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15. janúar 2017
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.
We have already spent two weeks in the year 2017. In Japan, the year’s biggest feast, called Oshogatsu, is held on the first three days of the new year. During the feast of Oshogatsu, it is customary to go to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple and give thanks to the gods of Shinto, or to the Buddha, and wish for happiness in the upcoming year.
Counting only the 5 most famous shrines and temples in the Tokyo area, about 13 million people made such visits in the first three days of this year.
I think it is very interesting, particularly in Shinto, that Japanese people love to visit the shrines to tell the gods their wishes, but seem to have almost no interest in listening what the gods say to them in return. But it’s OK, that’s their style. Generally, the gods of Shinto don’t speak to the people directly.
In Christianity, we see totally different attitude of God. Today’s texts, in both the Old Testament and the Gospel, show us that God our Father speaks to us, that Jesus speaks to us directly.
In the first book of Samuel, God calls Samuel: “Samuel!”, but Samuel misunderstands, thinking that his master Eli has called him. Eli helps Samuel understand what has happened, so Samuel can answer God.
In the Gospel, a chief tax collector, Zaccheus, climbs up a tree, trying to see Jesus, who is visiting his town. And Jesus calls to him: “Zaccheus, hurry and come down (…)”(Lk. 19: 5)
There are many similar episodes throughout the Bible. What we need to pay attention to here is that God calls Samuel, and Jesus calls Zaccheus, by their names. So these are very personal addresses.
Our Father God is not only addressing our society and nation: but he comes so near, in order to build up personal communication with you, me and every one of us. Father God calls our names and speaks to us: and he listens to each of us.
But having a conversation with God is not something automatic, like buying a Pepsi in a vending machine. There is room for misunderstanding.
If you want to have an easy conversation, I recommend trying to chat with Siri. You know, Siri, a function of the iPhone. Siri is a sort of artificial intelligence, and if you talk to Siri and ask for some information, Siri will provide you with the information, if available.
Other smart phones are also developing more or less the same kind of AI function.
The other day I asked Siri if there were aliens on Mars. Then she answered: “Yes, he is standing just behind you now!” Siri is learning a sense of humor, too. Anyway, this is pretty easy communication. If you ask Siri something, Siri answers you immediately.
But we cannot expect the same thing of God. God our Father doesn’t communicate with us like Siri does. The response that Father gives is more profound, and requires a certain commitment of us. We might sometimes misunderstand this point.
There are many asylum seekers among us who anticipate deportation. They pray to God every day, so that he will stop the deportations and open the way before them. I pray for them every day, too. But though we pray and pray, nothing seems to change in a better direction. Where can we see the response from God?
About three years ago, three asylum seekers told me this: “Father, we have been praying to God about our situation for years. And God knows the truth about us. But still he doesn’t answer us. Why?”
This is probably the most difficult question for a pastor to answer appropriately. Actually, I could not find any answer but to keep silent.
One and half years later, two of them got the resident permit to stay here, but third person was deported. He must still have the same question today. “Why doesn’t god answer?”
From a troubled situation, we cry out and ask God for his help. Facing a dead end to our only path, we pray to God that he will make a hole so we can get through that dead end wall. We pray, we pray and we pray. But we don’t get a response from God.
This kind of situation is not limited to asylum seekers, but must be common to all those who are surviving in poverty, those who suffer from difficult diseases, or those who simply no strangers to a life of struggle.
Why doesn’t God answer their prayers? This is the question that many people must ask every now and then.
Japanese Catholic author Shusaku Endo took up this question in his novel “Silence” in 1966, and this work is highly esteemed. “Silence” is about persecution against Christians by the Tokugawa shogunate in 17th century Japan.
This persecution against Christians was severe, and in response to the protest of Shimabara from 1637 to 38, 37.000 Catholics were killed, including women and children.
In the book “Silence”, a Catholic missionary, who witnesses the inhuman oppression of Christians, seeks help from God – but he can hear only the silence of God.
Finally, the missionary himself is forced to abandon his faith and step on the Holy icon of Jesus. The officers threaten that if he does not obey, they will kill the people in the village. So the missionary decides to step on the icon of Jesus to protect the people. He becomes disappointed in himself and feels lost.
When he is about to step on Jesus’ face on the icon, he feels much pain on his foot.
Then Jesus on the icon speaks to him: “It’s all right. Step on me. I was not keeping silent. When you were calling my name from your pain and disappointment, I was sharing the pain and disappointment, since I know exactly the pain and disappointment you have now. Your pain on your foot and heart is my pain.”
Thus Shusaku Endo describes Jesus as God who answers our prayers by sharing our pain, disappointment or sorrow.
Jesus is not a super hero like Captain America or Superman. We might expect, even unconsciously, that a hero like Superman could appear and solve our problems instantly.
But those super heroes like Captain America, Batman or the X-Men have a defect in common: it is that they have to count on violence to solve problems. When they meet enemies who have stronger powers than they themselves, then they have to obtain even stronger power to defeat the enemies.
This is indeed no different than the endless competition in military power among nations.
The origin of Jesus’ power exists in a different place. It exists in sharing pain. The power of God first appears to us in the weakness of us human beings and the pain we suffer. That is the origin of the power of our Father, the power of Jesus. And this is considerably different from what we expect.
It’s not that God doesn’t answer to our prayers. God answers, but he doesn’t answer exactly the way we expect.
God answers us. But his answer might not come in the way we expect. So we need to try to catch it. We might need to put in time and effort to catch it. Just like Samuel needed to be called four times before he could answer God. Just like Zaccheus needed to climb up a tree to see Jesus.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”(Mt. 7:7)
Many difficulties in reality, such as stopping deportation and getting asylum, surviving in poverty or fighting against
difficult illnesses, might not be solved instantly even though we pray with zeal.
This is surely the battlefield in our religious lives. We need still to continue to pray. That’s our fight.
And there is one more important thing I want especially you, who are having a difficult time right now, to remember. It is that in spite of the difficulties you are facing, you are 100% human persons, as perfectly human -though having the original sin like all of us- as anyone else.
Neither you nor anyone else becomes more human after overcoming such difficulties. No one is a lesser human being while struggling with these obstacles.
Even though you have problems that have not yet been solved, you already exist perfectly as human beings, an existence beloved by God our Father and possessing freedom in his kingdom: and wrapped in the love of Jesus.
Please don’t forget it. Don’t let anxiety and disappointment take control. Remember that Jesus shares our burden. Jesus shares in our pain because he knows our pain. The real change begins when we meet Jesus in the middle of our own pain. A new way, an unexpected way will be shown to us at that time.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.
1 Samuel 3.1-10
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli. And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.
It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), and the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was, that the Lord called Samuel; and he said, “Here I am.”
Then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he answered, “I did not call, my son, lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of the Lord yet been revealed to him.
So the Lord called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that the Lord was calling the boy. And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Then the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”
Luke 19: 1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
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