Tsukuba Gakuen Church, UCCJ


Worship Service on September 17, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- Those who sow in tears -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 At the worship service for the blessing of this year's Respect for the Aged Day, I would like to use Verses 5 and 6 in Psalms 126, which the attendants listened to at the Bible Study and Prayer Meeting at the end of August this year. These words are very well known and they have encouraged me from time to time.
1.2 The expression'sow in tears'is very strange, when we think of it very hard. Generally, the time to sow seeds or plant rice, as well as the harvesttime, is the happiest time of the year for farmers, right? The reason why it is expressed as 'sow in tears 'is that it has a special implication. You may wonder what on earth it means but I explained at the prayer meeting held on the other day that it meant living with pains. This word tells us that living in tears and with pains brings us a happy harvesttime some day, I think. In other words, it means that if you do not take pains, you will not be able to have a happy harvesttime. On reflection, we are trying to escape from pains too often, I feel.
1.3 I have been praying these few months, with all my heart for a certain family, whose name I cannot specify. That family is suffering from a lot of trouble. Last December, the meeting called'Let's Boast of our Weaknesses'was held for the family but I hastily held it in the middle of August this year in order for all of us to listen to one of their brothers. But it didn't work and he is now obliged to be in hospital. In consideration of this family, at the Bible Study and Prayer Meeting, we have been reading a book which is related to Urakawa Bethel's House again. That house, which can be probably called a group home for mentally ill patients, was established by a man named Mukaiyachi Ikuyoshi and it was based on a church at Urakawa, Hokkaido. He is also a believer at the church. That book is entitled 'The Life where we can Lose Hope with a Sense of Relief ,'which is really paradoxical. We found the phrase 'Recover our pains'in it and it encouraged us very much.
1.4 I would like to introduce the contents of the book in my own words, but Mr. Mukaiyachi writes the following: In the present-day society, it is thought that to alleviate risks in our life all the time and to live by escaping from anxiety or worries brings us a sense of relief and that the very life that doesn't shoulder pains is a happy life. But he claims that such a way of thinking or living never turned out to bring us relief or happiness. The reason is that life without pains or in today's word, life without tears, can never exist. If we were to deprive people concerned with the Bethel's House of their pains, they would have to throw away all their lives. Therefore, in the Bethel's house, they are trying to find significance in their life under the slogan 'Recover our pains .'He emphasized that just because they worked with pains, they could help each other and support each other. In today's word, to help each other and support each other may be said to bring us the fruit of joy. In reflection of this family and also of the book related to the Bethel's House, I interpreted the phrase 'sow in tears ,'first, as to live with pains.

2.1 Today, I also would like to interpret this word from another point of view. As priming water, I would like to introduce the explanation given by the annotator Dr. Visor about today's word that I use exclusively as a reference book when I talk about Psalms. He gives the following explanation: I would like to introduce it by adding to my own words too. Dr. Visor first points out that this word doesn't refer to simply sowing and harvesting lying in a chronological relationship nor to the proverb'No pain, no gain.'He stresses the historical background of the period in question, and says that it is a popular view that has been held by a lot of races since ancient times to regard the time to sow seeds, strangely, as the time to grieve, not the time to rejoice. For example, in Egypt, it is said that people celebrated sowing seeds as the symbol of burying gods. He says that a German proverb says, 'When you sow seeds, don't laugh or you will have to weep when you harvest.'He says that the same kind of idea lies at the root of that famous word of Jesus' 'unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit'(the Gospel according to John, Chapter 12, Verse 24 ). Thus Dr. Visor summarizes what he says as follows: 'The author of this Psalm sees the light of glory of new life to come implied in the present suffering and death. He sees not only that but also mysterious God's power that creates life out of death.'
2.2 Inspired by this explanation of Dr. Visor's, I find out the following meaning in the word,'sow in tears ': It is, as it literally means, in a really deep sense, that there are seeds that are sown, together with tears of grief. That is the deep truth that the place where we shed tears always involves planting seeds. The most extremely sad opportunity, which Dr. Visor mentions in his explanation, is death. I also shed really a lot of tears two years ago when I sent my father to Heaven. Because of that aftereffect, the corners of my eyes became bleared and still now they tend to be inflamed. However, we have not only to face death literally but also accumulate death in a small sense as if our body parts could not work as properly as they used to, as we grow older, or as if we could not perform as easily as before. In that way, we are bound to have what we possessed until then deprived of. We are bound to separate it from us or we are made to throw it away. There lie tears of grief, right? To grow older necessarily leads to shedding such tears in abundance.
2.3 But today's word tells us that to part from what we possessed in our hands, to depart and to shed tears of grief is actually to sow seeds, which brings us a harvest of joy in the future. Conversely, if you try to sow seeds, you need tears of grief. This is really a surprising and encouraging word. According to our outlook or sense of values, we cannot help regarding the time when we face our own death or part from our important person or accumulate our small death and end up having what is important for us deprived, only as the time when we shed tears of grief. However, today's word tells us that that is not true. It tells us to know that seeds exist together with tears. It means that to be drowned in tears of grief is to be provided with a lot of seeds to sow at the same time.

3.1 Come to think of it, sowing seeds is a really mysterious act. I am reminded of parables where Jesus is thought to have told his disciples often. They are described in all three gospels, namely, gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke. For example, the Gospel according to Mark describes it in Chapter 4, Verse 1 and the following. Here is the story: A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some seeds fell along the path and some fell on rocky places. Other seed fell among thorns. All of these did not bear grain to his regret. But the seed that fell on good soil produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty or even a hundred times.
3.2 Although we learned this parable a lot of times, to our regret, it was spread to people in a wrong meaning, I think. The Gospel according to Mark takes the trouble to carry an explanation of the parable starting with Chapter 4, Verse 13. But there what the parable stresses is on what ground the seed is put, namely, on what ground we are put. But what Jesus tried to teach originally did not lie there, I think. It is not concerned with how we behave but how the sower behaves. The sower continues to sow the seeds, even if many are sown in vain. And the seed that sprang up well is sure to bear grain in abundance. That way, sowing has been carried out without stopping. Therefore, what we can learn from this parable is that God is continuing to sow the seeds of gospels on us without being afraid of scattering them in vain and that we are told to continue to sow the seeds without being afraid of scattering them in vain.
3.3 We are reminded of the following thing anew today. To sow the seed apparently involves uselessness, as is described in this parable. If you put it beside you, as it is, then it will be used as food at least for several days. To sow the seed on the soil means that many of it will end up being useless. But to be afraid of it and to be loathe to do it will not be able to lead to a harvest of joys. To accumulate little death day after day that way and to part from what we don't wish to and to sow it that way involves tears. However, if we don't do it, we cannot have a harvest of joys.

4.1 Thus the seed that is sown with tears is buried in the earth and rots. Its hard shell is broken and in the interaction with soil and air, it buds, grows and bears grain. We, who have sown the seed, cannot do anything. But the earth, namely, God's work turns what we part from into such a thing. The seed of tears is changed into the harvest of joys, before we know it. Verse 6 says, 'He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing.'In order to bring a harvest, we have to go forth weeping. To go forth means 'to leave 'myself who embraces the grief at having lost an important thing or myself who can only regard losing as sad.
4.2 And to go forth means to leave having lost something up to God. As the sower leaves the seed up to the earth, so we buries our loss or death in the will of God. Unless we go forth, such an action cannot get started. Without going out of the house, if we stick to something that is going away and continue to try to get it back, we cannot sow the seed. Tears of grief will remain as it is. It will lose an opportunity to break its shell and bud into a new thing.
4.3 Some people may think, just while they are weeping, 'Where on earth do I have seeds to sow or a sack of seeds?'But that is not the case. This word tells us that it is you, who are shedding more tears than any other person, that are shouldering a bag of a lot of seeds. Therefore, it tells us to leave your house, depart from your own view and the way you feel and to leave it up to the earth, which is God's will. If you are being lost or if you are dying, if you are being separated, then you are expected to accept it as a seed and the time for it to be sown. You are expected to leave it up to the earth of God. Then you will get a harvest of surprising joys out of what you have lost.
4.4 Lastly, I would like to talk about part of a harvest of joys, about what kind of thing is a harvest of joys where sowing seeds involves tears. The other day, there took place a little event that really delighted me a lot: Still now two people, Person A and Person B, are in the midst of pains and bitter tears. Person A said to Person B, 'I do not deserve to live. I would like to die.'Actually Person B, whom Person A confided in , was also really depressed at that time. Then Person B, on hearing this, responded, 'No. Although I am now in the same state as you are, that is not the case, never. Let's support each other in the fellowship of the church.'This event tells us that the two church members' pains do not disappear or that bitter tears do not vanish. But when you go out of your house and when it is sown on the earth of God which is the fellowship of the church, the seed of tears is turned this way. In 2 Corinthians, Chapter 1, Verse 6, we can find the word, 'If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.'It is our worries, suffering or tears of grief, that are turned into someone's comfort and salvation. Psalm 126, Verse 1 says, 'we were like those who dream .'If you continue to live a faithful life even with pains and in tears, you will surely have the time to say, 'I have never had dreamed that such a time would really come !'
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Psalm 126: 5 - 6

5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! 6 He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
(Revised Standard Version)


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Worship Service on August 27, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- Water turned into wine for wedding cerebration -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 In the part from Chapter 1, Verse 35 to Verse 51, John described how five people, beginning with an unknown person who might have been himself, and Andrew, Peter's brother, obeyed Jesus. And today's word describes Jesus' first mysterious work that they had witnessed since they followed him. Verse 11 says, 'What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.'The word 'the first'literally means the first in terms of time but what the author John wanted to say was that it was, rather than the first chronologically, of a lot of mysterious works that Jesus did, the most important and unforgettable to his disciples beginning with John, and the first event that his disciples remembered, I feel. When John wrote this Gospel, he is said to have already turned around 100 years old. When he reflected on his scores of years as a believer, wondering what was his most important experience in believing Jesus to be the Savior and the first thing that he should deal with, this event occurred to him by itself. It was this that John wanted people in A. D. 100 when this Gospel was written, to experience vicariously, by reading the Bible.
1.2 Now that event occurred at a wedding at a place called Cana in Galilee and Jesus' mother Mary, Jesus and his disciples were invited to it. But during the wedding the wine was gone. Since a long time ago, it has been considered that this wedding was held for Mary's relatives (according to Dr. Berkley, a certain Bible in Copt says that Mary was the bridegroom's older sister), and that Mary was probably the head of those who helped behind the scenes. When she said to Jesus, 'They have no more wine ,'the Bible says that there was a mysterious interaction between Jesus and Mary, which I would like to mention later. What he ordered to do on hearing this was to fill six big jars with water, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, which were empty because those who got together used the water. The servants filled the jars with water to the brim. Now alas, the water had turned into wine. The Bible says that the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine said to the servants, 'Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.'
2.1 What kind of thing in this event was unforgettable in that the author John and others believed Jesus to be the Savior? After all, I think that at the banquet of the wedding, the wine ran out and that Jesus got it through by turning the water into wine. There is something symbolically deep that makes us feel new in it, every time we read it.
2.2 It goes without saying that a wedding is a once-in-a-whole-life happy event that wishes a new couple good luck on their departure. But I wonder anew whether a wedding was just a happy event. By the way, this is my personal matter but in August my daughter got married and left our house in Tsukuba City. She and her husband started their new life. Their wedding ceremony is going to be held in April next year but the other day, only the parents of both families had an opportunity to meet each other. After having her name in her new family register, my daughter only once returned to our house and stayed overnight. She looked tired still because she didn't get used to her life. When I see her relaxed and dozing on a sofa, I feel that she can't do this in her new life yet. Marriage is the opportunity for those who lived their quite different lives to live together and make a new family from there. As quite different people and families get together, there take place not only happy events but also big crises and trials as well. The very marriage is said to be the greatest stress in our life, too. Just because of that, 'wine'is essential for that. It is not just wine as a thing but it is so-called a blessing given from Heaven by God or a celebration, which is a miracle. We see a scene where a wine bottle is broken at the time when a new ship is launched with due ceremony. It is a revelation of a pray to the effect that we want a blessing or celebration from Heaven provided by God and that we cannot do without them. Without such things, marriage cannot go well, I really feel.
2.3 When I thought this way, I felt keenly that besides our marriage, there were a lot of opportunities to combine two things that had never been combined and to create something new out of them. We are not sure in what state we were before we were given birth to in our mother's womb, but at the time of our birth, we were made to live in our physical body that we did not own until then, which was the earthen vessels, and also we were made to walk among our parents, or families and in our age or society. Life connects with the 'earthen vessels ' in various meanings and has to begin its new style of existence. Birth is not only a happy event but also a big crisis. It is also a difficult departure. Just because of that, wine from God is essential for it, right?
2.4 Also in this earthen vessel, we come across an unexpected big suffering and finally we are faced with death. Death can be called also a second birth. We leave the hitherto earthen vessel and begin to walk in a new earthen vessel that God will prepare. For this new departure, wine is also essential. Without blessing from God, how can we finish the departure full of a trial, which is this death, and of suffering, safely? That wine ran out means that at this opportunity an essential blessing from God is not given.

3.1 Now about the situation where wine ran out, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." And Jesus replied, "Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come." Although he wrote a fabulous episode, why did John describe this discouraging conversation between Jesus and his mother Mary? It is of course because actually such a conversation took place but just because the author John felt something important there, I think.
3.2 This part reminds me that Jesus gave the similar word to his parents. For example, Gospel according to Mark, Chapter 3, Verse 31 and the following say that when Jesus heard a crowd tell him, 'Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you,' he replied, ' Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.' When I look at Jesus' calling , 'Woman ,' I feel his same heart. When Mary heard that the important wine for her relatives' wedding ran out, she tried to have her son Jesus deal with this situation. This is natural but what Mary is wishing to deal with is a shortage of wine as material alone. It is not such a well-conceived idea as we have been taught. Also she wants her son to solve this shortage of wine in the relationship between a mother and her son alone.
3.3 Such a thought of Mary's is against Jesus' one. It is probably shown in the gruff word like 'Woman .' I presume Jesus' heart as follows: 'What involves me is not just a shortage of wine as material. The shortage that I try to be involved in and to solve is a more fundamental one that people are faced with. It is such wine as can guide you people to overcome suffering that you may face after you are born and get married and to get over death. It is wine of celebration that God will provide you with from Heaven. I am trying to do so, not just because you are a mother or child but for the sake of all those who believe in me as the Savior regardless of the differences between families. My mother, you yourself will be involved in a shortage that people may face some day as the ' mother of all people,' and 'woman ' in that sense. It is a long time before I give people such a wine. That time is just the time of the cross and resurrection. It is the sacrifice of my life that is put on the cross that will be wine for people.' I am not sure whether Jesus had already this kind of thought but the author John, who was just going to be 100 years old, ought to have put at least this kind of Jesus' thought here.

4.1 The time of the cross and resurrection has not come yet but now Jesus tried to solve a shortage of wine as a ' sign' of that time, that is, as a symbolical indication of it. It is because God tries to show that he is the existence that solves the shortage that we are faced with through himself.
4.2 The way that Jesus took for it was very impressive for John and other people. With regard to the reason why Jesus used big water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, it is not certain whether he used them intentionally or by accident in that only such containers of water were found there. But it is certain that the author John found out an important meaning there. This is my own arbitrary interpretation but I feel that the six water jars symbolically represent the Jewish people's carrying out the Law for about 600 years after the Babylonian captivity, with one water jar standing for one hundred years. The carrying out of the law represents purification. There lies of course, people's faith and prayers in it. People purify their bodies with all the water in the jars and the wedding ceremony and they pray that a new couple who is going to embark on life will be blessed with happiness and that God will bless them. Thus Jewish people carried out the Law for 600 years asking for the wine from God.
4.3 However, still a situation where a shortage of wine indispensable for the wedding took place. It represents the agony to the effect that they were not able to get wine from God by purifying their bodies and the wedding with water and by carrying out the Law and that they were not provided with God-given blessing. That was how the author John who might have been John the Baptist's disciple really felt, right? The water of jars is nothing but what washes away a stain and purifies it after all. It works only for removing something. At the time of our birth, marriage or death, what is essential is not removing anything, I think. It is not washing away trials or suffering that are included in them, which could not constitute our birth, or marriage or death if they were to be washed away, but it is wine for celebration that will accept them as our joy and will enable us to 'drink' them really with delight. The water stored in jars was not able to do it. The carrying out of the Law was not able to make it possible for us to live as people, marry and die. What made it possible was that Jesus was born as a human being, suffered on the cross and was resurrected from there. Jesus gave his whole life to us as wine for us. To believe in Jesus is to drink Jesus as wine and that Jesus himself was wine provided from Heaven for us, the 100-year-old John is trying to say to us.
4.4 I feel that John says that to fill the jars with water is never useless, because the very water turned into wine. It is never useless for Jewish people to have prayed that they would be purified and that their wedding would be blessed by God. But it was Jesus that granted that prayer, the Bible says.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

The Gospel according to John 2:1 - 12

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." 4 "Woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water" ; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
(New International Version)


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Worship Service on July 9, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- Give my greetings to brothers and sisters in faith -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 Paul's letter to the Romans, to which we have been listening almost once in three weeks since September, 2014, came to the last Chapter 16. In today's word, first, Verses 1 and 2 are the passage in which Paul introduces, to people at a church in Rome, Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae (which a map at the end of the Bible says is located just in the southern part of Corinth). It is believed that probably this Phoebe visited Rome with this letter of Paul's. And Verses 3 to 16 are the passage in which Paul gave his greetings to brothers and sisters at the church in Rome.
1.2 The question is what kind of message we can get from this word. Since this is a passage as is seen like this, it is not the kind of passage that tells us a lofty teaching. Just simply, it only lists the names of members of the church and if there is something worthy of note, it just adds something brief to them. But because of that, I feel that with regard to what kind of thing the very early church that was just given birth to made much of, something like breathing or characteristics is being conveyed to me just simply. I would like to mention it later, but there are several characteristics that emerge from this list of those names. The fact that such characteristics existed in the newly born church tells us that the essence that made those characteristics exist was found in it. Just because there was such essence, they regarded it as very important and thanks to it, such characteristics as I would mention later were given birth to.
1.3 That essence is, to sum up here, that the church is a faith community composed of two or three people who believe in Jesus and also a worship community. The church had this kind of essence at the time when it was born. And it has kept this, up to this present time since then. Just because it has kept it, although it has continued to commit innumerable mistakes or ugly deeds over these 2000 years, it has been able to exist, I think. And it will be able to continue to exist from now on, right? As I always mention this, these days a sense of crisis has been stirred up very often, to the effect that the church would be extinct if no steps were taken. However, what comes to my mind is that for the past 2000 years, the church has been faced with the time of whether it can exist or not, much more acutely. That is, the same is true with the time of persecution by the Roman Empire and with the time when church leaders before the Religious Reformation boasted of their wealth and power and with the time when after the Religious Reformation while the black plague was prevalent, Catholic and Protestant churches continued to carry out fighting for dozens of years. But yet the church has been able to continue to exist. It is solely because the church is a community composed of two or three people who believe in Jesus, I think. It does not cease to exist, as long as it retains its essence. And it does not lose wonderful characteristics that derive from its essence. I am really delighted to be a member of a community that has this kind of essence and has fabulous characteristics. It is the essence and characteristics coming out of this community that are shown in today's word, I think.

