Posted on Sun, Feb 26, 2012
February 26, 2012
First Sunday in Lent “…Once for All…”
Gospel Text: Mark 1:9-15
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
Just after the great Kobe earthquake, I was dispatched off to Kobe to join a team of church members and other pastors to bring relief into the worst places. Because there was no water and for many, no safe shelter to live in, the most requested item was underwear and warm clothes. So, early in the morning we would load up jumbo vans with tons of underwear, socks and the like along with bags and boxes of food, a huge pot and extra propane bottles.
We would first distribute the clothing until it was gone, and that only took minutes. Then we began the half day long process of preparing a warm meal consisting of rice, carrots, cooked strips of pork and whatever veggies we could find to throw into the stew. It was rather bland, but it was very filling and warm.
One day we were ordered to go down to the harbor, most of the piers had sunk into the sea, but there was a group of people living along the water. Their fishing boats and fish processing buildings were gone, the road and pier were under the water. We began our routine, and soon we noticed another group doing the exact kind of relief work we were doing. More the merrier I thought as the number of people in the parks increased as soon as they saw relief groups preparing their one supper for the day.
When we finished, and all the food and toiletries had been distributed and the van repacked, we pastors would stay and just talk with the people and listen to their stories. (Stephen Ministers, know that one of the best ways of doing ministry is to just listen.) I was curious about the neighboring group so I went over to talk to their leader. I assumed they were from another Christian group as most of the relief groups I met were from various Christian churches. Remember, less than 1% of the population of Japan is Christians; but this group was not Christian, but a young adult group from a local Buddhist temple.
They were doing almost the very same thing we were doing; even the recipe for the stew was the same. As we shared our horror stories, I asked him what was the reason they were out here in the cold feeding the people. It seemed like a stupid question, but I wanted to know what caused them to do the same thing we were doing. He quietly began to tell me how much it hurt in their hearts that so many people were innocently suffering, and if they didn’t do something, if they didn’t show compassion, they would go through the rest of their lives with the image of their neighbors suffering and the knowledge that they didn’t do anything to alleviate the suffering… this would cause great regret. One of the important teachings of Buddhism, is to live in the now, completely and fully, so that you will not cultivate any “regret” in your heart in the future.
Their purpose was to show compassion, not just for the sake of those they were serving, but also for themselves. They knew inaction would lead to regret, and this fear of not doing something and regretting it later causes many Buddhist groups to be active in doing all sorts of charity work and care giving.
Then the young priest asked me, “Why are you Christians doing this hard work?” and he went on to say, “I am thankful for all the work that is being done for the suffering, but I am troubled that so many ‘regular’ Japanese do so very little, in the sense of coming out to help, but I have never seen so many Christians out in public working so hard… why is this?” and then he looked at me very seriously and asked, “How far have you come to do this work, and why would you come all this way to help the Japanese?”
Personally, I saw so many people helping, but I was so busy with the efforts of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, I really didn’t think about which group was which. I only noticed hundreds of people trying to do whatever they could, for others or just their families.
I told him this, and I told him that I thought it was interesting that our two groups were doing the very same thing, and by our actions, I couldn’t tell the difference between the groups, Christian or non-Christian. Until we began to sing songs and stuff… they chant, we sing with guitars and stuff… but I told him, that we believe that there is a God, and this God loves each and every one of us no matter what our beliefs or understanding of faith, life or whatever. And we saw this in the words and actions of Jesus. Since God loves all people, everyone is our brother and sister, no exceptions. Therefore, when one person suffers, we are called to do as Jesus did, and feed the hungry, care for the lonely, clothe the naked, and speak up for the weak.
God loves the suffering as much, if not more than the ones who are ‘not in want’ and in order to be faithful to our calling to be Servants of Christ, we must serve… it causes us to relate to those who are in pain, it opens our eyes the reality of the suffering, and especially in the difficult times, when we are cold and tired, our faith actually grows, and we may even feel blessed.
He looked at me with a rather puzzled face, “we do this out of compassion, but we also do it to avoid feelings of regret. Plus, we just assume all the Japanese are the same and not Christians…” “But you Christians do this (service) because of Love?” I said, “Yes, the motivation does not begin with us thinking about our needs (like trying avoid the sad feelings of regret), but because we believe we have first been loved by God, ALL people have been loved by God. Therefore we are all God’s children… no matter what they believe or understand” When there is need or suffering, we think of them as brothers and sisters, and therefore, we must act.
As they really don’t have a concept of God in their faith system, you could just see his mind racing with questions… but it was time to go, and my Japanese could probably not keep up with his questioning. I didn’t have the vocabulary. As I often did in this kind of situation, I pointed out the Japanese pastor in our group so they could talk as Japanese to Japanese, and I also told him to call our seminary in Tokyo. He knew about our seminary as it had a very impressive reputation for teaching social workers. We said our good-byes and said we hoped we would see each other again. We never did as the location of my assignment changed everyday.
Mark says, “14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”
The time is fulfilled! The days of God speaking through the prophets is over, and the word and actions of God will be seen through the one who has the power to save us, this is Jesus. He begins his ministry knowing he is also “the beloved,” with his eyes on the cross in Jerusalem. During his journey, we will encounter and be encountered by people of many faiths, social & economic status, and even race. Some people welcomed Jesus, some did not, but that meant nothing even after his own disciples betrayed him and he essentially went to ‘Calvary’ alone. He went as the ultimate Servant King. Going out of love and commitment…
This same commitment keeps Jesus with us at all times, and motivates us to love as we have been loved causing our service not to be only on us but the world and all those who have not yet hear the words of Jesus, or feel alone in their humanity.
From the cross, Jesus looked to this date, and called you his “beloved.” He also looked at your neighbor and said, this person too is “my beloved,” and for all he gave his life. Amen.
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