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10. janúar 2016
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:2-3)
I would guess that this passage from Psalm 42 really fits how many of you are feeling now, and expressing your emotions. Many of us are like deer seeking for “sweet water” in the dry valley. We are panting for a key to open the door, for support to fix our situation, for voices to call on justice, or for the power to change our lives.
For example, in the process of an asylum application, sometimes we come to a dead end. A big “NEGATIVE” seems to stand in our path. We try knocking on every possible door, pulling every single string, or try to figure out some idea that might open even a narrow space so that we can sneak around the big “negative”. We thirst for that sweet water we call “grace”.
As we all know, two Albanian families who had been sent back to their home country, have just received Icelandic citizenship after their deportation because of assertive requests from citizens of Iceland. The families are now returning to Iceland. They received grace.
These cases are dramatic, and as we have seen in the destinies of those two families, we don’t know what could happen next. On the contrary, we must understand that if we give up, we can never receive grace. Deer must continue to wander over the dry valley, looking for water. And so do we.
I have just illustrated things using asylum application cases, but I think the same illustration applies to other life struggles, such as battle against difficult diseases, efforts finding solutions for families in trouble, and so on.
These life struggles are, by nature, often practical matters. And practical matters mean a lot in our lives. We cannot deny it.
For example, an unemployed man needs a job. He looks for a job. This is a very practical, concrete matter.
But if the term of unemployment stretches into a long time, it can negatively affect this person’s whole life, not only the limited field of personal finance. He might even feel as if he were not needed in his society at all, and fall into depression.
So we should not underestimate the value and meaning of practical matters. We cannot easily say: “Hey, we have faith in God and his spiritual care is beyond any concern for practical matters”. Surely we all have “the image of God” in ourselves, and it has its own light. And no matter how our life conditions are, the image of God is preserved in us. Nobody can deprive us of it.
Nevertheless, a shortage of something practical can affect our spiritual state and weaken the lights that we have in ourselves.
I have met many immigrants and refugees who were in need. They had their own troubles and needed some practical changes in their lives. Sometimes they looked so miserable, so tired and much older than their real age. Their lights, as children of God seemed to have been much weakened, almost extinguished.
But some of them overcame their difficulties with the help of the people around them. Sometimes I happened to see those “survivors” again after some months or years.
One day at the university, somebody called me; “Hello, Mr. Toshiki!” When I looked up, a shining, beautiful woman was smiling at me. I was surprised because I didn’t know her: “Oh, does she know me? Lucky me!” After we greeted, I found that this beautiful woman was an asylum-seeker whom I had helped a bit before.
But at that time, she looked like an aged woman, and empty of life force. After she had got her resident permit, she got her own inner light back as well and began to shine again.
I have had similar experiences many times, now. Practical circumstances in our lives can affect even the lights we have in inside ourselves as children of God. Therefore we need to take good care of our earthly lives as well as our spiritual lives.
“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’”(Psalm 42:4) Sometimes we concentrate only on looking for “sweet water” in the dry valley, but forget to seek for it in our Father’s house.
The necessities of our secular lives has influence on our spiritual lives; likewise the state of our spiritual lives influences our secular lives. Looking for water in the dry valley is a tough effort, especially when we are already thirsty. Our spiritual water cannot slake our practical thirst, but it helps us to continue to look for water.
If we have a shortage of the spiritual water, we could get stuck in the dry valley, and the soul could become like a desert itself.
There is a married couple in Japan, and both the husband and wife are well known actors. They also had a lovely and talented daughter, but she died of lung cancer six years ago when she was only 29 years old. This couple, the parents of this dead daughter, fell into deep sadness and mourning, of course.
After a year, I happened to watch a talk show on TV where the mother, this actress, was the guest. She was reflecting the death of her daughter at such a young age and said: “When she passed away, I was convinced that there was no God”.
When we cannot get what we have been longing for, or when things don’t go as we have wished, we could get angry with God: “Why don’t you listen to my wish?” “Why did you let this happen at all?”
In the process of getting rid of much layered frustration; or in the process of digesting a shock and sadness; these thoughts can be very understandable and acceptable. I am not going to scold someone when he even curses God after a big shock like losing a child. But if he gets stuck there and cannot move on to the next step, that’s not good. That’s a problem.
When this happens, such people have fallen into “ego centrism”, in its literal meaning, even unconsciously. “Ego centrism” doesn’t mean here that a man is selfish or he is calculating things for his own benefit: it means simply that a man sits in the center of the world.
When we have fallen into this trap of “ego centrism”, then we are not following God, but are having God follow us. “My request” has become higher than the God’s will and plan. It’s against what we pray always in the Lord’s prayer: “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Be careful. It can happen even unconsciously.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says; “… I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think…” (Romans 12: 3) St. Paul gives us a warning so that we do “not think more highly of ourselves”. This is actually related to “ego centrism”.
Even when we cannot find water in the dry valley, we may not forget that we can get water for our souls in our Father’s house. Little Jesus said to Joseph and Mary; “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”(Luke 2: 49)
Now we have to listen this word of Jesus as word to us ourselves. Here in the church, Jesus stays with us. Of course Jesus goes out to streets, downtown and countryside or to wherever it is in order to invite people to his salvation. But surely we can meet Jesus here in the church, the community of Christians, and we can have water for our souls.
And one more important thing. When Jesus says “My father’s house”, we too are allowed to call it “Our Father’s house”, since we are also children of God.
John chapter 1; “… to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12)
Remember, we all have “the image of God” inside us and it can lighten up our life. Sometimes the lights we have might get weak and dim. It happens. But still they are here.
And after receiving the spiritual water, we need to go back to the dry valley and continue to look for the water for our practical needs. It is a tough fight. God doesn’t give us an easy solution, because it is about our life, and we were born to live through that life. The ending is not decided yet. We, only we ourselves can make the ending of our own life stories. This is a part of our independence as human persons.
Jesus gives us shelter, he provides us nourishment, he heals our wounds and he guides us through dry valley. He died on the cross for us. And now, it is our task to live our lives. Even though it is absolutely necessary for us to have help from God our Father, accompanied by Jesus, but still it must be us that live our own lives.
Let’s find the water brook. And let our lights as children of God shine brighter and stronger.
Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.
Texts: Psalm 42:2-4
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
Luke 2: 46-50
Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.
(New American Standard Bible: NASB)
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