2.1 Then what are the characteristics of the church that emerge from this list? The number of people whose personal names alone are listed, starting with the first person called Phoebe, amounts to about 26. Among them, there are some people whose gender cannot be determined. But the first characteristic can be pointed out, namely, that about one third of those names were women. As it might take a longer time, I'll refrain from listing the names in detail. It is certain that Phoebe, Priscilla of the famous couple Priscilla and Aquila, Mary in Verse 6, Junia in Verse7, Tryphena and Tryphosa in Verse 12, Rufus's mother in Verse 13, Julia, Nereus and his sister in Verse 15 are all women, namely, about one third of the names in the list are women.
2.2 It probably goes without saying how society of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago dealt with women. The Roman law regarded a woman as nothing but a possession belonging to the male head of a family. In such society, it is amazing that in the church, women played such an indispensable role, right? Of course, not just women played important roles. As the rest of two thirds are men, that is, it was the church where men and women cooperated with each other well and they played their roles respectively. In the then groups, was there any other group where men and women cooperated well with each other that way and where women played an indispensable role? Why did women play such an important role? Because the essence that gave birth to such a characteristic resided in the community of the church from the beginning.
2.3 One more characteristic that can be clarified from this list of names is that the rate of slaves is very high. Although some part of it is unclear, if we guess the typical names that were given to slaves in those days, it is thought that not half but over one third of the people in the list were slaves. To our sensibilities, we tend to think that slaves are those who were oppressed very much and were deprived of freedom. But I hear that those who had highly professional knowledge like doctors were also slaves. But it is certain that they were slaves, regrettably. In the wording that appears in Chapter 12 and the following of Paul's Letter to the Romans, we can find a lot of words that are filled with his taking care of people in the church, because in the church of Rome there were a lot of people who were slaves. I'm going to mention it later but the word at the beginning of Chapter 12, 'Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God ,' is the one that is spoken against the background depicting the present situation where believers, who were slaves, could not help offering themselves as living sacrifices to their masters of this world. It is the church where this kind of people played an important role like women, which was one more characteristic. Although I repeat it many times, in other words, it is just because this community was equipped with the essence which enabled it to welcome a lot of people who were slaves and to play an important role in it.

3.1 Besides, there are other characteristics that emerge from this list of names but, for the time being, by paying attention to these two above mentioned characteristics, we'll consider what is the essence of the church that gave birth to these kinds of characteristics. In Verse 1 that says, 'a deacon of the church in Cenchreae ,'the word 'church 'appears. Also in Verse 5 that talks about Priscilla and Aquila, the part 'the church that meets at their house 'has the word 'church.'We tend to read though this part carelessly, but we are aware that this part first tells us that it is the community called 'church 'that the woman called Phoebe served for and that those whom Paul gave his greetings to belonged to, I think. Actually this is what I knew for the first time when I read a book with notes about this part, but Paul used the word 'church,'which was 汍百百竹灰考牝汐 (Eclesia) in the original Greek, here in his letter to Romans for the first time. 汍百百竹灰考牝汐 (Eclesia) means the gathering of people summoned by God. The church is the community that is summoned by God and Jesus, not anybody else, and that prays to God and Jesus who summon us.
3.2 Just because the essence of the church is this kind of thing, there is inevitability that women and slaves that account for a large portion of its members are welcomed into this community, right? To the women, the male head of the family is their master and to the slaves, the master in this world is literally their master. In their ordinary life, the women and slaves cannot help living where they serve for their masters. But when they get together to pray at the community called church, they are summoned not by the voices of the head of the family or by the master of this world. Only the time when they offer their prayer is the one when they escape from the control of the master of this world and when they can look up to God and Jesus as their master. It is not difficult to imagine what a big joy it was.
3.3 Just a minute ago, I mentioned it a little, but Paul says at the beginning of Chapter 12, 'Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God --- this is your spiritual act of worship.'In their ordinary life, he says that to the slaves who could not help offering themselves to their master as living sacrifices, the only time when they offer themselves to God is the time to pray. And God is greatly pleased with it as a sacred sacrifice. Furthermore, he doesn't need any other sacrifice, Paul says. You may easily imagine how glad the slaves and women were that God is pleased at their prayers.

4.1 What I would like to pay attention to again is that what they make there when they are summoned by God and Jesus is the worship community. They don't make any other thing. I would like to pay attention to Verse 5 anew, and it says, 'the church that meets at their house.'As their main objective was to make a worship community, they were allowed to set it up at Priscilla and Aquila's house. Probably they might have set up the church not only at their house but also at several houses of those whose names were listed here. Although it was called the church of Rome, there was no such magnificent chapel as the Vatican of today but several houses of the believers were regarded as their church. Anyway, as the main objective was to make a worship community, they were allowed to use their house. Just because of that, the women and slaves whose names were listed in such a large number were able to play important roles, right? If such a big chapel as we see today were to be indispensable, those who could play a big role for the community would be only those who have social, political and economic power. Women or slaves would not have been listed like this. However, as I repeat it many times, the main objective is to make a worship community. As the church is a worship community in essence, even women and slaves were able to play important roles by offering their house. They found joy there.
4.2 We are asked even now whether we keep this essence and the characteristics properly. In the sense of crisis where if the present situation continues, churches will be extinct, the bottom line that even if we get together in a house as the church, the main point is to make a worship community is lost sight of, I feel. It is all right to use a house as the church. The houses that Priscilla and Aquila moved into one after another turned into churches. It was the church where the couple who were forced to live a difficult life were able to play a central role. We should not lose this essence or the characteristics.
4.3 Lastly I would like to mention one more thing---the characteristics that emerge from the list of names. This is concerned especially with the women including Phoebe first of all. Verse 1 says that Phoebe was'a deacon of the church ,'and 'the benefactor.'With regard to Priscilla and Aquila, Verse 4 says that 'They risked their lives for me.'Verse 6 says'Mary, who worked very hard for you.'Verse 12 says'Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord ,'and 'my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.'We don't know for sure what kind of service, assistance or hardship they meant concretely but, as we have learned so far, it was probably the hardship for, first of all, establishing a community and protecting it. And just because they made much of their worship community, they meant the service, assistance and hardship for clothing, eating and living of those who couldn't come to church even if they wanted to, I feel. A lot of women probably shouldered the burden of those kinds of service and assistance, right? Also, the slaves who really knew how difficult they were dedicated themselves to such things, right?

5.2 Just because they were going to form their worship community, it is gathered that the church has regarded service, assistance and hardships in them as very important. Probably they didn't extend their service or assistance to an unspecified large number of people regardless of the making of the worship community. They couldn't have had energy enough to spare for some other work. We should not lose what the church has regarded as important since it was born, I feel keenly. Just not to lose it turns into a key to enabling the community called the church to continue to exist everlastingly, we learn.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Paul's letter to the Romans 16:1-16

1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord's people who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
(New International Version)


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Worship Service on June 18, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- My dream was shattered whereas my wish was fulfilled -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 Today's word describes several plans and dreams that Paul had, just as the title on the margin of the page says, 'Paul's Plan to Visit Rome .'With regard to what kind of things they are, what he wanted the most above all was that he had a dream of visiting Espana, namely Spain. And on his way he wanted to visit the church in Rome that he had'often been hindered from coming to .' ' But now ,'(Verse 25) he was going to visit Jerusalem with contributions raised for the people at the church in Jerusalem, which I'm going to mention in detail later. He may have considered it as his duty to perform, rather than as his dream or wish, as we can find the word 'owe 'in Verse 27. After he had completed his task, he wanted to visit Rome and to have people there assist him on his journey to Spain. Verse 30 and the following say that he asked them to pray for him so that his wish would be granted. He wanted to be'kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea ,'that is, he wanted to be kept from those who were watching for a chance to attack him in Jerusalem. Also he prayed that the contribution he would take to Jerusalem might be favorably received by the Lord's people there. He prayed 'so that he might come to them with joy, by God's will, and in their company be refreshed.'
1.2 Although just at the time when Paul was writing this letter, he was not sure, we know well which of his wishes were realized or not realized, and that half of his wishes were granted but that the other half were not. As is told in Verse 21 and the following of Acts, Paul, who went to Jerusalem in spite of his disciples' opposition, was caught by those who hated him and he was detained as a prisoner under trial under the Roman governor for two years or longer. Therefore, his prayer that 'that he might be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea ,'was not literally granted but it was granted in terms of his being kept from being murdered. Just because he was detained in custody under the Roman governor, his life was protected, right? After that, Paul wanted trials under the Roman Emperor as a Roman citizen. So he was sent to Rome. Chapter 28, Verses 30 to 31, Acts, say that 'For two whole years Paul stayed here in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.'There are various opinions about what became of Paul after that. But generally it is believed that he was martyred. Therefore, his dream of going to Spain did not come true at all. His wish to 'come to you with joy and to be refreshed'was not literally granted. However, albeit in these forms, his wishes to go to Rome, and to preach the Gospel there, which had never been met, were realized. As today's title of the sermon, "My dream was shattered whereas my wish was fulfilled," says, there was a time when our wish was fulfilled through our dream that didn't come true. To put it another way, for our dream to be shattered and for our wish to come true, which may not be our wish, are woven together like a braided cord.

2.1 We can overlap our life over Paul's life, can't we? In a collection of sermons called 'Love your neighbor ,' originally'Strength to Love 'written by the well-known Pastor Martin Luther King, there is a sermon entitled 'The Shattered Dream.'It starts as follows: 'Of our human dreams, one of the most hardest problems is that those who can live to see their biggest dream come true are very few in number, even if there might be. The wishes that we used to cherish in our childhood or various promises that we made after we became adults should be called unfinished symphonies respectively. --- What a large number of people there are, who left for such a distant place like Spain or for some important aim or a bright hope but who had to end up accepting too small a result!'(The above translation was made by today's interpreter.)
2.2 I carried out a training session as one of the teaching committee members for about 40 teachers who became assistant pastors of the United Christ of Japan, from Monday through Wednesday, last week. It was the third time for me to carry it out. Whenever I take part in it, I am reminded of the time when I used to take part in it as a novice teacher. Although it was not a big dream, I had my own dream. But although thirty years have passed since then, it has not come true literally yet. Even now I cannot help saying that I am being put in a position contrary to my expectations. What I heard from one of the members whom I had been on good terms with before we parted from each other was quite shocking. : He said to me that with regard to my becoming the vice chairman of the Kanto Parish, a certain person said,'Does Fukushima want to get the position so much? 'There is no denying such a situation but just as I said many times, rather, my wish was to put myself in a position that has nothing to do with shouldering such a burden. To become the District Chief, or to take on the substitute pastor for Morokawa Church, still more, to shoulder a part of responsibility for the parish or to become a member of the United Christ of Japan are not included in my dream. To shoulder them leads to shatter my dream.
2.3 But what today's word shows us above all is that through our dream being shattered, our wish is sometimes realized, which might be different from what we are conscious of, and which may have to be called God's wish for us. We would like to be conscious of the strange aspect where in the very case where our dream is shattered regrettably, our dream is realized. Today's word tells us that for our dream to be shattered is just never sad.

3.1 Then what kind of thing is being realized through Paul's dream being shattered? First what drew our attention is the word in Verse 23 'now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions.'The word that is translated into 'place ,'was originally the word'topos'and it is the word that means possibility too. I am not sure what kind of situation it refers to concretely but anyway Paul considered that there was no possibility about work in Asia Minor or the Greek district and because of that, he had a dream of going to Spain. No matter what a great preacher he was, even Paul gave up, judging , 'This area has no possibility 'arbitrarily. His dream to visit Spain came from his giving up. Such a dream has never been realized. Through his dream being shattered, we think that there is no possibility in our present position arbitrarily, where it becomes possible for God to point out that'That's wrong.'
3.2 We often regard that 'there is no topos ,'about our own life and about the situation where we are placed. From there we seek a new 'topos .'Again I would like to get back to the orientation for the new ordained ministers. As this sermon is revealed to the public on the Internet, I cannot say in great details. At the morning prayer meeting of the second day, one committee member was in charge of giving a sermon. He was the pastor who served for churches for a comparatively short period respectively and briefly and frankly he talked about how he worked so far. He went so much as to say , ' I saw a hell in a church.'There were various views about his sermon, but in stark contrast, I served for Kooriyama Church for 24 years. During that period, I thought several times that 'there is no topos .'But each time it was shown that that was wrong and I was able to continue to work for 24 years. Even if we are placed in a situation or life where we think that there is no topos, God never fails to give us a topos.

4.1 To Paul, who wanted to go to Rome or Spain thinking that there was no topos there, God showed the way that was described in Verse 25 and the following. Although he longed to go to Rome or Spain, Paul said in Verse 25, 'Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord's people there. 'He refrains from trying to realize his wish once for now and he tries to perform a duty that'now however 'he is to perform. Because of that, just as I said at the beginning, his dream to go to Spain was not realized until the end. But in contrast, his wish to go to Rome which had been hindered many times was granted. If Paul tried to go to Rome or Spain, saying, ' There is no topos here,'it would not have been possible to go to Rome either, I think. But by doing what should be done just before his eyes, right now, his wish to go to Rome, albeit as a prisoner under trial, was realized. Such a thing will take place happen to us too, right?
4.2 Now what Paul was trying to do was ' to go to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord's people there. 'People at the church in Jerusalem were often persecuted by Judaists because of their geographical special features and were forced to live poor lives. Verse 27 says, 'the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings.'It is people at the church in Jerusalem who introduced Jesus' word and behavior at the base of the Gospel. Paul thought that it was their duty to repay them for their kindness. His letter often mentions a contribution to people at the church in Jerusalem. He thought that he had to perform this now. Even if he knew that to perform might bring some disaster, he thought that he had to do it. This kept him from trying to go to Rome or Spain on the pretext that ' There is no topos.'As a result, his wish to go to Rome was granted.
4.3 The same is true with us, right? Our life is the one where we think there is no topos. But there too we have some duties that'now however 'we are to perform, right? Also we have work that we are to do to give some help to poor people around us, that is, people who are not only economically poor but also spiritually poor, right? This word has shown me that to work for the district or the parish or the United Church of Christ in Japan is my duty to the churches that have allowed me to serve as pastor for 30 years. I'm going to spend the first half of next week working for the district and for the parish. I have some trouble in my body now. But I hope that you understand that this is how I am now really working with these thoughts and feelings.
4.4 And to work for poor people is also important. Although I mention the Orientation for the new ordained ministers many times, on the morning of the third day we had the time to listen to the'Lecture on taking care of the church members ' given by the great pastor who had lived as the shepherd for his church members for as long as 50 years. His last word 'I want you to pay attention to those who are in a weak position inside and outside the church 'was very impressive to me. In the 2000 year history of the church, pastors , believers and churches have been put in a situation that has made us cry out, 'There is no topos .'In such a situation churches and believers have been in the service of the poor like Paul. They have called 'the poor 'the sacred and they have found something sacred in the service of them. By doing so, pastors and churches have found a topos and their wishes have been fulfilled as a result, right?
4.5 The last wish that Paul mentioned is 'to come to you with joy, by God's will, and to be refreshed in your company. 'His dream of going to Spain was shattered but we can say that this last wish of his was fulfilled, right? No matter how often our dream is shattered, we are able to follow God's will and through it, to share joy with those whom we meet and to be refreshed in their company. There should be a topos that makes it possible everywhere.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Paul's letter to the Romans 15:22-33

22 This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, 24 I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord's people there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord's people in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. 28 So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. 30 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. 31 Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord's people there, 32 so that I may come to you with joy, by God's will, and in your company be refreshed. 33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
(New International Version)


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Worship Service on May 14, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- I Glory in my Service to God -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 We have been reading Paul's letter to the Romans almost every three weeks since September, 2014. We were finished with the main part of it and from today, we are going to deal with the conclusion of the letter and its greetings. Today's part is entitled 'Paul the Minister to the Gentiles ,'and it is the part that describes Paul the minister's fundamental stance and posture anew, I think.
1.2 With regard to the minister's fundamental stance, what Paul emphasizes repeatedly today is that his service is exclusively to the Gentiles ---namely, people in Greece and Rome, who originally didn't have anything to do with Judaism ---. It was referred to twice in Verse 16 and even in Verse 18, 'what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done .'Therefore, it was referred to three times in all. Although we tend to overlook it without intending to do so, it first drew my attention.
1.3 When it comes to the question about whether Paul was convinced of and accepted his service as such a thing, it is far from it, I think. Almost all of you know well what kind of person Paul was formerly and how he believed in Jesus and became a minister. As is told in Philippians Chapter 3, Verse 3, he was 'in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.'He used to believe more deeply that we are able to be regarded as righteous by carrying out the law ---in my own words, we are able to be connected to God--- than anyone else and he dedicated himself to carrying out the law ardently and so he persecuted the church and Christians who taught that we are regarded as righteous without carrying out the law. Such a person met the resurrected Jesus and he not only became his believer but also he was selected as the minister who spread the teaching which he was opposed to.
1.4 What Paul thought first when he was made minister was that just as he used to be a Pharisee and carried out the law harder than anyone else, he thought that he was just the right person to spread the Gospel to Jewish people to the effect that they could be regarded as righteous without carrying out the law, right? Figuratively speaking, it is like the pastor who used to be a Buddhist monk and became a Christian thinks that he is the right person to spread Christianity to Buddhists. Paul, thinking that way, went to, first, synagogues where Jewish people got together and he spread the Gospel, according to Acts. But actually, far from going well, his act aroused a very harsh reaction in the Jewish people. To put it in one word, Paul was regarded as their traitor. Just because he was a more diligent Jewish, he was accused of his betrayal by his fellow members the more strongly.

