loudly," as is depicted in Verse 6. It was out of the belief but not truly from the Lord.

4.Then, when they lost 4000 soldiers in the battle, the elders of Israel said, ,"Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?" This word clearly reveals that their wish was not from the Lord. The belief of the Israelites was in short to ask for a victory, and in order to win the victory they brought the ark of God into their camp. As I told you again and again, it was clearly out of their belief that revived due to the word of Samuel, but it was not from the Lord.
The Lord does not always bring us pragmatic victory. It reminds us of a story in Chapter 11 of the Gospel according to John. When Jesus heard that Lazarus who was a brother of Mary and her sister Martha, Jesus did not rush to him, but left him beaten by the sickness. And Jesus said it was "for the glory of God." Jesus himself was left to death by being crucified. God will leave us to be beaten by various enemies. It is there that the lamp of the Lord emerges. We cannot know if there is a call from the Lord and he shows up. We do not know there is a call from the Lord in such a situation.
The Lord is not visible there. However, it is there that the Lord is, and a call from the Lord comes. Thus, when something that looks like a defeat happens, instead of taking it as a simply negative thing and asking "why", we can consider what kind of good thing the Lord would bring us through this defeat. This way of thinking itself is something that comes from the Lord.
'For a purpose of making us take in this way, the Lord allows us to carry the ark of the Lord. Though the Israelites were pursuing a victory for their own interest, it is amazing that the Israelites carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord. At that time the people were used to carry statues of god anywhere, but the Israelites carried the ark in which the two stone plates were kept. Here is an implication that the Lord shows up as a lamplight. '
While the Israelites carry the ark of God in pursuit of a victory, we carry Jesus who was crucified, killed and then resurrected. It might seem to be more absurd for many people, than carrying the ark of God in which the stone plates were contained. Why do you carry such a thing? We will not gain a victory by doing so. If we carry Jesus, there is no guarantee that we would not be infected by COVID-19. Nevertheless, when we carry Jesus, we would be able to find something good even if we are in the midst of defeat. While the ark of the Lord which the Jewish people carried was captured, Jesus as the ark of God will never be stolen.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is 'The First Book of Samuel 4:1-11' 聖書


Worship Service on June 28, 2020

The Rev. Mr. Sumio FUKUSHIMA 'Lord, Speak, for Your servant hears' 1. The Bible passage for today is about the scene when Samuel was called by the Lord, which later led him to a turning point to leave the place to start the life as a prophet. Samuel was left to Eli, the priest in the worship place in Shilo, at that time. According to the Commentary, Israelites traditionally interpreted that it had happened to the boy Samuel when he was 13 years old. The age 13 for Jewish men was the age of adult. In this sense, the passage for today is not only about what happened to Samuel when he was called by the Lord but about the departure of Samuel from Eli who had raised him as if he were father of Samuel.
As I told you earlier when we started to learn the Book of Samuel, there was a picture on the wall of the chapel and hall of the kindergarten where I used to go for three years. It was a picture of a cute infant in while clothes with curly hair, who I had thought as a pretty girl, kneeling in prayer, putting the hands together. Of course at that time I did not know that it was Samuel. Until I was graduated from high school, I was attending the church there. Though I do not remember when, I began to notice that the picture was about Samuel of the scene from the passage for today. When I examined by the Internet, I found that the picture was painted by the British painter in the 18th century, Sir?Joshua Reynolds. The scene of verses for today has given abundant inspiration not only to the painter but to those who read the passage. I myself, too, may have got some inspirations from this scene as the picture impressed me for long.

2. Now at first I tell you a kind of conclusion. The most important point of the verses for today is that it is crucial for us, like Samuel, to hear the Call from the Lord. As I told you earlier, by hearing the Call from the Lord, the boy Samuel flew from the nest under the protection of Eli. For us, however old we might become, such time to fly from the nest is important. Some people might think that at the age over 60 such departure from the nest is impossible. Nevertheless, in various senses, there is time for us to leave the place where we were raised for a new place.
In the middle of the corona pandemic, a "new normal"life style is being called. In our church, too, we must avoid 3 Cs, namely "Closed spaces with poor ventilation. Crowded places, and Close-contact setting," which we had actually pursued as an ideal situation of worship service. We must leave such 3 Cs and fly into a new style in which no more than a half of seats are available for the service. In order to fly into such a new normal situation without hesitation, it is essential for us to hear the Call from the Lord. Like this, it is crucial for us to hear the Call from the Lord, whatever age we might be.
On June 20, we placed ashes of Mr. Tadashi Ogata, a former member of our church and father of Mr. Hiromitsu Ogata, in a tomb. I delivered a speech in the ceremony as follows: Tadashi had been suffering from multiple cancers in 2011 and 2012. Then, he said he had heard a Call from the Lord. He wrote that "I was pleased to see the Lord kindly needed a powerless and incapable person like me." That note was at my hand.
When a person suffers from multiple cancers, he would be entirely overwhelmed with them physically and mentally. In case of Mr. Ogata, however, by hearing the Call from the Lord, he could fly from such agony for a new place, I think. For us, it is crucial to hear the Call from the Lord when we are in difficulties. Whatever age we might be, or rather I should say that the older we become than Samuel, the more important it becomes for us to hear the Call from the Lord. Keeping this point in mind, let us listen to the words for today.

