Posted on Fri, Jun 30, 2017
June 25, 2017
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 10:24-39 “Proclaim it from the Housetops”
24 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
Whom to Fear
26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
Not Peace, but a Sword
34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Looking back on one of my last sermons… I see a theme that has stuck with me for all my life, “Never defy your heart.” My best advice for everyone when there are difficult decisions to make, “Always follow your heart.” People may disagree with me, but one guiding principle for me, when making a decision on a path I will have journey through, is to weigh the decision so that there will never be regrets. In college, I was a senior with only 23 credits to go for my degree in Biology, I could see that diploma in my hand! During the summer I worked at Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp and had a blast. During that time a staff member from Lutheran Youth Encounter was visiting the camp and I learned that they were forming a music ministry team to go to Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. The director of International Teams knew my story well, and she asked me to take 15 months off of college to lead this team… Thankfully I didn't need to answer right away, but I definitely saw God’s hand in this situation. My first thought was of Katy Clark the missionary to Papua New Guinea that visited our little church many years earlier that I told you about. After watching and listening to her, I was certain I was to be a missionary one day, like Katy. And suddenly, ‘I’m being asked to lead a music ministry team to Papua New Guinea!’ Could this be a ‘God Thing?
I spoke to my professor at my university about the opportunity to go to the South Pacific. I told him that I was torn because I only had a few credits to go to graduate. My professor almost slapped me across the head, and said, “The university isn't going anywhere, GO!” Well, Okay, since my professor said so, I said, “Yes" to LYE’s offer, and soon I was on my second music ministry team that first did concerts almost every night in churches all over the Northwestern USA, and off to Papua New Guinea, and every Lutheran Church in New Zealand.
In a short amount of time we put together a concert with puppets, skits, and music. We also had to learn enough Melanesian Pidgin so we could introduce ourselves and share a story or two in Melanesian Pidgin in Papua New Guinea. It was a tremendous amount of work, but we were focused, motivated and had a wonderful time of doing ministry.
I had my Papua New Guinea experience… now at the end of seminary, I had to make a decision, take the call of the Bishop’s Convention and serve a congregation in the Caribbean, or follow my heart and remain with the Division of Global Mission or the ELCA on a fast track back to Japan?
I went to our little prayer chapel in our dormitory, sat down, opened my Bible to Jeremiah and read the entire book. I read Jeremiah because one of Old Testament Professors oftentimes called the book of Jeremiah the story about the ‘reluctant prophet.’ I felt God was giving me a test and essentially saying, “Okay Mason, come clean. Your heart has told you that you would become a missionary someday, and now you have been given that opportunity… being a Jimmy Buffet pastor ‘down in the islands, Mon’ is nothing more than a temptation… don't you think?”
Today’s Gospel text hits me to the core of my heart and who I am. Who was I to turn my back on the dream that was put in my heart and that I had carried for two decades. And besides, what would Katy Clark think? She eventually ended up buying a house in my neighborhood and I ended up seeing her from time to time as I grew up. After her service in the mission field I went to school with her daughters, and one is now a dear Facebook friend.
When I arrived in Japan, I knew very little Japanese. My internship was an English speaking International Church, so I only learned what I could pick up after a few classes.
But among our Lutheran Missionary community, there was one wise “old timer” that took me to the side for a serious talk about Call. Many new-comers to Japan ‘fall in love’ with the country only to burn out and leave after a short time. This is very costly to the church, and is extremely hard on relationships. You learn to ‘protect your heart’ and not get too attached to ex-pats too soon. He was brutally honest and said something I will never forget as long as I live; he said, “Don’t get too frustrated in your studies, you have to realize you won't be able to contribute anything as a ‘pastor’ linguistically speaking for at least seven years. SEVEN YEARS!!
I answered the Call to become a missionary. I left my home, my family, my culture, even my language, and especially my football team and all that was familiar. In order to be able to contribute to the Great Commission of “19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” I had two years of intensive language training which may should like a long time, but it only gives you the language ability ‘to be dangerous.’ For those two years I was assigned to a Japanese church on the weekend. I had the brain knowledge to lead Bible Studies, preach and comfort, but not enough words and cultural understanding. I felt like an idiot when I couldn't even communicate well enough with the youth, and this hurt because I had done so much youth ministry in the US. When someone was hurting, in America we hug, it is different in Asia, there are different ways to comfort and I had yet to catch on.
The words for paper (ka mi’ (more flat)), turtle (ka' me) and god (ka' mi) sound almost identical in Japanese. I had one colleague that would assign a little boy to sit in the front row right in front of the pulpit and every time he said the word for “god” wrong, he was to shake his head, “NO!” It was a terrible way to learn, because he realized he was speaking about the grace of the all mighty turtle for months and his polite congregation never corrected or laughed at him…
So when I think about how many times I butchered the amazing and beautiful language and culture of Japan, I think about Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament text. I am sure my Japanese parishioners were either wincing or laughing silently in their hearts as they listened to me, but out of pure mercy, grace and love, they never openly laughed at me. The words of Jeremiah in today’s text ring so true and close to my heart. It is purely the dedication to the Call of God, not the church, the money, the learning that keeps a person trying and trying to adapt, JUST THE PURE DESIRE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL IN ANY WAY POSSIBLE! And my missionary colleague who told me it would take seven years before I could contribute anything as a pastor in the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church was exactly right. AFTER about seven years, I began to feel comfortable in the language and culture. Probably to the point I felt much more comfortable in pastors meetings in Japan that in the West. Going back to the US every two years for missionary furlough was oftentimes a very ‘jarring’ experience. Americans are loud, demanding, and you have to pay tips in the US… in Japan people are properly paid for their work.
Every Monday I would speak to my parents are every Monday my father would ask me if I was done with this missionary thing. After we visited Calvary by the Sea in 1996, every week my dad would ask me if Doug Olson had called me to Hawaii… Jesus’ words cut deep.
The Call to serve, preach, comfort and teach outside one’s culture and in a new language is a Gift of the Spirit in itself. But in all of my language and cultural mis-steps and blunders, I was able to communicate some things better than my Japanese brothers and sisters could. I may have sounded like a child, and looked like Mr. Bean, but the only way I could communicate the Good News that God loves us all, was only in my own child-like, Mr. Bean kind of way.
It took two years of blood, sweat and tears in a crowded little language school riding those packed trains and buses every morning, then five more years of looking and sounding like a buffoon, but after all that, I was able to sit with an old gentleman dying of cancer talking about life, and joy of farming and creating hybrids totally at ease. I taught music, led youth events, and even participated in national assemblies. I learned the true meaning of the word, “Grace” from my experience with the Japanese, in the church and out of the church.
I learned that my biggest ‘enemy’ was my ego, personal goals and desires, and impatience. But one thing is for sure, I have NO REGRETS for saying yes to the Call. God is faithful. The Spirit of God leading and working through so many amazing people on my journey was strong and true. The Good News of mercy and grace can be proclaimed in any language as long as there is LOVE.
This was my journey, the journey that was almost thwarted by the tempting thoughts of becoming the senior pastor in Margarita Ville in the Caribbean.
God is calling each and every one of us to service of love, mercy, worship, education or service. Don't you dare look back once you have said, “Here am I Lord! Send Me.”
There is no looking back, and remember, God has an amazing sense of humor. Amen
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