2.1 Due to things that came about thus far, Paul had to spread the Gospel not to his brethren Jewish people but to the Gentiles against his will, I think. The reason why he became the preacher who worked exclusively for the Gentiles was that he had to do it reluctantly. It was not his wish. His intention to spread the Gospel exclusively to the Gentiles as his fundamental stance as a preacher ended up, well, let me see, with his first failure to realize his wish as a preacher, or with his bitter experience of not having done his job well.
2.2 But what is important above all things here, is that Paul the minister took steps as a preacher thus far by overcoming his failure and things that stood in his way. If he had clung to his belief that'The very object of my preaching is the Jewish people who used to be my fellowmen who carried out the law diligently,'and he had not changed his stance as a minister, what Paul is now would not exist. What made him change that way was of course God , Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But what is important was that Paul was able to accept it, I think.
2.3 What caused Paul to tolerate this difficult-to-overcome situation and to accept the guidance from God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit? We, also, often face a situation that is difficult for us to handle. On such occasions, there lies God's guidance that enables us to overcome it and that still enables us to do what we should do. But how can we catch it? I am reminded of the event that took place in Acts, Chapter 16, Verse 6 and the following. Paul could not preach the word in the province of Asia any longer. As a result, he could not help going down to a port town called Troas which was located in the westernmost end of Asia. He was, as it were, driven into a dead end. Then God made Paul have a vision: In that vision, a man of Macedonia was standing and begging him, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.'After having the vision, Paul left the province of Asia and sailed over the ocean to Europe in order to spread the word.
2.4 The gospel made its way to Europe due to his setback. It means that he could not have his own way. This is a product of my imagination but really a voice of SOS might have arrived from Macedonia. Although he heard it, as he couldn't think of sailing from Asia to Europe, he might not have listened to it at all. But he was able to hear it by taking the opportunity to have this vision. He was able to have a willingness to respond to it. In this way Paul turned his work as the minister exclusively toward the Gentiles. What enables God's guidance to be visible concretely is a concrete SOS from a certain person in reality or a wish from him. When we are faced with a setback or when we cannot have our own way in reality, God's guidance that enables us to get over it is provided with us often when we meet in reality. By taking such steps, just like the present Paul, we are able to say reminiscently, 'My service was exclusively to the Gentiles .'

3.1 Now what drew my attention in today's word is first, that in this service of his to the Gentiles, Paul said, 'I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me,'(at the beginning of Verse 18) and second, that he said, 'Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done.'To put it simply, it means that Paul says that through him and by what he said and did, Jesus accomplished his work. You may think what an insolent or arrogant word it is. How did Jesus's work appear through me as a human being, or by what I said or did? You may think that that is the case with such a special minister as Paul but it is not true with such people as us. But I don't think you are right. I, minister, and you, believers, can venture to boldly say the same words that Paul used. Just because of that, we glory in it.
3.2 First, Paul says, 'I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.'It means that what he has told the Gentiles thus far is what Jesus accomplished through him, in other words, only what Jesus accomplished as Paul 's experiencing and realizing as his own thing. Just as I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, at the root of it, there lies Paul's encounter with the resurrected Jesus that leads him to become a believer and minister. At the root of it, there lies surprising Jesus's choice of such a man as a persecutor, believer and minister. Just because of that, Paul was able to say to the Gentiles that it was unnecessary to carry out the law and that it was enough to meet with this Jesus and to be captured by him.
3.3 Paul describes his service as the minister in Verse 16 as follows: 'to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 'It is the service as the minister above all things. To guide the Gentiles to God and to guide them to receive God's sacredness, although they are Gentiles, and to play the role of an intermediary of guiding them to please God are the service of the priest. It was a difficult duty but in doing it, there was no need to talk about a special thing, Paul says. There was no need to say anything except what Jesus did through me, he says. By doing so, he has fulfilled his duty as the minister to the Gentiles until today and he has revealed how Jesus worked as the minister, he says. These are really encouraging words especially for us, the same ministers as him.
3.4 Thirty years ago when I became a minister, I wondered what I would be able to talk before I started to prepare the sermon every Monday. I still remember those days. Even now when I start to prepare the sermon for the next Lord's Day on Monday, I have such a thought. But I have never been at a loss what to talk about. It is because through my week-long utmost effort Jesus works through me. If I work diligently, Jesus will surely work through it. Therefore I have only to talk about it frankly and as it is. I don't have to say what is beyond my power or to talk about what is not'through me .'Even though it is our really insufficient word or act, it becomes the priest's work, of itself, that guides people to God, Paul says.

4.1 We pastors, as well as Paul, work as the priests in such a way, but you believers are entrusted to work as an intermediary to guide people around you to God. In the latter part of Verse 18, Paul says, 'Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done? by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.'Probably you will say, 'I won't be able to say such wonderful words that lead other people around me to God or do anything, still less, perform miracles.'Some of you may lament by saying that rather your words or deeds will end up keeping your spouses, or children away from God, unlike the priests.
4.2 But through my words and deeds and the power of miracles do not mean by means of saying wonderful words or doing wonderful deeds. What caused Paul to guide the Gentiles to God and perform as the priest, just as I talked many times, must have been Jesus' amazing work that chose Paul, a persecutor in the past, as the minister. Paul said above all things, that as such a person as he was regarded as righteous, you, who were Gentiles, should be regarded as righteous, too. What we say and do and the miracles that we show are these kinds of things. In other words, for such a person as me to be a believer and for such a person as me to have continued to serve as the pastor for 30 years and for such a person as me to attend the morning worship service at the church every week are the very miracles. Above all things, the fact that such a person as me is a believer reveals Jesus' work more convincingly than any word or deed and guides us to perform as priests.
4.3 If it were not for you as priests, there would be no one who would guide a person around you to God. Jesus' work of guiding a certain person to God appears in the very words and deeds of us who are close to that person. Jesus doesn't directly work but he works through nothing but my words or deeds. That work of ours is the one, just as was the case with Paul, an ex-persecutor, that wasn't accepted by Israeli people and that rather caused disturbances and ended up in failure. Paul was never the minister who was welcomed by everyone. We are like him but through our words and deeds, and through me of all people, Jesus does work and he uses us as his priests. Let's take pride in that.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Paul's letter to the Romans 15:14-21

14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done? 19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written: "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand."
(New International Version)


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Worship Service on May 7, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- I am not the Messiah -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1 We listened at our last two services to the words of prologue of the Gospel according to John, which covers from chapter 1, verse 1 to verse 18. There John the author wrote to say that at the core of the work of universal creation, which gave us life and light, there was what is called logos, or the Word. Logos was a word which the Greeks and the Romans as well as the Greek-speaking Jews in particular, who were living in and around Ephesus where it is said the Gospel was written, were very familiar with. He went on writing to say on verse 14 that it was this Logos, the Word, which took the form of a human body and became flesh, that turned out to be Jesus, our savior. God does the work of creation in our flesh through Jesus who became flesh and in-bedded himself in us. That way, life and light are brought to us which are but only flesh. It is for this very reason John tells that Jesus who became flesh became our savior.
Then John began writing the main subject from verse 19, which is to tell that Jesus is the savior. At the beginning of that proclamation, John the author wrote about John the Baptist. As a matter of fact, reference had been made already to John the Baptist twice in the prologue or the passage from verse 1 to verse 18. He was mentioned on the lines from verses 6 to 8 and also on verse 15. John the author devoted extraordinary energy for writing the prologue as we were told during our last two learning. I gather that the author planned to quote from the testimony of John the Baptist after much of deep deliberation, in the same way as he made deep consideration in using the word, Logos. It had to be because it was very effective to quote from the words of John the Baptist more than anything else in propagating Jesus to the people living in and around Ephesus.
A Bible commentator points to the situation in explaining how it was so effective to quote from John the Baptist. I've come to notice of it only now for the first time that there are interesting things written on the Acts of the Apostles in the passage from chapter 18, verse 24 to chapter 19, verse 7. For example, the passage on chapter 19 says, when Paul travelled to Ephesus 'he found a number of disciples, and asked them "What baptism were you given?" "John's baptism," they answered.' Then Paul said, 'The baptism John gave was a baptism in token of repentance, and he told the people to put their trust in one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.' And Paul laid his hands on them in the name of the Lord Jesus.
This action of Paul had been performed long before the Gospel according to John was written and yet it shows that there were many in the town of Ephesus who were baptized by John the Baptist. During the days when the Gospel was written, there must have been many, I gather, who were baptized by John the Baptist but were yet to put their trust in Jesus. They may perhaps have believed John the Baptist as the savior.
In all the probability John the author intended to raise believers of Jesus among the people who had trusted and had been baptized by John the Baptist, by writing for the first thing that John the Baptist himself testified that Jesus was the savior and denied strongly that he was the one ? and on verse 35 and the following, it is written that the first two disciples of Jesus had been the disciples of John the Baptist.
What is noteworthy about the way John the Baptist is depicted in the Gospel according to John is that his gospel dare did not mention that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist -- the fact which other three gospels all wrote about and which everyone knew. There was a reason for why John the author chose not to write about it; it pertained to a special situation prevailing in the town of Ephesus. John the author was worried that it might cause unnecessary confusion among the people baptized by John the Baptist if he wrote it.

2 The first testimony of John the Baptist, as written by John the author, was made by making three denials, i.e. that he was not the Messiah (meaning to say the savior), nor was he Elijah to foretell of the coming of the Messiah, nor any other Prophet. The intention of John the author in writing the three denials was to remind the people that John the Baptist himself clearly denied for three times that he was the Messiah as the people believed he was. But I feel the intention of the author meant to say more than just that.
John the Baptist was so supra-famous that the religious and political leaders of the Jews of the time cared to send from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him those kinds of questions repeatedly. And their questions hid their eager expectations as well: they were the questions in which their wishes were also contained to say, if he was the Messiah, or even though he wasn't the Messiah but was Elijah the prophet to come to tell of coming of the Messiah, how wonderful it would have been. The elite of the Jews thought that John the Baptist may be the Messiah given that he was so influential and famous among the people.
They saw his influence and fame as satisfying the criteria by which to judge that he was the Messiah. It may have been true not only of the elite leaders but of anyone of the time. Yet John the Baptist denied of it for three times. John the author picked up this very point with a view to telling the teaching of John the Baptist about whom the people should take as their savior.
It seems that in Palestine and in Asia Minor of the 1st century A.D., there emerged a number of self-proclaimed Messiah. For instance, the lines on chapter 5, verse 33 and the following quote the then famous scholar of the law called Gamaliel as saying, 'Men of Israel, be very careful in deciding what to do with these men. Some time ago Theudas came forward, making claims for himself, and a number of other people, about four hundred, joined him. But he was killed and his whole movement was destroyed and came to nothing. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census; he induced some people to revolt under his leadership, but he too perished and his whole movement was broken up.'
Though we don't have clue to knowing how the people of Ephesus around 100 years A.D. thought about things, yet it remains that John the author wrote to tell them that it wasn't right for them to take one as the savior just because he was influential and famous. On verse 26 of today's passage, John the Baptist is quoted as saying, 'Among you, though you do not know him, stands the one who is to come after me.' While they may not understand how a man killed on a cross could be the savior, still they should not take one for their savior just because he is famous, or because he apparently looks to their eyes like the savior, told John.

3 There is a point in this passage which makes me think over and again every time I read the denial of John the Baptist for three times, though to talk about it may take us off the track a little bit of giving testimony to Jesus. I gather that there was a strong temptation and risk for John the Baptist himself to turn out to be like Theudas and Judas the Galilean who are written on the Acts of the Apostles as I mentioned early on, given that he had a large influence on the people and was also looked upon with expectation and attention by the leaders of the time. He must have felt he was exposed to a temptation to say, 'Yes, I am indeed the one,' instead of declining the questions and expectations put forward on him time and again by the leaders. However, if he gave himself in the temptation he had no choice but to disappear just as Theudas and Judas had to; he had only to perish then.
I feel that we too are ones who are often placed in such risk and temptation. This is not to say, of course, that expectation is placed on us as if we are the Messiah or Elijah. Yet chances are that expectations fall on us at the place where we are sent to that they wish us to be so and so, or they think we should be like so and so. And it is very difficult to say outright, 'I am not.' On other occasions we may mislead us ourselves into an expectation of our own making when in fact no one puts such an expectation and think, 'I should be like so and so. I am no worthy should I fail to become so and so.'
I wonder if you've heard a phrase, Messiah complex. It's a symptom more often found among the people engaged in medical practice, care service and among teachers of religion. It gets those people to burn out because they work much too enthusiastically with a sense of having to respond to the expectation of and be of help to those who need it. John the Baptist was on the verge of being swallowed by the Messiah complex. But he evaded out from that danger by saying, 'No, I am not,' for three times; that by distinctly refusing the expectations of the people around him. Though this is a bit out of the rail of the main subject, i.e. giving testimony to Jesus, I thought that this posture of John the Baptist gives a suggestion of major importance to us.

4 Why was it then that John the Baptist was able to refuse flatly the expectations of the people around him? He could do so because he firmly understood, I think, the role and the mission which God gave him.
To the questions posed by the priests and the Levites he replied on verse 23, quoting the words of the Book of Isaiah, saying 'I am a voice crying in the wilderness, "Make straight the way for the Lord."' The role given him was only to prepare the road for the way for the savior who was to come after him; not to make the same way as the Lord will build.
A radio program I happened to listen to the other day was reporting about a tunnel being built which will be used for the construction work at a later stage to make a tunnel of the primary purpose, which was to let a linear motor train to run through. What John the Baptist was preparing wasn't the same way which the savior would use in getting people come to God. He was making a road only in preparation of the way for the Lord to come at a later stage. John the Baptist knew full well how different was the road he makes from the way the later coming Lord would make. That understanding is manifest in his words when he said, 'Among you stands the one who is to come after me. I am not worthy to unfasten the strap of his sandal.'
John the Baptist said he baptized in water in order to prepare such a road. The road he prepared was one constructed by giving baptism in water. Since ancient times the Jews have had long tradition to purify their bodies with water, and the stains they washed away with water. It is also said that when people other than Jews converted to Judaism the rite of baptism was observed.
The road which John the Baptist prepared had its notable feature, I would think, in that he provided baptism to all the Jews. Considering that even the Jews had stains to be washed clean, he baptized all indiscriminatingly; it was a proclamation to say that all needs to be cleaned by God because everyone had stains. That was the road John the Baptist prepared as a harbinger of Jesus, don't you think so?
But how can we have our stains washed clean was the question John the Baptist did not know the real answer to. It was the thing to be done by the Messiah coming after him. What he could do was only to play the role of a harbinger for what will be done by the one coming after him, or to baptize in water just by way of imitating what the savior will do.
The more the people John the Baptist gave baptism to the more he must have recognized the limitation of what can be achieved by what he was doing, I gather. It was nothing more than just to wash clean in water. How can it be that washing in water will clean us of our fundamental defilement? Coming to know of the limitation of baptism in water, John the Baptist turned to look strongly and decidedly for the one to come after him, who will be able to clean our defilement. Then he found that it was Jesus who is able to clean us.
This is how John the author stood up to tell through his written work to the people baptized by John the Baptist in their wish to be cleaned of their sins, to the people who believed John the Baptist as their savior, and to the people at large who wished to be cleaned of their defilement that it is Jesus who purifies.
(Translated by Hiroshi NISHIDO from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

The Gospel according to John 1:19-28

19 This is the testimony John gave when the Jews of Jerusalem sent a deputation of priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He readily acknowledged,'I am not the Messiah.' 21'What then? Are you Elijah?''I am not,'he replied.'Are you the Prophet?''No,'he said. 22'Then who are you?'they asked.'We must give an answer to those who sent us. What account do you give of yourself?' 23 He answered in the words of the prophet Isaiah: 'I am a voice crying in the wilderness, "Make straight the way for the Lord."' 24 Some Pharisees who were in the deputation 25 asked him,'If you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, then why are you baptizing?' 26 'I baptize in water,'John replied,'but among you, though you do not know him, stands the one 27 who is to come after me. I am not worthy to unfasten the strap of his sandal.' 28 This took place at Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
(The Revised English Bible)


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Worship Service on April 30, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- What the Priests should Do -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 It is a long time since I dealt with Leviticus. This is my way of understanding it but Leviticus is what supplements the Ten Commandments that were provided with Israeli people by God immediately after they left Egypt. This is what you have heard so often that you have probably got calluses on your ears, but God gave them the Ten Commandments as the concrete way to behave so that they might not become slaves never again that such words as'the land of Egypt 'and 'the house of bondage 'symbolically referred to. And what the Ten Commandments could not show sufficiently was compensated for by this Leviticus, which is my interpretation.
1.2 Now we have learned that this Leviticus has three main points. We have already learned the first two main points. : The first one is to offer God an offering, the second one is the teaching that you should be sacred as God is sacred, and the third one is the command concerning the priests whom we are going to learn about today. Although I say that there are three main points, when I think about them again, the most important point of the three points is the teaching which we learned at the last worship service, and that 'you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy'(Leviticus Chapter 11, Verse 45). In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, 'Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect'(Matthew 5:48). As you learned this word last time too, it was rephrased from the aforementioned word in Leviticus. Therefore, this main point is not just the teaching that runs through only Leviticus or the Old Testament but the teaching as the principal point that runs through the whole Bible. It is possible to say that the other two points in Leviticus are necessary for setting up this main point. To sum up, the existence of the priests that we are going to learn about today is quite necessary for us to become sacred, just as God is sacred.

