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Toshiki Toma

St. Paul’s secret

11. október 2015

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

Today’s gospel is an episode of a man blind from birth. This is a quite famous story and rather easy to follow.
Jesus and his disciples pass by a man who is sitting by the road. This man is blind from birth. Then the disciples ask Jesus: “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”(Jn. 9:2)

This question is based on a very common understanding in the old Jewish world, and it is that decease or misfortune of a person is the result of his sinful deed, and in some cases, even sinful deeds of his ascendants. But “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”(Jn. 9:3), and Jesus healed the man’s blindness.

It is a simple story, on the surface at least. But because of the simplicity, it seems to me that we have difficulty in connecting this episode with our own life. When I was young and didn’t know about the Bible so well, I thought this story was in the Bible in order only to encourage people with physical handicaps. So actually I never tried to understand this story as it applies to me. So today I want to think over the story a bit better and try to find the link to our own life.

First of all, let’s pay attention to the question of the disciples. I have just said that the disciple’s question is based on a common idea of their time and it is like that unhappiness or decease of somebody has been caused by his own sinful deed or his ascendants. Today we don’t think in that way, do we? But actually we do think in almost the same way as the disciples did even today and very often at that.

That way of thinking is called “retributive justice”. This is a difficult word, but it is also said in an easy expression like: “what goes around comes around”. Namely if you do something good, you will get something good for yourself. If you do something bad, the bad thing will return to you someday. Therefore those who are facing some difficulty must have done something that has brought the difficulty upon themselves.

We are maybe using this idea more often than we are aware of. If somebody has got lung-cancer, we quickly assume: “Ah, he must have smoked too much”. If somebody has been killed by gangsters, we guess automatically: “Oh, he must have had some relationship with gang-business”.

This way of thinking is also used as a sort of psychological self-defense. We cannot stand to see something extremely illogical and unacceptable. In January this year, two Japanese men were executed by ISIS. At that time, many Japanese said: “It’s their own responsibility, since they stepped into a dangerous area where our Government was putting an alert on”.

Some people must have really thought so, but many others were just trying to find some reason so that they could conclude that the tragic happening had occurred with reasons. People are relieved when they can find a reason for tragedy or unhappiness.

But finding the real reason why a person is facing a difficult situation is not an easy task. Because sometimes there can be no clear reason or sometimes there can be many related reasons and things are too complicated to specify a certain reason.

I often think of my friends who are asylum seekers here in Iceland. And I wonder why they have to get involved in such a difficult situation, why they have to suffer in this way. They themselves must have the same questions.

We can easily point out superficial reasons, such as political unstability of one’s home country, political dictatorship, religious intolerance, civil war etc. etc. But these are not enough. Why does it happen to them then? Why have they been born into that kind of situation anyway? We cannot answer that.
And only they themselves, each individual is probably entitled to find out the answer for himself. It might become one’s life work.

I mentioned my friends who are asylum seekers, but of course each of us, though not being asylum seekers, can have any kind of difficulty in our life. Or even if there is no difficulty, we can face some sort of shortage, or missing feeling. And we seek for the reason of the difficulty we have or seek for something missing in our life. We are all “seekers” of something.

Young people must seek for what they want to do in the future. Grown ups might seek for their life partner. Aged people might seek for deeper meaning of their life than they have found until now. And all of us must seek for the meaning of having difficult experiences in our own life, more or less. In my experience, we think more about the meaning of the life when times are hard for us, but of course, we need to think over the meaning of our life, both when times are good and times are hard.

St. Paul is saying this in today’s text from Philippians: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”(Phil. 4:11-12).

What he is meaning here is about richness and poverty in his every day life, but he is implying something deeper than just food or money. He is talking about generally when times are good and times are bad for us. He says he has learned “the secret”. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”. But what does it really mean?

Let me share what I experienced personally two weeks ago. I think that experience is related to “the secret” to which St. Paul is refering.

I am an active user of Facebook. I have many friends there, but most of them are not real friends of mine. I mean many are friends only on Facebook. I tried to collect as many Icelandic friends as I can get, and there was a reason.