3. Now, reading the Verses for Today, I got a simple question. Why didn't the boy Samuel realize that the Lord had called him three times but misunderstood that he was called by the priest Eli? It is explained in Verse 7 that "Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him." It cannot explain the reason very well, however. As I said earlier, at that time Samuel was at about 13 years of age, then he could have sensed intuitively, even if he did not know about the Call of the Lord at all in advance.
My parents often had a quarrel and it was really unbearable for me to wake up at midnight due to their voices of quarrel. So, I used to pray in my bed every night. If I could hear the Call from the Lord in my prayer, I would have sensed naturally that it was what the Lord did for me, not a ghost or an illusion. What does it mean that it was not the case of Samuel at that time? Verse 1 suggests that the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And "the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation." It means that Samuel "ministered to the Lord before Eli," thus Samuel could minister to the Lord through ministering to Eli. Though the Lord called Samuel directly, Samuel and other people at that time could hear the Call from the Lord through the priest Eli and the holy place only. This is the background of this verse that "the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation,"
And concerning the priest Eli, as is depicted in the latter half of Verse 2, "his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see," Again, this was not literally about his eyes only. As is written in Verse 13, Eli could not restrain his sons from making themselves vile. In this sense, as a general director of priests in charge of management of the holy place in Shilo, he got his eyes dim unfortunately. Samuel "ministered to the LORD before Eli"in such a situation. Fortunately, however, Eli could sense and advise Samuel that it was the Lord that was calling him again and again. Eli could hear and see it. As I talk about this later soon, though Eli and the holy place had such problems, certainly there was the worth of existing. On the other hand, because the holy place had such problems and Samuel ministered to the Lord through the priest Eli, Samuel could not realize the Calls from the Lord three times. He was about to miss the Calls.
Really, we might have the similar situation, I think. It is not because"the word of the LORD was rare, and there was no widespread revelation,"but because we have got dim in hearing or seeing it unfortunately. As I said at the beginning, if we cannot hear the Call from the Lord or see the will of the Lord behind the visible reality, it would be unfortunate indeed for us. It means as if we must keep working under the priest Eli. It means that we cannot fly from Eli who had dim eyes and allowed unacceptable things to happen in the holy place. Under the current situation in which the fear of the pandemic Covid 19 is overwhelming the people, how essential it is for us to hear the Call from the Lord and see the will of the Lord. This can make ourselves peaceful and enable us to fly from the current situation.

4. Then, what made Samuel meet the Lord and leave the situation in which he was ministering to the Lord by Eli as was seen above? Though it may sound contradictory, actually it was because Samuel was in the holy place and the priest was Eli. It is depicted in Verse 3 that it was"before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down,"
As I said again and again, it was a holy place where the priests were living in such a vile way and Samuel had no other options but ministering to such priests. Nevertheless the lamp of God did not go out yet and even if the priests and the holy place were in such a bad condition, the place did not lose the value of the holy place where the tabernacle, in which there were the two stone plates on which the Ten Commandments were engraved, was set as the place of the Lord.
What is it that the tabernacle shows ? Why was the place where this tabernacle was set called as the holy place of the Lord where we can meet the Lord? It was nothing but the architecture built by men, but how could we meet the Lord there? It was because the Lord cared for and gave us the Ten Commandments so that we can survive the wild land of this world. There is deep consideration and love of the Lord to us who live this world. Because of this, through the Ten Commandments we can see the Lord. The Lord engraved them on the stone plates so that we would never forget the words of Lord to us. ,
However, the tabernacle was lost without their noticing. Not only it was physically lost, but it was no more the Commandments engraved on the stole plates to bind us and lead us to meeting with the Lord full of profound thoughtfulness and love, as is depicted in the Gospel and repeatedly preached by Paul. Because of this, in place of the stone plates, Jesus appeared. The consideration of the Lord to us through Jesus is never lost, as Jesus was crucified and then resurrected. That Jesus will never disappear is what the passage "the lamp of God did not go out yet" means.
The word, the lamp of God, impressed me very much. . It seems to be a small and dim lamp that we can hear the words of the Lord and see the Lord behind the reality that is visible in our daily life. The reality of our daily life is just like what is depicted in Verse 1, "the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation."
Nevertheless, even though it is a lamp-light, it never goes out. The place where the lamplight is set is nowhere else but a church. A church that is a body of Jesus is a place where the lamplight of the Lord is lit. The Lord that we can hear and see at church is really something like a lamp-light. We cannot clearly hear as the voice of the Lord, and see as the feature of the Lord, either. Nevertheless, just as Samuel heard the Call of the Lord in the holy place in Shilo, we hear the call of the Lord at church.
5. Finally, what was the essence of the Call of the Lord that Samuel heard? Though we did not read the Bible passage today, it is clarified after Verse 10. Moreover, the most symbolic passage was that the Lord called the boy Samuel three times but Samuel could not take it as the Call from the Lord, because he doubted for what purpose a person like him could be called by the Lord. We naturally think that if the Lord should call, it must be the top priest of the church, that was Eli,
However, the Lord called the boy Samuel who was a servant before the age of a full adult. Here we can see the fundamental feature of the Call of the Lord. We think that"the Lord would never call a mean person like me. The Lord would never show up in a situation around me," We tend to think in this way But, the Lord is there. We wish to be those who are able to hear the Call from the Lord.
(Translated by Motoko Shuto from the gist prepared in Japanese)

Scripture for the day is '聖書' 聖書


Worship Service on June 14, 2020

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)


Worship Service on 17 May 2020

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'


Worship Service on 19 April 2020

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'


Worship Service on April 5, 2020

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)


Worship Service on 29 March 2020

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'


Worship Service on 2020/00/00

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)


Worship Service on February 23, 2020

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)


Worship Service on 9 February 2020

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'


Worship Service on 19 January 2020

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'


Worship Service on January 5, 2020

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)


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