2.1 Now, what on earth does it mean that God is sacred and that we become sacred? Also why does it lead us to go out of the place that such words as'the land of Egypt 'and 'the house of bondage ' symbolically stand for? Although we have learned it many times, just as I said just now, this is something like the central pillar of the house that runs through the whole Bible. Therefore, we cannot overlearn it too often.
2.2 As Verse 10 in today's word says, 'so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean,'we tend to regard God's sacredness as equal to'purity,'I feel. Also, I am going to talk about this later, but when we read the event that occurred in Verse 1 and the word in Verse 3 'Among those who approach me I will be proved holy ,'we end up interpreting that God's sacredness is something fearful, that is, something that destroys us when we touch it carelessly. It seems as if the word, 'sacrosanct 'means it. However, is God's sacredness such a thing at all and is the teaching that as God is sacred we should be sacred, such a scary teaching or prescription? I often wonder and I mention it repeatedly.
2.3 The address that I gave at the time of a wake for my father was quoted from the word in the Old testament, that is, Ezra Chapter 9, Verse 6 and the following. Ezra prayed by saying, 'But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant, and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage.'What Ezra prayed for was that the realization of his praying that as God is sacred, Israeli people would be sacred. Then was it that those who were in captivity were regarded as so-called clean and pure? Does it mean not to approach God's sacredness or violate it? I don't think that is the case. If it means keeping purity, in the first place, the very state of being in captivity in Babylonia means already being defiled, I think. In last week's sermon dealing with Romans, we learned that in the church there was a big dispute about whether they should eat any food that was regarded as unclean. Were Israeli people who were in captivity in Babylonia able to get any food that was not defiled? If they had clung to such a thing, as they were in captivity for more than 50 years, they couldn't have survived at all, I think.

3.1 What does it mean to have a secure hold within his holy place and to become sacred as God is sacred? At the April 19 Bible study prayer meeting, among 150 Psalms, we read Verses 1 to 5 in Psalm 103. First, Verses 1 and 2 say, 'Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. 'They tell us not to forget the sacred Lord, his benefits or his work and count all his benefits. Then what is the sacred Lord's work? Verse 3 and the following list his benefits: Bless the Lord who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
3.2 Here what we understand as such things as clean or pure is not listed. Such scary work of God's that destroys us when we approach carelessly is not listed as his sacredness. Rather, God's work that is just the opposite of the destruction of us is listed. How human beings are described here is only what is not allowed to get close to God and what is rejected by God's sacredness that we usually associate with. That is, the state of our having to die and go to our grave being defiled, broken, sick and old. God never destroys such people as us. On the contrary, God tells us that he forgives us with good things that only he possesses, heals, mends and covers us and that it is his plan. This is the very God's sacredness. Receiving this good thing of God's and being covered with it means nothing but that we become sacred too. It never means that we become so-called clean and pure. It doesn't mean that we have the same nature as God. It means that we receive only wonderful benefits of God's.
3.3 This makes us liberate ourselves from the state that such words as 'the land of Egypt ,'and 'the house of bondage 'symbolically stand for. Although things settled down at the latter part of the week, the recent media reporting told us day and night that North Korea was just about to launch missiles into our country and it went so far as to explain how we should protect ourselves in case of emergency. This way the country fans our fear of that country before we know it and makes the excuse for the expansion of armaments and makes an absurd law on the pretext of the prevention of terrorists' acts and when we come to, we find ourselves to be its slaves. Is this an exaggeration? 'The house 'refers to blood relationship but will the country or blood relationship do such sacred work of God's as is described here? Will living by depending on the country or blood relationship satisfy us with good as long as we live? Even if we have blood relationship, it cannot provide any help to us. Still less, the country has nothing but to forsake us in such a state. Of course, the country is important and blood relationship is indispensable but only sacred God will do what neither the country nor the house can do. Being able to look at the country or the house enables us to liberate us from there.

4.1 Although it took quite a long time to talk about the first half of today's words, for the above mentioned reasons, God says that the existence of the priests is indispensable. What the priests should do is, as is described in Verses 10 and 11, to 'distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, ,'and 'teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.'
4.2 The priests teaches us in a concrete way what on earth God's sacredness is and what it means to live in our daily life in relation to God's sacredness. The reason is that we couldn't know them alone without any help. As we learned just a minute ago, we completely misunderstand the statement that 'as God is sacred, we are also sacred. 'We take what is not sacred as sacred. Being bound by the country or blood relationship, we take the country or the house as being sacred before we know them. On the contrary, without knowing that God gave us what we were provided with by his sacredness, we take it as the common or the unclean. Therefore, it is what we learn from the priests. Then who is the real priest that can do it? Is he the pastor? No. Jesus is the real priest.
4.3 The event that occurred in Verse 1 and the following symbolically describes that a human priest often creates God's sacredness by mistake, I think. It seems unclear what was wrong with the deeds of the two sons of Aaron's, although Verse 1 says, 'they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.'The beginning of Verse 1 says, 'Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers .'Therefore, it means that they may have put fire from their personal censers, not from the censers on the altar, and may have added incense. In this way, no matter how official the priest might be, he makes a mistake about God's sacredness. The priests create 'their' sacredness of God on their own and they show it to people.
4.4 Many parts of Leviticus were written not immediately after the Exodus from Egypt but rather in later ages when people centering on priests established the concepts fairly strongly about what God's sacredness is and what defilement is. That is what we learned already. However, a big question is whether that priest's teaching pleases God's will, namely, whether the priest teaches such sacredness of God as we were taught. What occurred in Verse 1 and the following are told in the context of Leviticus that I mentioned, as an episode that is meant to draw a lesson that the priests' right teaching of sacredness and defilement is quite important, I think. But I want to understand it as the event that suggests more fundamentally that there lurks a mistake in the teaching by the priests who are nothing but human beings and that their teaching has invariably a danger of trampling on true sacredness of God in it.
4.5 Therefore, the true priest for us is Jesus alone. We remember that when Jesus died on the cross , crying out in a loud voice'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? 'the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.(Mark 15:38). It is what happened to Jesus on the cross that clarified what is God's sacredness and what is defilement. It did away with the wrong hitherto distinction between sacredness and defilement. It made it possible for us, those who were so scared of God's sacredness that we couldn't approach him because we had been taught the wrong distinction between sacredness and defilement, to do so. Until that time, to talk about suffering, to talk about being killed on the cross and to wonder whether God forsook me, were regarded as defilement. But Jesus taught us that that is how the only son of sacred God behaved and therefore, that it was a sacred event. He taught us also that due to his resurrection, to die and to be buried in a tomb are also sacred.
4.6 We are priests put up by the true single priest called Jesus. The pastor is such an existence above all but you all are sent as the priests, to your own places respectively. The first word that Moses heard from God was, 'The place on which you are standing is holy ground' (Exodus 3:5). It is the duty of us, priests. We would like to be the priest who can proclaim 'The place on which you are standing is holy ground and it's a wonderful place.''
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Leviticus 10:1-11

1 1 Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: "?'Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.'?" Aaron remained silent. 4 Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron's uncle Uzziel, and said to them, "Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary." 5 So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered. 6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, "Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. 7 Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord's anointing oil is on you." So they did as Moses said. 8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, 9 "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, 10 so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses."
(New International Version)


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Worship Service on April 16, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- The Women Who Fled Spread the Gospel -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 Today, at the Easter Service too, we are going to listen to the words in the Gospel according to Mark following last week. At the worship service last week, we paid attention to Jesus' crying out on the cross, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'A person who was in charge of offering words of thanks after the sermon, said in her prayer, 'Hearing today's message, we were taught that we were allowed to remain weak.'That's what Mark intended to say.
1.2 The fact that Jesus mentioned his suspicion that he had on the cross to the effect that God forsook him revealed nothing but his weakness. But just because Jesus bore the weakness in such a way, we are allowed to remain weak too. This weakness of Jesus' became a stumbling block to many people and a subject of ridicule. Mark, who wrote the first Gospel, is convinced that the fact that Jesus became such a weak person on the cross destroyed the wall that had separated us from God until then and that it led us to have the same belief as the centurion described in Mark Chapter 15, Verse 39, who said,'Surely this man was the Son of God!'When as children of God who have a special relation with God, each of us cannot help bearing the cross respectively, we sometimes utter, 'Did God forsake me?'Without it, our faith life is impossible. In it, to cry out, 'Did God forsake me?'is far from a revelation that we are not children of God. Rather, as the centurion said, just because we are children of God, we groan like this.

2.1 Mark's position that confirms this weakness comes out in today's word too, I feel. There is one thing that I refer to whenever I talk about today's part in the Bible: It is how different from the other three Gospels and unique today's part at the end of this Gospel is. Verse 8 at the end of this Gospel says, 'Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.' In contrast, the other three Gospels all describe the scenes where Jesus, who was resurrected, met those women and his disciples again and where they were turned into those who believed in the Gospel and who spread it. They end, as it were, with a happy ending that is just fit for the ending of the Gospel that conveys the message of joy. In contrast, the Gospel according to Mark is quite far from it.
2.2 You might say that Verse 9 and the following deal with that but as you might notice, Verse 9 and the following are marked with parentheses. According to the standard explanation, this part was added to by later generations, and it was commonly believed that the original Gospel according to Mark lacked this part, although a different opinion says that originally this part used to exist but it went missing. This part is the one that those who thought that the end of the Gospel should not end like this added to, with reference to the other Gospels.
2.3 Then why did Mark end with this kind of ending? Of course, Mark did not intend to claim that Jesus was not resurrected nor that the resurrected Jesus didn't meet the women or his disciples. Mark knew well that in this way the women who fled served as the first witnesses to Jesus's resurrection, about which once I introduced the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene, and that they played an essential role in early churches. Naturally those who read this Gospel knew it well. Such people say that at first those people were afraid and that they fled. The message says that as such people served as the first witnesses to Jesus's resurrection, you should be reassured and you are all right. That is, Mark confirmed weakness. Just as weakness that Jesus showed when he cried out, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? ,'had an indispensable meaning, Mark found out meaning in the fact that the women who fled were weak and further in the same way we too are weak and he confirms it.
2.4 Mark probably considers the situation where a lot of people cannot meet Jesus who was resurrected and where they have nothing but to listen to it through his Gospel. He thinks of those who have to face the death of their loved one and have to go to see his body and his grave and also who have to face their own death. As nothing is written about what these women feared and were frightened at, we have nothing but to imagine. Their most beloved person was killed on the cross and some extraordinary situation is taking place where his body went missing although they were not aware of what was going on. Although those women heard from a strange young man that Jesus was resurrected, they found it difficult to accept such an extraordinary thing and the weakness found in their inability to face the fact that Jesus died on the cross and that his body went missing makes them behave like that. The same will be true with us all. No one will be able to see Jesus' resurrection or the event where dead people will rise again. We only listen to it through the Gospel. In spite of that, we have to face the death of our loved one and our own death. That is so terrifying that we may shudder in many senses. We would like to go away.

3.1 But Mark tells us implicitly that these very women brought the first news about Jesus' resurrection and he confirms their weakness and, by extension, our weakness. To put it another way, if it had not been for the women who visited the tomb with grief and who had nothing but to flee with fear in addition, the first witness to the resurrection would not have been brought to us. To visit the tomb, after all, to have a dead person, to have fear about death and have various fears about death, shudder, lose consciousness and flee is very negative from an ordinary viewpoint. But Mark confirms that that very thing brings the women who were put there the first news of resurrection, even if they were unable to accept it, and that it became the place and opportunity for them to spread the Gospel.
3.2 There are a lot of people who came to church after a funeral service for their loved one and were baptized. In the last place where I worked, out of 40 or less who attended the worship service in those days, five people were such people. The reason is that, in one word, the religion and faith called Christianity confirms death and tombs. The grief and suffering of those who are left behind are confirmed. If the death or grave is denied, those who are left behind feel it unbearable to remain there any longer. I think that the fundamental limitation that the religion called Buddhism has lies here. There is the word "Buddha, leave it as it is." Buddhism regards basically, how we exist, in terms of life, old age, illness and death as nothing but negative. After all, it doesn't value them. Buddhism basically cannot have words to mention concerning death. But Christianity has. Death cannot be denied. Graves are indispensable. It is because Jesus was resurrected from there. It is because the women who grieved over Jesus' death and visited his grave with grief were turned into those who spread the Gospel.
3.3 There are some people who have lost their loved one, visited their grave and have kept on taking steps of deepening their grief and in their very steps, some people came to the worship service here. Mr. and Mrs. Awadu, who are to go through the Initiation Ceremony today, had a sad experience of losing their new born baby who was just provided for them, about two years ago. On the evening of the day when he was taken Ruka-san (Mrs. Awadu) came and I remember giving a message of comfort to her. Since that day, for a while the couple hasn't come to the worship service of our church. But I feel it a wondrous guidance for them to go through the initiation ceremony today in this way. When I read this Gospel according to Mark, I deeply feel something noble paradoxically in terms of staying in grief and shuddering due to fear. God used such grief of the women as a precious vessel. They are allowed to stay in grief or fear. That's because God used it.

4.1 Now what did the women who went to the tomb see and hear? First, they saw that the stone, which was put at the entrance of the tomb and which was very large, had been rolled away. It seems that the big stone was put probably to prevent the tomb from being robbed and also so that the dead person might not go out of the tomb, hang around or do something evil. Whenever I read this word, I feel that this stone is a very symbolic existence. It represents the viewpoint that living people tend to hold, that is, where a dead person is shut up in the world of death, or the underworld or the world where he only rots, and becomes bones, namely, the world without any hope. Because Jesus was killed on the cross, he was cursed the most of all dead people and he should have been shut up in the tomb, as the existence that could cause something like a curse, I think. However, that kind of stone had been rolled away. It represents that there is no stone that can shut up a dead person in such an underworld without hope. Jesus, as a pioneer of dead people who are supposed to be shut up in such a world, rolled away this stone and was resurrected.
4.2 Second, here we have the message that Jesus, who was crucified, was resurrected and that he is not here. 'Jesus, who was crucified ,'refers to Jesus, as the existence that was deprived of various things such as life. The women can only look for Jesus as such an existence in the tomb. The same is true with us. Those who are left behind can only look for the dead person as the existence that was deprived of life due to illness or a sudden accident or a disaster, as long as and as far as it is concerned. However, God's messenger says to us, 'He has risen! He is not here.'It is the message that Jesus does not stay in the tomb as the person who was deprived due to evil power of human beings but that he is the person who was given eternal life thanks to God's good power.
4.3 Third, we have the message that Jesus, who was resurrected, goes to Galilee ahead of Peter and the other disciples and sees them there. What does Galilee, which Peter and the others are expected to leave for, represent? It represents that they were going to give up serving as Jesus' disciples and to become fishermen again in Galilee. This is also weakness of the disciples. But Jesus takes the trouble of going to such a place that represents their typical weakness, before they go. He waits not at the place that the strength of his disciples led to but at the place that their weakness led to.
4.4 Just as I said at the beginning of this sermon, we cannot listen to the above-mentioned message from the strange young man, still less directly from Jesus, who was resurrected, but from the word in this Gospel. You might not be able to overcome your loved one or that person's tomb or the fear of leaving for your death. But that is all right. The same was true with these women. The reason is that just thanks to being there, they heard this news and at first they fled but later they were turned into the witnesses to his resurrection.