6-7 years ago, I noticed that people in Iceland knew only little about how we immigrants in Iceland lived our daily life. And it was causing certain prejudice and misunderstanding about us immigrants in Iceland.
So I decided to introduce the immigrant’s life through Facebook, by sharing just small information from my daily life, as one of Asian immigrants. For example, when I felt happy with something, I got angry with somebody, how difficult to learn Icelandic language and so on. The purpose was to show that we immigrants were the same human beings as Icelanders. And I think it has worked quite well.

In these months, I have been sharing much about my friends who are asylum seekers, in the same way I did about my immigrant’s life. I want people in the society to have the right picture of asylum-seeking people. They are also human beings, but just in a difficult situation.

But these past three weeks have turned out to be very hard times, since many of my friends had their asylum applications rejected by the authorities. Besides some of them had been hospitalized because of mental or physical sickness. Of course I did not write details of each matter, but maybe it could been seen through Facebook that I was having a difficult time myself.

Exactly two weeks ago, on Sunday afternoon, I got a message from my Facebook friends. They were an old couple in the north-west part of Iceland, but we have never met directly.
The husband said in the message: “I want to make a small contribution for your service with refugees” and asked for the bank number. I made a new bank account next day and informed him of it.

I felt happy for this kind proposal, because 10.000, 20.000 krónur make a difference. Sometimes I buy Bibles for people who don’t have it with my pocket money, or bus tickets or filling mobile credit. I do those things with pleasure, but if somebody can support me, they are welcome, too!

After a while I got a message again from the couple that they had deposited their contribution in the account. So I checked it on the net bank. And I got a shock. Can you imagine how much this couple donated? They gave one million krónur. A million! We haven’t even met each other yet. I was so surprised, yet touched and felt so thankful to this elderly couple.

First of all, I thanked this certain amount of money that could be used to support the people in difficulty. Secondly, I thanked for the warm consideration of the couple and their real decision and action. And thirdly I thanked for their trust in me.
And finally I thanked God that he made it happen exactly in this difficult period for my friends and for myself as their pastor. I took this as a message from God, that he is watching over us.

I sent my message to the couple to thank for the gift. And the old lady sent me back few lines, and she said: “Toshiki, I can see that Christ is working through you”.
“Christ is working through you”. For a person in a position like mine, there is no better praise than this. I have to be truly humble in receiving such a precious word. But honestly speaking, I saw Christ was working through the couple. Christ brought his message through those good elderly people.

You may forget everything I have said today. But please remember only one thing, and take it back with you home and keep it at least for a week to reflect.

And it is this. Christ works through you, through each of you. It doesn’t matter what kind of social status you have. You may be rich, you may be poor, educated or non-educated. Christ works through you.
It doesn’t matter even if you are a good person, or a difficult person. It doesn’t matter if you feel happy now, if you are feeling sad or are facing difficulty. Christ works through you.

If you have faith in Christ and if you think of your neighbors only even sometimes, though not always, Christ works through you, and you might not even be aware of it. It happens that we can act as a deputy of Christ to our neighbors without our conscious, and give them comfort, courage or hope.

Why can it happen? It can happen because we are designed to help each other and support, because Jesus orders us to do so. That’s how we should be, and how we are supposed to be.
Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another“(Jn.13:34). “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (….) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light“ (Mt. 11:34, 36).

We all can have some kind of difficulty, sometimes a heavy burden. In that time, we often think that we are the only one who carries a burden. But it’s not true. Everybody is carrying his own burden, but in different shapes. Jesus knows it, so he orders us to love each other and help each other.
And Christ himself appears in us and works through us, so that we can surely love each other and support each other. Can you imagine this? Christ appears in us for our neighbors. And also we see Christ in our neighbors for ourselves. Christ is so close to us.

This is the secret that St. Paul is talking about, and this is how “God’s works might be revealed in” us. Each of us is a vessel to reveal God’s glory and love of Christ.
So remember, Christ works through us, he works through each of us.

Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Amen

Texts of the day are following:

19th Sunday after Trinitas

Philippians 4: 8-13

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Gospel: John 9: 1- 11

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’

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