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Our Church is Alive! Our Church is Alive!

Kakegawa Lutheran Church in Japan
Kakegawa Lutheran Church in Japan
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Our Church is Alive!

Posted on Sun, May 17, 2015

John 17:6-19

May 17, 2015

7th Sunday in Easter

 

John 17:6-19

6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

 

 

When we lived in Japan as a missionary, my job was to ‘work my way out of a job!’ My job it was to build up a group of Christians so that they could form their own faith community build their own church and call their own national/Japanese pastor. In Japan, this work takes a long time, because we have to build strong and trusting relationships and help these groups of people believe that through God’s faithfulness and the Promise of Baptism, Jesus will always be walking with them, leading, protecting and strengthening them in their ministry.

 

Yuriko and I were serving a church in Nagoya Japan, but one day the president of the district called me for a special meeting. He and I worked together for about two years, but on this day he informed me that I was being transferred to a two-point parish in ‘rural’ Shizuoka. We were to serve two congregations that had merged into one church it was called, Kakegawa-Kikugawa Lutheran Church. The Kakegawa Church was very small, yet the city was bigger and rapidly upgrading and modernizing all their streets, shops and homes. The Kikugawa Church was larger, but the town was much smaller. Both churches were run down from neglect and I later learned that one reason I was sent to this particular congregation was because nobody else wanted that assignment. I also learned that the city of Kakegawa had plans to put a road right through part of our property reducing its size by about 30% and causing the shape to become a very unworkable “L” shape. I also learned that he church district leadership apparently had plans to just close the churches and sell both properties. The situation certainly looked bleak and the parishioners, though very faithful, were unable to afford any repairs to their buildings, let alone call a Japanese pastor, and the city AND the church leadership seemed to have written them off.

 

But I was more determined than frustrated. “I didn’t leave my home and culture to fulfill my calling to become a missionary just to have my first solo assignment to close down a faithful little faith community,” I thought. Rather than trying to think of a merciful way of closing the doors, I went to City Hall of Kakegawa and told them that we weren’t closing, the “L” shaped land we were being forced to accept was not acceptable, and that we were going to use the $250,000 in compensation for them taking our land, and use it to rebuild. I was rather stubborn and very determined. (My Japanese wasn’t good enough to argue with, so that helped!) That meant they had to redraw their city map of the streets to satisfy my/our plans. It also meant they had to provide a temporary worship sight while they rerouted the road. They gave us a tin shed to worship in… right on MAIN STREET!! It was a great deal of work but we rebuilt a building that contained a beautiful little sanctuary, teaching room with a kitchenette and a nice comfortable parsonage with a pastor’s office! We went beyond code and it was one of the first churches to be fully handicapped accessible. We even had a small parking lot… when the job was done, there were no loans and everything was paid off. We also were able to remodel the interior of the Kikugawa Sanctuary and strengthen its old “steeple.”

 

It was the time of the nerve gas attack by a renegade religious group on the subway system in Tokyo, so we designed the new sanctuary with plenty of windows so the people of the neighborhood could see what Christians do during worship, thus reducing suspicion about Christianity.

 

It was very hard work, but my family really loved those two communities. Then one day, I was called in for another one of ‘those meetings.’ We were told that we were going to be reassigned to the huge city of Nagoya to serve Meito Lutheran Church, and help create an official international church along with their Japanese congregation.

 

Meito was a wonderful church, but it was a big change moving to a big city.

 

All the time we served Kakegawa-Kikugawa Lutheran, I had a constant prayer going. I knew that one day, a Japanese pastor would need to be assigned to our beloved Kakegawa-Kikugawa Lutheran Church… I was always concerned; “will there be enough people to keep a viable ministry going?” Not just to pay the bills and the salary of a pastor, but to have a true vision for outreach and service so that they will truly become the Light of Christ in these two towns? … But I must admit, my primary prayer and concern was the ability of that little congregation would grow so that they could afford a Japanese pastor after I was gone.

 

I think some of the members could sense my concern… When we heard who the new pastor would be, I was very pleased. It was a young man whom I have known since before he went to seminary and he had great teachers.

 

Then one day, my wonderful treasurer took me to the side and quietly said, “Don’t worry Pastor Mason, we are going to be okay. We will be able to afford our new pastor, because our church is alive again.” He knew my concerns… He wasn’t bragging or boasting, he was reassuring me of how faithful God is, and how we were truly blessed when our focus changed from our own belly buttons to the needs of the hearts and spiritual needs of our neighbors. This vision for mission and service strengthened their faith, and in so doing they became like the Servant Christ in that place.

 

I love today’s text because it is a prayer that Jesus prayed for the sake of his disciples much like the prayer I have for all the churches I have served. The prayer is rooted in Jesus claiming his disciples as, “his own.” Jesus acknowledges that they have been drawn in to the LOVE of God, the Father and the Son, and into the mission of Jesus. They have been drawn into the mission of what God has done. They have been drawn into the faithful mission of Jesus, and the words and deeds of Jesus are the center of their calling.

 

Jesus makes three requests on their behalf in this week’s section of the prayer. The first two are variations on a single request for protection. In John 17:11, Jesus asks that the Holy Father should protect the ones whom he has given Jesus in his (the Father’s) name so that they may be one as the Father and Son are one. The point of the protection is that they should mirror and be drawn into the oneness in love of the Father and Son themselves. They are to be protected so that they may love as they have been commanded to love in a way that not only draws them into union with the divine love but also shows that love to the world into which they are being sent as Jesus has been sent. So Jesus’ own are to be protected not just for themselves, but also in order to fulfill the mission of love in the world.

 

The second petition is that the Father should protect them from the evil one (John 17:15), whose activity has been highlighted with respect to Judas (John 13:2, 27).

 

Emerging from that second request is the third, that they be sanctified, or consecrated, in the truth (John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”). The “Truth” is Jesus himself. The word for sanctified is translated hallowed in the Lord’s Prayer; and God’s gift to him, is to be that they be hallowed for God’s purposes in the same way Jesus was hallowed for His work.

 

Jesus’ disciples will soon be sent out into a world that is not always open to hearing the Word of God, even when they do great acts of mercy, love and justice for those in need. But as Christ brought the love, mercy and justice of God into the world, they too will become the same blessing to the world in all their words and deeds where ever they will be sent.

 

This is a prayer I pray for each member of our congregation everyday. I think about each and every member of Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church and how you are doing in your work, study, travels or whatever all the time. I do pray that each one of us, in our own special way, can bring the Light of Christ into a world that is so tormented with darkness, pain and suffering.

 

I know how difficult it is beyond our doors; I am often in the hospitals, on the streets and sometimes even in the courthouse when need be. But I know for certain, as each one of you has been sanctified, or hallowed through the Cross of Christ, I know the ministry of Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church goes from being here in the beautiful and hallowed place to every place you share your talents, faith and heart and into our world.

 

Today’s Gospel is Jesus prayer for His disciples and their soon being sent out into the world without a physical Jesus to lead them… with only the Holy Spirit (The Paraclete) to guide, protect and make them Jesus’ Light to the world. I get so inspired when we can gather right here, together, right now to praise God and be refreshed to be God’s faithful people in the world. Believe me, God is doing amazing things through our faith community, but it all began with Jesus blessing us, right here, right now. Amen. 

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