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Scripture for the day

The Gospel according to Mark 16 :1 - 8

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'?" 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
(New International Version)


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Worship Service on April 2, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- None of us live for himself alone -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1 We will listen today to the words of the first half of chapter 14 of the Letter of Paul to the Romans. Chapters 12 and 13 were about the kind and thorough advice Paul gave the followers of Christ at the church in Rome, especially to the people who were slaves and who as such had earnest worries. Today we are going to hear Paul's advice addressed to an allelism that arose within the church in Rome as described from chapter 14, verse 1 to chapter 15, verse 13.
What was the conflict about within the church? Verse 3 puts it saying, 'Those who eat meat must not look down on those who do not, and those who do not eat meat must not pass judgement on those who do.' Furthermore verse 5 puts saying, 'Some make a distinction between this day and that; others regard all days alike.' These passages meant to say that there were people who considered it was no problem to eat anything and others who ate only vegetables, and further that those who considered it was good to eat anything looked down on others who did'nt, and who ate only vegetables were passing judgement on those who ate anything. There was also a conflict of ideas as to whether one should make distinction between this day and that.
We are not too sure about what was behind such conflicts. Verse 14 talks about 'impurity,' though we haven't read the verse. So I suspect that the conflicting opinions possibly had to do with the idea of Judaism that some foods were impure. The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians chapter 8 has lines titled 'Meat consecrated to heathen deities.' In those days animal meats which had been consecrated to deities of Greece and Rome were circulating in the markets and some people had strong hesitation to eat them. It could be that some people at the church in Rome had similar hesitation. With regard to the line that 'some make a distinction between this day and that,' the Letter of Paul to the Galatians chapter 4, verses 9 and 10 say, 'You keep special days and months and seasons and years,' 'How can you turn back to those feeble and bankrupt elemental spirits?' This may also be suggesting that there was an influence of Judaism there again.

2 What we are led to think first of all from such a conflict is that if they were conflicting opinions within the gathering of secular people they would have been dealt with simply as a difference of disposition, preference, or custom. There are vegetarians who eat only vegetables while others eat anything. Whether one makes a distinction between this day and that or not will be treated simply as following different customs. It will never occur in a secular society that each having different preference and custom 'criticize, 'look down on,' and less so to 'pass judgement on,' others having difference in these respects. However, it leads to confrontation now and again within a community of faith. Why so in a community of faith? It is because preference and custom get to take the position of an absolute conviction in their faith. They become an absolute standard, a yardstick 'to be observed.' So it happens that in the community of people of a same faith, some fall into blaming others of the same faith but are having differences, and say based on their yardstick, 'What you are doing isn't right. It is wrong as measured against the standard given by God.'
At the end of verse 5 Paul said, 'Everyone must act on his own convictions.' His words will be translated to mean that what one will eat and whether one would take certain days as important or not are matters to be decided by each on his own convictions in faith, i.e. matters of only relative importance each can measure by his yardstick; not a matter one must decide according to the absolute yardstick of God. What is the most important in a community of faith is that there is a clear distinction made between what each can measure by his own yardstick and what one has to measure by the absolute yardstick of God so there is no mess of the two. When these two are mixed up and matters become ambiguous, things get turned around and that is the problem none others but a community of faith uniquely faces. At the church in Rome the two things got mixed up and became ambiguous. That was why such conflicting views abound. That is what has always taken place at churches from generation to generation. Perhaps our Tsukuba Gakuen Church hasn't been an exception.

3 Then in a community of faith, what are the matters each can decide 'on his own convictions,' and which are what God decided as absolutely 'must be followed?' What is it that God gave us as an absolute yardstick to measure us in the church, a community of faith? Paul talks about it at the end of verse 3 and verse 4, and also on verse 7 and the following.
Here the words servant and Master appear in turn. To get to the core of it, it means that, in a community of faith, the absolute yardstick given by God is that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the Master and that we are their servants. And the attitude we, the servants, 'should take,' toward the Master is for us to live 'for the Lord the Master,' as repeated from verses 6 to 8. If we are living for the Master, it is so trivial and doesn't matter if the servant ate only vegetables or also ate meat.
However, it is rather difficult for man to know seeing from outside if a person 'is trying to live for the Lord or not.' A hint is given on verse 6 in this connection, which says, 'Those who eat meat also honour the Lord, since when they eat they give thanks to God; and those who abstain have the Lord in mind when abstaining, since they too give thanks to God.' Here our posture to 'live for the Lord,' and our way of being 'thankful to God,' are closely linked together. Our posture to be thankful to God our Master is our way of being a servant who lives to serve the Master, it means.
What then does it mean to be being thankful to God? At the Bible Study and Prayer Meeting of last week we learned from the Psalm 92. Among 150 Psalms it is the only one titled 'For the Sabbath day,' and it begins singing, 'It is good to give thanks to the LORD.' From the words of the Psalm we can take that to give thanks to God means nothing else but that we give worship to God on the Sabbath; to worship God and sing songs of praise for him. There may be some who list up various actions other than to worship instead of living and serving God. Others may say they are serving God as their Master even though they don't attend worship service. To devote your body and time, and to worship and give thanks to God day by day, seven days a week might look in the eyes of people of this world the most absurd waste we believers make as I've said a number of times. How usefully you could spend your time so devoted if you spent it either taking rest or working. Nevertheless you stupidly go and spend the time at church. You sing hymns, offer thanks with money and listen to tough talk of a pastor. But what are these actions for? However, whatever people of the world may say, we offer worship to God. That is the most eloquent expression of us being servants of God; the posture to live for our Master, God.

4 For us in a community of faith to live as servants of our Master God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is to live as worshippers, the most plainly to put it. When this absolute standard is unambiguously erected, what is said at the latter part of verse 4 comes to fruition in churches, we are taught once again. It says, 'And stand the servant will, because his Master has power to enable him to stand.' What a remarkable words, we are made to recognize afresh.
If we stand or fall in a community of faith entirely depends on whether it becomes the sole and absolute yardstick for the community that God is upheld as the Master and we worship him as his servants. When this point is blurred and other trivial matters take the place of the absolute yardstick, we the servants fall.
I've told you now and then that my father, who had been deeply involved in the affairs of the Yuzawa Church of my homeland Akita prefecture since the time of its foundation and had earnestly attended worship service, ceased all of a sudden to attend the service after a certain point in time. It was triggered by a conflict of opinions my father had with the pastor and other members of the elderly stewards' board about the city's plan to expand city roads. My father literally fell down. Also at the Koriyama Church where I previously served, several of the church members left it around the time of building a new chapel. It also meant they fell. This kind of affairs could take place at any church. Why? It happens because of the reason we were just shown. However big differences of positions and views the church members have among them, the sole and absolute yardstick for a community of faith is that God is the Master and that we are just servants for him regardless of whether one is a pastor, members of executive board or elders. And to offer worship is the only of our posture to live for the Lord as his servants. This principle often gets murky in the process of building a new chapel. Imperceptibly someone become a master taking the place of God; it may be the pastor or it may be an influential board member or just a member. But associated with such a deviation, the life of worship gets disturbed.
In contrast to the just said state of affairs, we as servants can stand whatever situation may surround us as long as the life of worship is squarely observed upholding God as our Master. God will help us stand. Ones who have been forced to fall by the various yardsticks of this world are enabled to stand so long as they live in a community of faith upholding God as their Master and live as his servants. Whether the community is living with God as its Master is expressed in whether we are allowed to stand or let down in that community.

5 How comes that we are allowed to stand when we live as servants of God? The reason is given on verse 7 and the following. Because we are exposed to the wonder described there, we who could uphold God as our Master can stand.
Verse 7 is where I took the title of my sermon for today and it says, 'none of us dies for himself alone.' The word 'for,' is taken in various ways to mean. 'Not to live for oneself,' I took to mean from the context so far that it is unnecessary that I assume the position of being my master and as such have to support, nourish and protect myself. God is my good Master. God the Master will take care of everything that concerns me. Therefore I the servant don't need to worry about anything at all, be it about my health, my place to lodge after retirement, money, everything about clothing, eating, and dwelling. My family, especially my wife often suggests that I have my health checked which I haven't even once for more than 20 years now. Yes, I go to see a doctor at hospital, of course. I am given prescription to have my mental tension relaxed for I suffer a constant headache, my chronicle disease. The prescribed medicine ranked number 2 of the medicines advised not to according to a weekly magazine I happened to have a glance at the other day, though. I take head pain killers also now and then.
In order for me to do the work as a pastor, it is necessary to take the medicine and though some advised me not to, I have to. I am not going to repent whatever may happen because of the dosage. I am not living a life of intemperance. Should I fall sick as a result of living to serve the Lord with the most of what I can, there is not going to be anything to repent. That is how I feel. That is the reason God makes me stand.
Verse 8 says, 'If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.' We the servants do a small work for God our Master single-mindedly. Therefore it is God who will evaluate our works. No need at all to worry about the evaluation which this secular world gives us. So little is what I could do so far as a pastor. But I think God my Master will appreciate it because I have been doing all these things in my utmost efforts praying they will serve the will of the Lord.
How wonderful it is that we are able to think it in such a way so it makes us stand vigorously! The verse says, for us even to die 'we die for the Lord.' To die isn't for nothing but is an opportunity to reflect the wonders of our Master God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The late Ms. Mitsuchi is having such a time now. Shinning, she is talking about God to her bereaved children. We can stand vigorously even at the time of our death.
(Translated by Hiroshi NISHIDO from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Paul's letter to the Romans Chapter 14:1 - 10

1 Accept anyone who is weak in faith without debate about his misgivings.
2 For instance, one person may have faith strong enough to eat all kinds of food, while another who is weaker eats only vegetables.
3 Those who eat meat must not look down on those who do not, and those who do not eat meat must not pass judgement on those who do; for God has accepted them.
4 Who are you to pass judgement on someone else's servant? Whether he stands or falls is his own Master's business; and stand he will, because his Master has power to enable him to stand.
5 Again, some make a distinction between this day and that; others regard all days alike. Everyone must act on his own convictions.
6 Those who honour the day honour the Lord, and those who eat meat also honour the Lord, since when they eat they give thanks to God; and those who abstain have the Lord in mind when abstaining, since they too give thanks to God.
7 For none of us lives, and equally none of us dies, for himself alone.
8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
9 This is why Christ died and lived again, to establish his lordship over both dead and living.
10 You, then, why do you pass judgement on your fellow-Christian? And you, why do you look down on your fellow-Christian? We shall all stand before God's tribunal;
(The Revised English Bible)


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Worship Service on March 26, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- The Word Became Flesh -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 Today after this morning worship service, a baptismal service, an initiation ceremony, and the Communion service are held, and also prior to the Weekly Report, a Gideon Message is given. So I think I will shorten the time for the sermon to two thirds of the usual length. Although today's word is comparatively difficult to understand, I would like to give it with the utmost sincerity within the short time.
1.2 Now, we started to listen to the Gospel according to John in the last sermon but as I talked the last time, I am thinking of interpreting this Gospel from the following standpoint for the time being: My standpoint is that this Gospel was written in A.D. 100 or so in the town called Ephesus, in Turkey at present and that the authors were one of Jesus' twelve disciples John, who was Jacob's brother, the son of Zebedee, and John's disciple called the Elder John, together with his disciples around him. Therefore, this Gospel was what is called their joint work.
1.3 In the place up to Verse 5 that we listened to last time, there were three terms that we can call three key words, 'word,' 'life ,'and 'light ,'but in today's part too, the words, 'word,' and 'light ,'were talked about and there appears the key word 'flesh'in Verse 14. Why did the author John try to write the beginning part of this Gospel by using these key words? Also what kind of ideas did he put into these key words? Although we learned those key words in detail last time, as they are used today also, we cannot help looking back on what we learned last time just briefly.

2.1 John and his fellow workers wondered what kinds of words were the most effective in order to teach people in Ephesus and its vicinity that Jesus was the Savior. Those whom Jesus tried to preach his messages were, first, people in Greece and Rome. Especially, Ephesus, which I'll talk about later, is the town which produced the scholar Heraclitus called the Father of Greek philosophy in the sixth Century B.C. and where even around AD 100, seven hundred years later, probably philosophy and its tradition remained strongly, I imagine. Those kinds of people lived there on one hand and Jewish people who could speak only Greek lived on the other hand. When John and his fellow workers sought the most effective words to teach both kinds of people that Jesus was the Savior, they found 'word ,'logos in Greek.
2.2 From now on, allow me to use'logos ,' all the time. First, Greek people have been attracted to the concept of this logos since the Heraclitus whom I talked about a minute ago. If I talk about this in detail, I'll run out of time. Therefore, allow me to quote only Dr. Berkley's conclusion in his interpretations that I introduced last time. It says, 'Greek thought found, in logos, creative, dominant and directive God's power and the power that makes the universe and retains it.'
2.3 The concept of this logos that Greek people had been attracted to for hundreds of years was likewise essential for Jewish people who spoke Greek too. The Ten Commandments are more important than anything else for Jewish people. If we were to listen to the Ten Commandments from the word in Chapter 20, Verse 1 in Exodus, then we would surely find the word 'logos ,'in the Bible translated into Greek.
2.4 Furthermore, John found that Chapter 1 of Genesis at the beginning of the Old Testament was deeply related to this logos. 'In the beginning was the Word ,'exactly fits with Verse 1, Chapter 1 of Genesis, 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.'In concrete, it was light that God created but it was created , as a matter of fact, by God's logos and Word, as God said in Verse 3, Chapter 1 of Genesis, 'And God said, "Let there be light" .'Logos was God's creative, dominant and directive power according to the previous interpretation by Dr. Berkley, but what lies at the base of that creative and dominant power is creation and first the creation of light. Therefore, John says in Verse 4, Chapter 1 that this logos has life and light. In the creation, probably there is destruction and death. However, it is death and destruction that are necessary for giving birth to life. So that new buds will come out in spring, they have to wither during the winter. The same is true with God's creation. However widely darkness, that is, destruction or death, covers the world, what pierces through it is God's logos that creates life. That is light to us, who must live through darkness.

3.1 Now, Verse 14, 'So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us ,'is the point of today's word. Dr. Berkley goes so far as to say that just because John wanted to say this one sentence, he wrote this Gospel. Then why did John want to say? What message did it mean to people in those days?
3.2 'flesh'refers to sarcus in the original Greek. It is sometimes used as a synonym of body (which is soma in Greek). But they are not the same. Just as there is a word that refers to 'human decision, a husband's will ,'the part that makes us, who have soma, have various desires and makes us do various evils is called sarcus. Greek people hate sarcus and soma that is controlled by sarcus. They have the old proverb soma sama, which is a famous proverb found in a Greek dictionary. It means that a body is a graveyard, I hear.
3.3 After these kinds of thoughts are accumulated for a long time , the thought called gnosis that I talked about last time was given birth to, which forms one of big reasons why this gospel was written. And this entered the then church. Those who thought the idea of Jesus being born of soma which is a graveyard, and such a man being the Savior to be absurd, had a big influence upon the church. To those who had a big influence upon the church and to many Greek people who hated soma and sarcus, John boldly said, 'Logos became sarcus and sarcus called Jesus. He made his home among us.'
3.4 The message that John put into it is, to sum up, to be positive about soma called sama which means a graveyard, I think. To be sure, soma causes a desire for sarcus and makes us do evils. It drives us toward a graveyard together with injuries, illness and age. But just because of it, if we hate soma and denies it completely, then what kind of meaning or what kind of joy does living as a human being have? The inevitability of Jesus's becoming sarcus is that we can find joy or meaning in living with soma. It leads us to find light in living as soma. It liberates us from causing soma in terms of sarcus and from making us do evils. Jesus, through becoming sarcus, tried to reconstruct our soma so that our soma could have new functions. There lies God's logos, John is trying to talk to us.

4.1 The beginning part of Verse 14 says, 'he made his home among us.' 'made his home 'doesn't only mean that Jesus came to us and was born to us, I think. To make one's home is the same as a child dwelling within his mother's womb and it means Jesus getting connected with us deeply and so deeply that if we are forced to be separated from each other, we may bleed very much, I feel. How much joy it is for a woman to carry a child! Likewise, the reason why Jesus became soma and he was born with flesh was that he got connected with us so deeply and tried to give deep joy to us who carried Jesus. The mother who has carried a baby in her womb is said to be influenced by her baby in terms of various hormones. In the same way we are decisively influenced by Jesus, who made his home among us.
4.2 It is this kind of relationship between Jesus and us that is talked about in Verses 12 and 13, right? ' to all who did accept him, to those who put their trust in him, logos ( meaning Jesus who made his home among us) gave the right to become children of God, born not of human stock, by the physical desire of a human father, but of God.'Still now, making his home among us reminded me of carrying a child. And it convinces us of the fact that John also had the same idea. John is appealing to us to be aware that we, who believed in Jesus who made his home among us, are inseparably bound up with Jesus and that it is as if we became those who made our home in God's womb and as if we were born anew as his children. We are nothing but those who have soma that leads us to the graveyard and sarcus that is drawn by desires but still our soma and sarcus could become a quite different thing by being influenced by Jesus who made his home among us. Also beyond the graveyard, God's world is waiting.
4.3 Today Mr. Shibata Kei is going to be baptized. What I read at every preparation meeting for the baptism is the word from Romans, Chapter 6, Verse 3, to the effect that baptism means being connected with Jesus. Being connected with Jesus is nothing but 'making Jesus' home among us,' which we learned just now. Thus, our sarcus and soma get inseparably bound up with Jesus' wonderful sarcus and soma and will be made into new ones.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

The Gospel according to John 1: 9 - 14

9 The true light which gives light to everyone was even then coming into the world.
10 He was in the world; but the world, though it owed its being to him, did not recognize him.
11 He came to his own, and his own people would not accept him.
12 But to all who did accept him, to those who put their trust in him, he gave the right to become children of God,
13 born not of human stock, by the physical desire of a human father, but of God.
14 So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us, and we saw his glory, such glory as befits the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
(The Revised English Bible)


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Worship Service on March 12, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- In the beginning the Word already was -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1 We've been bending our ears for some time to the Gospel according to Luke once in three weeks. At the last of our learning from Luke we reached a stage which just precedes the event of resurrection. As from today as we enter a period called Lent when Jesus had to go through a time of passion. I thought it may be more appropriate for us to switch on to the Gospel according to John from today than for us to continue with Luke which will take us straightly the words about his resurrection.
Today's sermon being the first of our reading from John, I plan to tell you some introductory matters about his Gospel. Getting to know of the background as to how the Gospel according to John came to be written, I thought, will help us understand well why the Bible words for today, which form the start of the Gospel, were written in the way as written.
While there are various explanations trying to give answer to this question, the theory widely accepted today as the one most established puts it that the Gospel according to John was written during the period from A.D. 90 to A.D. 100 at Ephesus, which is a part of what is Turkey today. About the author there are two theories. One says that the author was John, brother of Jacob (the great), both were sons of Zebedee the fisherman and were among the twelve Apostles of Jesus. The other theory puts it that it was 'John the Elder.' John the Elder is one who appears at the beginning of the second and third letters of John. My primitive impression is that the Gospel according to John is deeply philosophical and contemplative. If the author was John the Apostle, he must have been around 100 years of age at the time of writing. While one may say that he had accumulated various experiences by then since after the resurrection, yet frankly I have to wonder if it was possible for who used to be a fisherman at Galilee to write such a piece of work.
There are several convincing references available which give explanation about what it happened actually. One of which is information from the Bible commentary by the professor William Barclay on whom I have often been relying. According to his 'The Gospel of John Vol. 1,' there is a simple table of contents of the New Testament Bible, which is understood to have been compiled around A.D. 180. The table is called the Muratorian Canon Table named after the one who discovered it. On that is attached the following description about the Gospel according to John. 'At the request of colleague disciples and of the supervisor, John, one of the Apostles, said, "Join with me in fasting for three days now. And let us share among us whatever will have been shown to any one of us, regardless of whether you agree or disagree about me to play the role of an author." John will dictate everything spoken by his colleagues and will have it checked by them.'
Professor Barclay gave a following explanation to the attachment with his own imagination included by saying, 'At Ephesus of around A.D. 100 there was a group of people with John as its leader. The people respected him as a saint and loved him as their father. He must have been around 100 years of age. They wisely thought how wonderful it would be if the aged saint could keep records of his memory of the days he had lived with Jesus before he passed away. - - One of them asked him 'if he remembered how Jesus said what he told?' John is considered to have replied, the professor wrote, 'Indeed I do. Moreover, at my age I understand the words of Jesus much better now.'(The above quotations from Barclay are not copies from his original work in English language but are re-translation of translated Japanese text. The same is true of the following quotation which may appear in the course of sermon: the translator).
As will have been seen, the Gospel according to John may be said to have been written by the whole group of John and his followers rather than just by John, one of the twelve Apostles. Discussing among themselves, they wrote what they all agreed must have been the true intent of Jesus when he said about something. Knowing that it was written that way, we can get to understand why the Gospel sounds circular, wordy and redundant.

2 The Gospel according to John having been written that way, then what was the motivation for writing it? Again according to the professor Barclay, there were two factors at work.
One was that Christian churches of A.D. 100 were largely composed of Gentiles. If you intended to propagate to the Jews that Jesus was the savior it would have been effective to start by making reference to the family line or the genealogy of Jesus. However, the genealogy didn't have any meaning for the people who were brought up in the Hellenism or Greco-Roman culture. There were Jews brought up in the Hellenism at churches of Asia-Minor, and for them too, it didn't have meaning to begin with reading the family line any longer. So the people who wrote the Gospel looked for the most suitable key word to tell both the Jews and Gentiles living in Hellenism that Jesus was their savior. They came across with the word, 'the Word,' which appears at the outset of today's passage, which in the original language were logos.
Another of their motivation was that the thought of Gnosticism infiltrated in the Christian churches of the time under the strong influence of Hellenism. Gnosis means 'Knowledge,' and their thought was one that hated materials, to put it in a word. Verse 3 puts it saying, 'through him all things came to be; without him no created thing came into being.' Things created point to the world of materials. Verse 4 puts it saying, 'In him was life,' and the life points to material. The students of Gnosticism disliked that God created this world being made up of materials and that Jesus came into being as someone with flesh. That the group of John and his followers had to struggle with the Gnosticism was the reason why they had to write the Gospel. In that fight again, the key word considered effective was also logos.

3 You will have understood from the background to writing this Gospel, why the beginning of it was written in such a unique form. The question to follow then is why it was logos; how the word logos came to be used as the key word?
Once again to quote from the professor Barclay, there was a philosopher Heraclitus by name at Ephesus in the 6th century B.C., who is dubbed as the founder of Greek philosophy. According to what we learned at high school ethics class he said 'Everything flows.' By saying so Heraclitus was asking himself the following question according to the professor Barclay. I quote from the professor: '"If everything was in a constantly changing state of flux," why was life not complete chaos? How can there be any sense in a world where there was constant flux and change? The answer which Heraclitus found was that all this change and flux was not haphazard; it was controlled and ordered, following a continuous pattern all the time; and that which controlled the pattern was the Logos, the word.' He held that nothing moved with aimless feet; in all life and in all the events of life there was a purpose, a plan and a design. And what was it that controlled events? Once again, the answer was Logos. He asked what was it that told us the difference between right and wrong? What enabled us to choose aright? Once again Heraclitus gave the same answer saying what gave a man knowledge of the truth and the ability to judge between right and wrong was the Logos of God dwelling within him, the professor tells.
The logos which Heraclitus discovered, the Greek people would never let go, the professor says. Even for the people living around B.C. 100 in the Hellenism society, some 700 years after Heraclitus, the logos were so important that they could not let go. The logos must have been what gave people the courage and hope to live in the world which seemed governed by chaos and disorder. Darkness referred on verse 5 should be pointing to the chaos and disorder. That the light shines in chaos and darkness pointedly meant the logos. That's the reason why John and his followers used logos as the key word in propagating that Jesus was the savior.

4 I repeat to say moreover that the word, logos, was the key word understandable not just for the Gentiles but was also equally important for the Jews.
I don't have to tell you how importantly the Israelites took the words, the words especially of God. We've learned about it in our heart when we were learning from Exodus. At the time of giving the Ten Commandments to the people, the beginning words written were 'God spoke all these words.'(Exodus 20:1) and 'the words,' are logos when translated into Greek. Even the Jews who were brought up under Hellenism culture harkened to these logos whenever they listened to the Ten Commandments. God gave his people a prescription for life lest they should fall again into slavery, and the prescription was given by the logos, not by other means. They were the medium which people could understand hearing. Paul was pleased that God gave the prescription in the form of words people can understand hearing and said that 'the word is near you,' (the Letter to the Romans 10:8) quoting it from the Deuteronomy 30:14. It was the words of God in the Ten Commandments that gave the Israelites having had to live in chaos, disorder and darkness the way enabling them to live guided by order, principles and light, i.e. the will of God. It was indeed the work of logos.
To these logos with which the Israelites were much familiar, the followers of John gave a bit of devise and used them at the beginning of the Gospel. Reading the beginning sentence of it that says, 'In the beginning the Word already was,' one would be reminded of the beginning part of Genesis, which says that 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.' Apparently John and his followers put with intention the beginning of their Gospel to make it overlap with the beginning of Genesis. What were in their mind was that logos, the key word for both Gentiles and the Jews, was there together with God who created the heavens and the earth in the beginning and to say that the essential nature of God, the creator of the universe was logos. The saying that 'what God was, the word was,' is often misunderstood; it doesn't mean logos are equal to God. God has natures other than logos and logos are not all of what God is. However, logos at least were with God when he created the universe and it was logos more than anything else that predominantly constituted the nature of God.
So when we have understanding about logos superimposing them over chapter 1, verse 1 of Genesis, we get better understanding of the essential character of the principle of logos. There are various different principles and rules when we talk about principles and order. But when it's said it was with God the creator of the universe and that it represented the nature of God, we get to understand that the principle of logos was nothing else but the creation. The creation is the rule and principle in-bedded in logos.
The creation embraces in it destruction. Aptly verse 2 of chapter 1 of Genesis puts it that 'The earth was a vast waste, darkness covered the deep.' Here it is implied that the creation, chaos and darkness were in an inseparable relationship. Why were there destruction, chaos and darkness? They were there because the creation was there. The creation, chaos and darkness aren't different things from each other. But it is that the creation pierces through chaos and darkness ultimately. Because what was there was the creation there is life here. In the process of creating life, of a new life incessantly being created, there take place destruction and chaos as well. Yet it is life that permeates through the process of creation.
We now understand what was in the minds of the authors when they wrote to say, 'through logos all things came to be; without logos no created thing came into being.' What they were facing up with was the Gnosticism. It was against their idea that materials are bad and unclean, something to be hated, John and his followers had to refute saying not so. Materials came into being through the logos of God. There's life with them. As repeatedly written in Genesis chapter 1, God, seeing the creatures he made, said it was good, didn't he? This is the world where the logos of God are sounding all over, isn't it? Why don't we live in this world accepting it as such? Howsoever deep is the darkness, there is light that shines on us humans, isn't there, the authors of the Gospel tell. The principal objective of this Gospel lies in telling that Jesus was the logos and light, which came to us as a visible human being.
(Translated by Hiroshi NISHIDO from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

The Gospel according to John 1:1-5

1 In the beginning the Word already was. The Word was in God's presence, and what God was, the Word was.
2 He was with God at the beginning,
3 and through him all things came to be; without him no created thing came into being.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of mankind.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never mastered it.
(The Revised English Bible)


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Worship Service on February 19, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- Submit to the authorities in power -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 Today's words are very difficult for us to understand, I feel. William Barclay, a Scottish author, radio and television presenter, Church of Scotland minister and Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism, whom I have talked about in my sermon several times, says at the beginning of his interpretation of today's words, as follows,'When we read this part for the first time, we are very surprised. That is, it seems as if it advises Christians to obey public authority absolutely.'From the standpoint of the affirmative side of it, he goes on to say, 'But actually this is the lesson that runs through the whole Bible.'( Quoted from The Commentaries on the Bible Series 8, 'Rome ,'p. 220). However, if you ask whether this viewpoint of Dr. Berkley's is agreed upon by all the researchers and experts, you can understand that it is not necessarily the case. With regard to whether the intention of Paul, the author of this passage, is to advise absolute obedience to public authority, opinions are divided. Furthermore, regarding whether it is a lesson that runs through the whole New Testament, we can't say that it is not the case, I think.
1.2 Although I'll talk about this later, when we think about the relationship between public authority and believers, what we can regard as the most reliable source is Jesus' words which are very famous, 'Give to Caesar what is Caeser's, and to God what is God's ,'I think. In Palestine of Jesus' age, whether to pay taxes to the Roman Empire that served as the authority of the occupying forces was a really pressing issue. In response to this, Jesus first said that they might as well pay what is Caeser's. It has much to do with today's words, but Jesus said that just because there was authority, benefit came from it, and that as you have something to pay for it, you should do so. But he said that you should give to God what is God's. There is what not the Emperor but only God gives us and to give God what is God's will be to give thanks for it and to worship God. It follows that Jesus' words mean that if the Emperor should demand that we give him what is God's, then we should not obey it. If we stand on the position of Jesus' words, we can never say that the whole Bible advises us to obey public authority absolutely, I think.

2.1 From the beginning, today's story is slightly complicated but let's begin to understand what Paul wanted to say as his real intention in today's letter.
2.2 Chapter 12 and the following of this letter teach believers of the church in Rome concrete ways to live as Christians. We have been taught that the reason for him to tell them was that they had pressing problems. What was told against the background of those problems is today's words.
2.3 Then, when it comes to their pressing problems, we can find the words that suggest them in the middle of Verse 3, 'You wish to have no fear of the authorities? 'I think. People at the Church in Rome in general were afraid of an authority, that is, the Roman Emperor and people with authority under him. The reason why they were afraid was varied, we can imagine. But one of the reasons, which we have heard several times, is that there was an incident in the year 49 A.D. where Jewish people staying in Rome, including Jews who turned into Christians, e.g. the famous couple of Priscilla and Aquila, were forced to leave Rome by the then Emperor Claudius. Although they were allowed to return to their homes in the year 54 when Claudius died, they could not help fearing that they might be forced to leave Rome again at any moment due to the Emperor's order. Probably they had not only fear of but also grudge against and hatred against the Emperor, I imagine. As we have learned that many times, it is said that in the Church in Rome, there were a lot of people who belonged to slaves. The reasons why they became slaves were varied but the biggest reason was that the Roman Empire forced people in the area that it conquered to be its slaves. Their descendants had nothing but to remain as slaves. They could not get rid of hatred against the Empire that made their parents and themselves its slaves, right?
2.4 They cannot help living with such fears and hatred in mind but actually under the Roman Emperor. It was probably very difficult for them to be liberated from slavery and it was unrealistic for them to live beyond the area that the Roman Emperor's authority couldn't reach. It is really difficult to live with fears and hared under the Roman Emperor. It is hard. It makes them harbor emotional turmoil. That's why in such an environment how to live was the pressing problem.

3.1 When it comes to how to live in these circumstances, it is possible for us to live with fears and also hatred and a grudge in our mind reluctantly under the authority over us. But the way of living with fears, hatred and a grudge in our mind for a long time and staying there never keeps us in good health. Long-held fears and hatred ruin people who harbor them. Therefore, the important thing is to be liberated from living with fears and hatred in mind, just because it is not possible to escape from them under such circumstances. It is to have internal freedom. Psychiatrist V .Frankle, who survived the concentration camp wrote several books. One of them was entitled 'Still we say 'Yes' to our life .' It is just what its title says. Or it is the title of the book written by the late Sister Kazuko Watanabe, that is, 'Bloom where you are put. '
3.2 How can we say Yes in this situation and how can we bloom there? At the beginning of Chapter 13 Paul talks, I think. Its essence is to interpret that God's will lies in that situation. The essence of the words, 'all authority comes from God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him' is that God's will lies in the authority and the existing authorities are established due to some reason given by God, I think. Therefore, we can say yes to living under the authority. We can bloom there too. We do so to know that there is rain and light that God provides from heaven in that situation too.
3.3 I remember what the Bible Study and Prayer Meeting taught us last week. Last week we learned Psalm 57 and this psalm has the proviso, 'A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave. ' We don't know how long but David, who was to be chosen as king after King Saul, was pursued persistently by King Saul and had to continue to flee from Saul, who became king prior to him. David was exposed to hatred and hostility from Saul for a long time. What would become of us in such a situation? What kind of cave would we flee into? We would fear Saul by any means or we would continue to hate Saul and if we had a chance, we would try to kill him. If David fled into the cave with those things in mind, probably he would ruin his body and mind because of his long-held fears and hatred. If he counterattacked Saul out of his hatred against Saul and killed him, he would not become king, still less a person whose many poems were carried in Psalms.
3.4 But the cave that David fled into was regarding God as a shelter. There is one episode that describes well what it meant. Actually Saul happened to enter the cave where David was hiding in order to ease nature. David's men said that the time to kill Saul had come and he was motivated by it to cut off the skirt of Saul's robe. But at once he repented of it saying, 'I cannot lift my hand against my master for he is the LORD's anointed ' (1Samuel 24, 7). This is just how David regarded God as his shelter. God chose Samuel, who tried to kill David for some reason. By accepting what happened that way, David didn't return Saul's hostility or hatred. He was not controlled by fears of or hatred against Saul. He accepted this situation as God's will and tried to perform what he should do in this situation.
3.5 Can we say that David's attitude toward Saul was such absolute obedience as Dr. Berkley referred to? Absolute obedience means that David surrenders to Saul and he has his life deprived, as Soul orders him to. But David didn't do so. Against Saul's order, he fled from place to place and kept on hiding and continued disobedience. But just as I said, David accepted Saul as chosen by God and he didn't wield his sword on his own. He even regretted cutting off the skirt of Saul's robe. ' To obey' which Paul recommends means this attitude of David's, right?

4.1 Then, how did Paul see God's will in the authorities in power, in concrete, in the Roman Empire? In today's words it is expressed several times. Verse 3 says, 'Governments hold no terrors for the law-abiding but only for the criminal,' Verse 4 says, 'it is not for nothing that they hold the power of the sword, for they are God's agents of punishment bringing retribution on the offender. ' and Verse 6 says, 'That is also why you pay taxes. The authorities are in God's service and it is to this they devote their energies.' What Paul wants to say is, in short, that the authorities in power are established by God and in his service in order to make the criminal fear and stop him from doing wrong and from time to time retaliate against him with the power of the sword, I think. Paul says that just because the authorities in power work that way, we pay taxes.
4.2 This has something in common with Jesus' words that I quoted. Jesus said to people who asked whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar or not, 'Show me the coin used for paying the tax.' Even in Palestine, the area that was a very long way from Rome, the coins with the image of Caesar inscribed were commonly in circulation. It was because there was a society where coins had credit with its people thanks to the authority of Rome and where they were in circulation somehow or other. We used to have the famous word, 'Pax Romana' meaning 'the peace which existed between nationalities within the Roman Empire.' It is the authority that sometimes does wrong and wields the sword because of it but it keeps the social order due to the law. If so, it is right to pay what to pay for its benefit, Jesus said. Paus says the same thing. The Empire as the authorities in power controls evil above all and requites evil. As the authority is held by human beings, the sword that is to used for controlling evil and for requiting it is sometimes used for doing wrong. This is the limit of the human authority. But even there we accept God's will and live saying Yes.
4.3 When I read these words, I learned anew that even the authority and power that often do wrong have a justification for existence. Since the Hussein Administration was forced to collapse by the attack from the U.S.A. and other countries, the evil called IS, which is more evil, was born. After the movement called 'Arab Spring' that caused autocracy to collapse raged like a storm, a civil war broke out instead. I myself hate the authorities in power and regard them with hostility but even in them there lies God's will that controls evil that human beings can never escape from. Of course, if the authorities in power deviate from their role that is provided by God, always do wrong and, as I said at the beginning of my sermon, demand gratitude and prayer services that we offer only to God, we have nothing but to take a disobedient attitude against them. It is probably like the attitude that David took toward Saul. We are those who live in such society as is filled with the authorities in power that demand a lot of difficulty of us and who cannot live away from that society. We can't live just by lamenting over and regarding such a society with hostility. We can live by accepting such authorities in power as deriving from God to some extent and by paying something to pay but by offering to God something to offer.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Paul's letter to the Romans 13: 1 - 7

1 Every person must submit to the authorities in power, for all authority comes from God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him.
2 It follows that anyone who rebels against authority is resisting a divine institution, and those who resist have themselves to thank for the punishment they will receive.
3 Governments hold no terrors for the law-abiding but only for the criminal. You wish to have no fear of the authorities? Then continue to do right and you will have their approval,
4 for they are God's agents working for your good. But if you are doing wrong, then you will have cause to fear them; it is not for nothing that they hold the power of the sword, for they are God's agents of punishment bringing retribution on the offender.
5 That is why you are obliged to submit. It is an obligation imposed not merely by fear of retribution but by conscience.
6 That is also why you pay taxes. The authorities are in God's service and it is to this they devote their energies.
7 Discharge your obligations to everyone; pay tax and levy, reverence and respect, to those to whom they are due.
(The Revised English Bible)


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Worship Service on February 12, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- Laid in a tomb -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1 The Bible passage for today is about a man called Joseph of Arimathaea telling that he laid the dead body of Jesus, who died on a cross, in a tomb in a respectful manner. The Apostles' Creed we recite every week says that Jesus died and was buried. Today's passage is about how Jesus 'was buried,' as written on the Creed.
In this connection, let me briefly touch a little more on the Apostles' Creed. The faith confessed here is put in very simple and clear expression: unlike the gospels it does not particularly refer to how Jesus lived. After it said that he was born of the Virgin Mary, the Creed jumps straight over to say, he 'suffered under Pontius Pilate.'
Therefore a question often arises, it is said, as to why a reference is dare made to it that he 'was buried,' while the entire Creed is so short. People applying for baptism learn by the Heidelberg Catechism, a famous set of questions and answers about Christian faith. The question number 41 asks, 'Why was he also "buried"?' and it is briefly answered saying, 'Thereby to prove that he was really dead.' Answering the question of why we refer to the event of the burial of Jesus in our confession, it says that we do so to testify that Jesus indeed died and his dead body was buried. In the era when the Apostles' Creed was established a teaching was gaining ground which said that it was simply an illusion that Jesus, who is God, became a man, was crucified and buried. The Creed included the line saying that he 'was buried,' in order to reject firmly such a view, it is often said. The Heidelberg Catechism stood along this way of understanding the event, one may say.
But I happen to think that it wasn't just to keep record of the death of Jesus for a sure fact and of his dead body indeed having been buried in a tomb that the passage of today ? as well as three other gospels ? wrote of the burial of Jesus. Nor do I feel it was simply because Joseph of Arimathaea buried Jesus for a fact that the gospel writers had to write it. I feel that there must be a much deeper reason why they wrote of the burial of Jesus. I should like to share with you how I think about it today.

2 I am reminded that we've been paying our attention to the scene of the passion of Jesus for nine times including today, which began on chapter 22 of the Gospel according to Luke. Today's passage is the last of this scenery. I am made to feel afresh that it is indeed because Jesus went ahead to face with his death and because he had the bitter taste of dying on a cross that he gained something he could talk to us and give us from there. The words he spoke at the table of last supper speak to us with such veracity because they were the will he would leave facing the impending death. His words praying for the forgiveness to those intending to kill him sounded believable because they were uttered from up on the cross, which put him on the side to be killed; because he was put up on a cross he could tell one of the criminals hanging next to him 'today you will be with me in Paradise,' and so impressed a Roman centurion as to praise God and say, 'this man was innocent.' With all of these taken together, I feel inscribable depth and unimaginable functions which the death of Jesus on a cross carries. To be killed on a cross meant cruel and cursed death. It was an unnatural death worthy of nothing. Yet the death of Jesus on a cross did have un-describable meaning and did striking works.
The Bible passage for today finds itself in such a context. Dead bodies of criminals who died on cross are said to have been unpicked by anyone and left out in the field to be foods for birds and beasts. They were dead bodies no one would care. But the body of Jesus moved Joseph of Arimathaea on to taking a surprising action. Verse 51 says he 'had dissented from their policy and the action they had taken.' However, he could perhaps not come out with apparent opposition to their views. The Gospel according to John on verse 38, chapter 19 puts it in a more critical tone saying, 'Joseph of Arimathaea was a secret disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews.' Such a fearful Joseph bravely went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus ? to quote it from Mark chapter 15, verse 43. This was coming-out on the part of Joseph, which he could never dare to do during the lifetime of Jesus. He made it public that he sided with Jesus in his heart. For him to do so could have amounted to turning all his fellow members of the 70-member Council to his enemy. Doing so could deprive him of his stand and position in society all at once. Such an inordinate thing was the burying of the dead body of Jesus. It may be a strange way of saying it but the miserable and gory corps of Jesus had such power to move him in that way. The act of burying had such a power.

3 I feel that the Bible passage for today speaks to us as follows by what it says about the meaning and function which the events had had from the death of Jesus on a cross to the burial of his body: that is that our own death and our burial can also have such a meaning and function. Of course, the death of Jesus is special and different from that of ours. We know we cannot hope to say that our death has the same meaning and function as that of Jesus. Yet if the death and burial of Jesus were such, perhaps we may be able to say that our death and burial have somewhat of the same meaning and function as of Jesus at times. Death is not the end of our life, i.e. a state in which we can have no meaning. While Jesus, whatever he might do, could not move Joseph to step out of being like a Christian in the hiding, yet as the act of burying his dead body made it possible for him to come out, our death and burial may move the bereaved to make a big step forward at times.
Then what was it that moved Joseph to come out? Jesus lived his life through to the end having trust in God while crying out to say, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' And such a way of his living may have moved the heart of Joseph. However, what I feel was the reason for Joseph to take such an action was much simpler. As I said a little earlier, it was usual for the dead corps of a criminal hung on cross to be unpicked by anyone, left in the open field for birds and beasts to eat. And such a thing was utterly unacceptable for Joseph. It was unbearable for him that the dead corps of the one who had caught his heart should be left in the open to become food for birds and beasts, not being laid in a tomb. What is written in the passage of the Bible for today is the action he took most probably without giving deliberate thought to what doing so may bring on him afterward, I gather. It was an act, not out of brevity, but one spurred by irresistible emotion, I feel.

4 As we saw it in the example of Joseph, it could well be that our death and burial may move the bereaved to make a big step forward at times beyond their own thought. We may be able to say conversely as follows: that faced with death and burial of someone we start making an important first step, to overcome a barrier we couldn't surpass thus far. Such a chance doesn't necessarily have to be brought about by death and burial of someone. It may be brought about by such a situation as that someone is on the brink of death or that someone needs to be wrapped by cloth like dead corps and warmly cared for. The refugees surging on the borders of Europe could be that trigger. Or it could be someone near us who needs our help. Encountering with such a being may move us to make unexpected actions, today's passage tells us. From this we may be able even to say that to die and be buried, or conversely to bury a dead or to encounter with someone placed in similar situation as that may prove to be a fortunate opportunity, I suspect.
I may be straying into a detour to say that Mr. F of I Burial Service visited me late last year. He's been helping us in funeral functions of our church members as if he was exclusive for our church. He told me that he was quitting the job at last because he has handicapped wife who needs care so that 24-hour round the clock type work of funeral service has gotten to be too much for him. Then he murmured though that it wasn't all. He has become unable to find significance in helping people for funeral function. These days it's not uncommon that a person who died in a hospital is taken straight to crematorium and the ash is placed in a tomb in no time as if the dead person and the body are treated as something to be quickly disposed of. I thought that perhaps within Mr. F a feeling has developed that he won't help in such a treatment even for money. In this age, the situation may be such that people must finish funeral just within a day. But we spend days for placing dead corps in coffin, taking the coffin out to crematorium, having a wake function, having funeral function, cremate it and lay the ash in a tomb. Why we take so many steps has it origin perhaps in Joseph burying Jesus in a tomb.
I may have talked to you about it in my previous sermons, which is about what the professor Kenzo Tagawa wrote in his book 'An invitation to Christian Thought.' The emperor Constantine the Great turned Christianity into the state religion but his nephew Julianus didn't like Christianity and would try to get the country back to religions upheld in the old days. Having failed to do so, however, he instructed local officials to follow the examples of Christianity; a story having high authenticity. There were three things Julianus told his subjects to follow, one of which was to 'treat the dead with care and respect.' In the background to why our forerunners dealt the dead with civility lies, I think, the fact that Jesus was treated politely by Joseph. Although a tradition Joseph of Arimathaea later crossed the sea over to what is England today to propagate the gospel. At that time he carried with him the cup which kept the blood of Jesus on the cross, it is said, and this forms the basis of the renowned 'Holy Grail Legend.'

5 In the way as just spoken, the Sabbath began to take its course following the burial of Jesus. If you say that a dead person doesn't need a moment of rest, it is true. But reading it said that after Jesus was laid in a tomb prepared by Joseph, the day of Sabbath followed, I cannot help but feel that a rest was needed also by dead Jesus. I gather that Jesus could get rested at last, when he was laid in a tomb which Joseph impatiently stood up to prepare for him even at the risk of losing everything he owned. And the very tomb Joseph prepared became an empty tomb, like shell of an egg out from which Jesus was resurrected. Perhaps there is no relationship between God having resurrected Jesus and Joseph having prepared a tomb for Jesus, i.e. without Joseph having done so, God would have resurrected Jesus. Yet because it was a tomb prepared by Joseph God used it as a ware from which Jesus took on his way of resurrection. The taking of the dead body down from the cross, the wrapping of it in a linen sheet, and the laying of it in a tomb with the rock freshly cut out so none one ever used it before, the praying for the dead to be rested; all these things may be said to serve no useful purpose. Yet such manners of interaction with the dead may move the living to start making new steps of life he could not make thus far. We may find fundamental feature of a Christian life in Joseph.
(Translated by Hiroshi NISHIDO from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

The Gospel according to Luke 23: 50 - 56

50 Now there was a man called Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man,
51 who had dissented from their policy and the action they had taken. He came from the Judaean town of Arimathaea, and he was one who looked forward to the kingdom of God.
52 This man now approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
53 Taking it down from the cross, he wrapped it in a linen sheet, and laid it in a tomb cut out of the rock, in which no one had been laid before.
54 It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin.
55 The women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee followed; they took note of the tomb and saw his body laid in it.
56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes; and on the sabbath they rested in obedience to the commandment.
(The Revised English Bible)


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Worship Service on January 22, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- Joy of Christian Life -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 The title of today's sermon is 'Joy of Christian Life,'but when you read today's words in the Bible, it will be difficult for you to feel'joy,'after you have read it, I think. The title of this part in the Bible says, 'Love ,'and it begins with 'Love in all sincerity ,'ending with 'use good to conquer evil.'It is filled with about 25 norms that say, 'Do ,'and 'Do not .'What we feel from this is a sense of obligation and heavy pressure which is just the opposite of joy and that Christians should be like this. If we should feel that way, it is not what the author Paul did not intend to do, I think.
1.2 This is the third time for us to read Chapter 12 and the following today. What we have been taught until now is that one of the reasons why Paul wrote this part concerning the church in Rome is that many people who became Christians from Gentiles belonged to slaves. The end of Verse 1 of Chapter 12 says, 'offer your very selves to him as a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for his acceptance,'but why did he have to write this kind of thing? The reason is that those who used to be slaves were put in the circumstances where they had to dedicate themselves to their master literally as something pleasing like a sacrifice. Probably they were very worried about such circumstances. They were wondering, 'Can we please God?'Just because Paul knew worries of such believers, Paul's intention lies in that he told that even though they were slaves of the master of this world, they were able to live in such a way as to please God. Such a way to live as to please God turns out to bring joy to Christians. To try to teach a concrete way of living is the purpose of writing the letters in Chapter 12 and the following. If so, in today's word also, Paul's initial intention cannot have been to impose further more compulsions or pressure on the believers who were already suffering as slaves under their master. Not like that but his intention was to show them concretely that even though they were slaves, they were able to live in such a way as to please God and to tell them that it would become joy of life as Christians.

2.1 Now the central point of today's words is the beginning of Verse 9'Love in all sincerity.'The Japanese translation is this long but in the Greek original, it is written just in two words: agape1 anhupokritos2. Love is agape and 'in all sincerity 'is anhyupokritos. The word anhyupokritos is the one in which the negative affix an was added to the expression that originally described how an actor with a mask on played on the stage, and it means the state of being not with a mask on or the state of being not hypocritical.
2.2 Although I take a glance at any of the reference books that I have, they, including Roomasho no kenkyu (A Study of Romans by Kanzo Uchimura), point out in great detail how hypocritical our love is and advise us not to do so. I am sorry to criticize reference books written by other teachers, but when I read such explanations, I cannot rejoice at all. If our love that we Christians hold cannot be unhypocritical, then we would like to ask what we should do. Paul's intention does not lie in revealing that our love is wearing a mask and criticizing us, I think. If he accuses us of it and he demands that we have unhypocritical love, it will ask too much of the believers who are already suffering, because they receive various requests from their master of this world.
2.3 When we wonder why Paul used the special term anhyupokritos meaning not hypocritical, it is because the believer who was a slave under his master could not help living wearing a mask, I think. That is why now that he became a Christian, he can live without putting on a mask. He can live with his inmost thoughts, disclosing his real intention. It pleases God and it becomes our joy. That is why surely he took the trouble to write the word anhyupokritos (not hypocritical) here.

3.1 Then what make us anhyupokritos and what makes us cherish anhyupokritos (unhypocritical) love and live on the basis of it? The key of all lies in 'love.'And the love is agape in the Greek original. Most of the annotators don't refer to it, which frustrates me a lot. Agape is the word that talks exclusively about God's love and Jesus' love in the New Testament, which is the true basics. Why don't they catch this word without putting their foot on these basics firmly and do they regard agape as love of us human beings and why do they point out that it is not anhyupokritos (unhypocritical)? We can say that love is anhyupokritos only about God's love and Jesus' love. And it is not until we are moved by such agape that we can make an anhyupokritos relationship with people around us and carry out anhyupokritos acts. Being moved by God's love and Jesus' love, we are able to take off a mask that we have to put on under the master of this world and we are able to live with inmost thoughts. This is joy of Christian life, Paul says.
3.2 Paul said repeatedly that this love of God's appeared in Jesus. The very Jesus' figure is anhyupokritos and as is shown in the latter part of Verse 9, 'loathing evil and holding fast to the good.'From the Advent at the end of November last year to the Christmas prayer service, and at the morning worship service also, we gazed at the figure of Jesus who headed toward the cross and was put on the cross and breathed his last on it. In the figure of Jesus, I cannot feel the existence that wears a mask. Over the fact that a betrayer came out of only 12 disciples that he chose, that Peter denied himself as many as three times, and that he had to shoulder the death of the cross above all, we saw Jesus really worried. There was Jesus who prayed that this cup might be gotten rid of, if possible, and there was Jesus who shouted on the cross,'my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 'There is no mask there. In so being worried and suffering, but accepting his disciple's betrayal and denials and the cross as God's will, and shouldering it, we find the true figure of Jesus.
3.3 Paul wanted to suggest that what stuck to this belief of Jesus was'loathing evil and holding fast to the good ,'right? What was evil to Jesus and what was good? At the last supper Jesus said in his will to his disciples, 'Among the Gentiles, kings lord it over their subjects; and those in authority are given the title Benefactor. Not so with you: on the contrary, the greatest among you must bear himself like the youngest, the one who rules like one who serves.' The evil that Jesus hated until he died on the cross was , in the final analysis, to use authority like a king and to control people, that is, to wield a sword, right? In the age when no one thought that it was evil and when such evil was being carried out naturally, Jesus felt it evil. Therefore, he didn't wield a sword at all until he died on the cross, and on the contrary, he received the sword. He took sides with those who received the sword. I hear that 'loathe'in'loathing evil 'is the word in the original Greek that means 'hate or feel a cold shiver.'My sense of the word is very sensual. In our mind, we might say that there are some occasions when we cannot help wielding the sword, but from my intuitive feeling, to imagine myself wielding a sword and injuring somebody or killing him or her makes me shudder. I cannot accept it by any means. That is evil. It was to Jesus to wield his authority like a king and to control people by relying on the power of the sword. It was what he wanted to avoid by sacrificing his life.
3.4 On the contrary, there was good that could not be held fast to, even if life was lost. It was to serve God and to provide people in need with what was treasured like the one who serves, I think. It showed up clearly in the Last Supper of Communion Service today that we have been observing. What Jesus provided us with as the one who serves was his own body and blood. He gave himself to the one in need. It was the good that he did last at the very end of his life that he took one criminal who was put on the cross together with him to God, right? Even if he knew in the head that to do so would deprive him of his life, there was good in him that was held fast to.

4.1 Paul suggests that being moved by this figure of Jesus, we can hate evil from the bottom of our hearts and live in such a way as to hold fast to the good, without putting a mask or unhypocritically.. Verse 10 and the following describe it in a concrete way. I don't have enough time to deal with them one by one. But what makes us aware among the things that were written as holding fast to the good is that Paul teaches what was easy for slaves to carry out. When Paul says loathing evil and holding fast to the good ,'he doesn't mean that we have to do something specially good. To serve the Lord and to persist in prayer means to offer a prayer and to have time to pray. 'God's people 'means those who preach the Gospel. We are to remember them and support them and also to practice hospitality for travelers, sojourners and homeless people. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We are to mix with humble people, that is, those who were poorer than they who used to be slaves. Paul suggests that they can do what they can do as slaves in their daily lives, which is 'holding fast to the good.'In today's society, you might be blamed for doing such things and might be called hypocritical. They might say that it is no use doing such things. But you don't have to be worried about it. If it is what we do, being moved by agape that appeared in Jesus, then it is anhyupokritos (unhypocritical). We are sometimes a little tired of or have a hard time in doing them. But in spite of that, as we want to do so, we do. As Jesus did feeling worried and suffering, we should accept it as all right. We should never be blamed for doing the good as being hyupokritos or hypocritical, while we are worried.
4.2 Verses 10 to 16 talk about how to hold fast to the good, whereas Verse 17 and the following teaches us how to leave evil. In the then world, it was probably very natural to pay back evil for evil. Probably it was thought to be good and just. The believers who were slaves probably had naturally hatred or vengefulness against their master or those people around them who abused them. Probably if a chance to retaliate should come, they would like to carry it out. It was the age when no one thought that it was evil. In the midst of that kind of age, Paul advises that they should never pay back evil for evil and that they should loathe evil and leave it.
4.3 Why does Paul say so? Of course, there we can find the figure of Jesus, but even if we hear that it is natural and just and justified, if we take revenge on and retaliate against the opponent, its retaliations will go on, which makes us shudder. At the Christmas worship service, I mentioned the words from Deuteronomy, Verses 32, and 35 , a little bit, that were quoted in Verse 19. Paul knew well that in the reality where there are some people who persecute and do evil, it is not possible for the believers to get rid of the desire to take revenge on and to retaliate against them. Even so, Paul advises us to leave it up God. If we should do it, our body, heart and soul are stained with horrifying evil. Hatred and a desire to take revenge are so destructive. Therefore, do not do evil. As we are provided with a lot of opportunities to do the good in our daily lives, continue to do so, Paul advises us.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Romans 12: 9 - 21

9 Love in all sincerity, loathing evil and holding fast to the good.
10 Let love of the Christian community show itself in mutual affection. Esteem others more highly than yourself.
11 With unflagging zeal, aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.
12 Let hope keep you joyful; in trouble stand firm; persist in prayer;
13 contribute to the needs of God's people, and practice hospitality.
14 Call down blessings on your persecutors -- blessings, not curses.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
16 Live in agreement with one another. Do not be proud, but be ready to mix with humble people. Do not keep thinking how wise you are.
17 Never pay back evil for evil. Let your aims be such as all count honorable.
18 If possible, so far as it lies with you, live at peace with all.
19 My dear friends, do not seek revenge, but leave a place for divine retribution; for there is a text which reads, 'Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.'
20 But there is another text: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; by doing this you will heap live coals on his head.
21 Do not let evil conquer you, but use good to conquer evil.
(The Revised English Bible)


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Worship Service on January 8, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- The building of the Tabernacle -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1 For the scripture this morning, I asked the passages to be read which are different from the one announced in advance on the weekly gazette of last Sunday. Today's passages are also about the building of the Tabernacle. And with today's sermon, we will finish learning from the Exodus. The Exodus is composed of 40 chapters. Of which 13, i.e. chapters from 25 to 31 and from 35 to 40 are about building of the Tabernacle. Some one-third of the whole story of Exodus is devoted to the building of the Tabernacle, which in itself is an indication how important the Tabernacle building was for the Israelites who fled from Egypt.
We cannot, however, help having questions about what are written on the Bible passages. Verse 3 and the following of chapter 25 listed up materials to be contributed by the Israelites for the building of the Tabernacle. Question here is could the Israelites indeed contribute so many items for building materials when they were finding it hard even to procure enough food to eat in the wilderness into which they fled as political refugees like the Syrians of today. We don't have time this morning to go into details of building the Tabernacle. But according to verse 24 of chapter 38, the amount of gold used for building was twenty-nine talents seven hundred and thirty shekels by the sacred standard. One talent being equal to about 34.2 kilograms, some 30 talents amounts to 1000 kilograms. Could the Israelites wandering about in the wilderness contribute as much as one ton of gold? I consult with the works of Professor T. E. Fretheim for preparing my sermon on the Exodus and he says as follows: 'The text about the Tabernacle in the Exodus was written during the days when the Israelites lost their central sanctuary.' From this we may safely take it that much of the words of the Exodus were written by the Israelites of later years who re-discovered the significance of building the Tabernacle.
The question that follows will be if the building of the Tabernacle written on the Exodus isn't a total fiction. I think that the story is based on a historical event of a sort. The oral tradition about the building of the Tabernacle while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness after coming out of Egypt is deeply rooted among them. For instance, there is a famous passage on verse 5 and the following of chapter 7 in the Second Book of Samuel, which is about the words God gave to David through prophet Nathan when he planned to build a temple in which to keep the box containing tablets of covenant; it says, 'Are you to build me a house to dwell in? Down to this day I have never dwelt in a house since I brought Israel up from Egypt; I lived in a tent and a tabernacle. While it may not have been possible for them to build a tabernacle that needed as much as one ton of gold to build it, I think it was quite possible that they, in their utmost contribution to offer sort of a house for God to dwell, built a tent for a sanctuary to keep the tablets of the Ten Commandments and for a place to worship God. What does it mean for us of today? What does it mean for us to build a sanctuary? I want us to learn today what it means.

2 The significance of a Tabernacle is most plainly told by God himself in his words of verse 8, chapter 25, which is the first of God's words concerning the Tabernacle. It says, 'Make me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among the Israelites.'
'Make me a sanctuary.' It means a place for God to dwell to take it literally. But it doesn't mean that God needed a house in which to dwell. It can never be that God has no place to dwell without having a tabernacle built for him. For whom, then, was a tabernacle needed? It was the Israelites who needed it. The Israelites wandering in the wilderness needed to have such a place as they could believe where-in God dwelt, where-at they could meet with God and bring them to a holy place as long as they visited there.
At this juncture, I am reminded of the marvelous words on verse 8, chapter 9 of the Book of Ezra which says, 'But now, for a brief moment, the LORD our God has been gracious to us, leaving us some survivors and giving us a foothold in his holy place; our God has brought light to our eyes again and given us some chance to renew our lives in our slavery.' 'His holy place,' means a temple ? in which a tabernacle is built ? the temple they could rebuild coming back to their homeland after years of captivity on foreign land. They were given strength to live by relying on this foothold. As in this story, we all need a holy place. We need a place where the principles and laws which are different from those in the human world prevail, and where God's principles and doctrines will pull us living in a vulgar world once we step into it.
We Japanese are said to be non-religious. But many who don't usually come to worship service do attend worship service on the Christmas Eve, and many make the New Year Day visit to shrines. One may criticize them for being unprincipled. But the fact remains that they certainly feel they need to come in touch with holy being at the year-end and at New Year day. God felt that the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness needed a sanctuary and so told them to 'Make me a sanctuary.'

3 Verse 8 of chapter 25 contains words which attracts me strongly. It is that God himself was good to tell to 'Let them make me a sanctuary,' which is a holy place, - where if not literally God dwells, where they could believe they could meet with God as long as they visited there. God could have said 'How men can build a holy place where I dwell, with materials of this world? I won't ever allow them to build it.' It would have been more reasonable if he had said so. Yet God said to let the hands of men with materials of this world build a holy place.
If God had built a sanctuary himself without hands of men and without materials of this world, I doubt that we would be able to see it for ourselves and tell that there is a sanctuary there, to our regret. Or it would have turned out to be a place like Mount Sinai Moses went up to be given the Ten Commandments where just a selected could go to. Therefore it was important that the Tabernacle was made by men's hands and with materials of this world, God said.
This is the point which has a large bearing on us Christians. For us Jesus is the only sanctuary God dwells in this world and it is the Tabernacle where we can come in touch with his holiness. Jesus, the Tabernacle, is not a make by men, nor it use materials of this world. However, if Jesus remains only as such, then we won't be able to see him. We won't be able to step in the Tabernacle, Jesus. God must have allowed us to build church saying, 'Let men build a sanctuary by their hands,' so as to make Jesus, the Tabernacle, visible for us.
That was what Jesus meant when he said, 'Where two or three meet together in my name, I am there among them.'(Mathew chapter 18, verse 20) That is also the meaning of the words of verse 5 of chapter 12 of the Letter of Paul to the Roman we read on last Sunday, which says, 'We who are united with Christ, though many, form one body.' In the background of the church, congregation of men like us, serving as a holy place to project Jesus, the Tabernacle to this world lie the words of the Exodus chapter 28, verse 5 as its base.

4 There is a great contradiction, however, in that humans make the holy place where God dwells. Therefore, it is important with which materials and how the sanctuary is built, and more fundamentally to begin with, as what kind of being god is regarded it houses.
As to the kind of materials to use for building, the words of verse 1 and the following of chapter 25 give clear indication saying, 'you are to accept whatever contribution each man freely offers.' The phrase 'contribution each man freely offers,' appears a number of times in the 13 chapters about the building of the Tabernacle in relation to not only the materials to use but also to the labor one offers. What men contribute are just materials of this world. But as long as they are ones men contribute willingly, God will be pleased to accept them as materials with which to build a holy place where he dwells no matter how poor quality stuff or how stained they are. Whichever part of it you may take up, the church is built using materials, not compelled, but willingly contributed by us. They are reckoned as materials fitting to demonstrate Jesus, the holy Tabernacle, to the world.
As to the question of how you will build it, verse 9 of chapter 25 says, 'Make it exactly according to the design I show you, the design for the Tabernacle and for all its furniture.' This is also an expression repeated a number of times over 13 chapters on building the Tabernacle. Take up, for example, the last one, chapter 40, it appears four times on verse 19, 21, 27 and 32. Why is it of such an importance to make sure how it should be built? How to build is important because the shape, figure and materials of the Tabernacle naturally reflect what kind of being resides there, what sort of holy being is there. The vessel indicates the content, you may say. By seeing how the shrines and temples are constructed one can tell what kind of god is there. At its center, sometimes animal of a sort and other times human being is worshipped there, and the building is so constructed to fit the god worshipped.
What kind of building was the Tabernacle, to begin with? How they were ordered to be constructed? To get down to the bottom of it, it had a character of 'a tent,' in the literal sense of the term. It was movable or portable at any time. It compares sharply in contrast to the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan, as well as to our chapels. This characteristic feature of the holy place is deeply related with the essential character of God who dwells in there. The figure and the essential character of God who resides and dwells in the Tabernacle are described vividly. In a word, it stands for 'departure,' meaning he is on his journey. God himself is one who never takes off travelling outfit. Therefore, the grace and blessings God gives us cannot be separated from God being on journey.
We don't have time to go into details of it, but let me just say that it has occurred to me afresh that the very path Jesus took from coming to this world as a man, to having been put on a cross, resurrected and to returned back to Heaven, is the figure of God who does not take off his travelling outfit and who does not remain just at one place. Thanks to Jesus being such, he is supporting us on our journey in this world. It is the path of travelling life that he blesses, and on our path of travelling he will accompany and guide us as the last words of the Exodus describe. Paul, using the term a tent, says on verse 1 and the following of chapter 5, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians something like that our path is to go for the tent in Heaven while the earthly tent is demolished.
I suspect that the earthly tent is doomed to demolition include that it is poor in outward looks, and wears out during the journey. But that such a tent is where God dwells, and that such a tent is the holy place is indeed meaningful. It is exactly because God himself dwells in such a tent, we can believe that God will be with us, the decaying tent.
(Translated by Hiroshi NISHIDO from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Chapter 25: 1-9

1 The LORD spoke to Moses and said:
2 Tell the Israelites to set aside a contribution for me; you are to accept whatever contribution each man freely offers.
3 You may accept any of the following: gold, silver, copper;
4 violet, purple, and scarlet yarn; fine linen and goat's hair;
5 tanned rams' skins and dgong-hides; acacia-wood;
6 Toil for the lamp, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense;
7 cornelians and other stones ready for setting on the ephod and the breastpiece.
8 Make me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among the Israelites.
9 Make it exactly according to the design I show you, the design for the Tabernacle and for all its furniture. This is how you must make it:
(The Revised English Bible)

Chapter 40: 34-38

34 and the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.
35 Moses was unable to enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled on it and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.
36 At every stage of their journey, when the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites used to break camp;
37 but if the cloud did not lift from the Tabernacle, they used not to break camp until such time as it did lift.
38 For the could of the LORD was over the Tabernacle by day, and there was fire in the cloud by night, and all the Israelites could see it at every state of their journey.
(The Revised English Bible)


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Worship Service on January 1, 2017

Gist of Sermon

- Form a sober estimate of you -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1 It has been for some time since we learned last from the Letter of Paul to the Romans. With the Advent and Christmas over, I want us to get back to the regular cycle of Bible learning and today we will listen to what Paul wanted to tell us by chapter 12 of his letter. By this chapter Paul tried to tell believers in the Church of Rome about how Christians are advised to live in this world. On verses 1 and 2 which we listened to the last time he made a summary statement about what is the chapter 12 and the following are about. But it wasn't his intention to give the advice in general terms. As it is true of all the other of his letters, there was a specific background to why he had to write this letter to the followers of Christ in the church. Coming to learn that they were under much distress over a problem, Paul wrote the letter out of a desire to solve their problem by any means. The entire letter to the Romans was written for this purpose as it was also true of chapter 12 and the following.
What was the problem for the believers at the Church of Rome which Paul had in mind in writing chapter 12 and the following? It is oozing, it seems to me, in the words of verse 1 we learned at the last service which says, 'Offer your very selves to God.' One of the reasons why Paul had to talk to them like this was the fact that many at the Church of Rome, especially those who became Christians from Gentiles, were of slavery class. Slaves in those days were literally the property possessed by their lords. They could be sold and purchased, and even be killed at the will of their lords. They were nothing else but 'a sacrifice,' which were pleasant to the lords as pleasing subjects. Being slaves, how should they live as is pleasing to God? Can they ever please God to begin with? This must have been a pressing problem for them.
To the people under such circumstances Paul told: Yes, you can. You can offer yourselves as ones pleasing to God. You can please God by worshipping him, he told, in the first place. Following those words, Paul continued encouraging them by today's words saying that, while remaining in slavery, they can still please God belonging to the church or the body of Christ, and doing the works exemplified on verse 6 and the following. If our actions are pleasing to God they will be pleasing to us also. We can walk the path of our life with the joy of living like that, Paul encouraged.
Such an encouragement by Paul is not irrelevant to us living today. Luckily we aren't slaves in literal sense of the term. But we live in a society where 40% of the working people work in the status of non-regular employees. So many are compelled to work in such a way that, looking at us, the people of 2000 years ago might feel like asking 'if you of the present day aren't slaves.' There are also many others who are compelled to live in ways far from how they wish they could live due to their physical and mental conditions. This past Friday, I called a gathering at the church which I named 'Let us take pride in our weakness!' This was a gathering called following the words of Paul on his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 9 in which he said, 'I am happy to boast of my weakness.' It is a gathering of some of the attendants of worship service, especially those carrying weakness on their backs ? people having official notebooks for the handicapped or the people receiving pension for the handicapped for them to have an opportunity to loudly boast of their weakness. To my surprise, some ten people were good to get together. It is indeed our joy that they constitute 10% of the attendants to the worship service of our church. The words of Paul given us today aren't irrelevant to us of today.

2 Now, before I touch on the seven works exhorted by Paul on verse 6 and the following, my attention was drawn to the word, 'estimate,' on verse 3. Why did Paul say something about estimation? He did so because I think estimation was also an issue troubling the believers at the Church of Rome, especially who were slaves. A slave being in possession of his lord, he could be sold to other lord depending on the estimation given him. Chances could be that he was traded with other slave as with professional base-ball players, or was suddenly dismissed altogether. Therefore a slave naturally had to be concerned about how he compares with the fellow slaves.
Knowing well the situation of these believers, Paul tried to make the point of emphasizing, it seems, how much different is the estimation one gets as a Christian or of living in a community called, the church from that given to one living as a slave under lord of this world. Verse 3 says, to read it again, 'do not think too highly of yourself, but form a sober estimate.' On its surface, Paul looks to have recommended not to make an over-estimation of you. However, the original text has a nuance to warn against making under-estimation as well.
This point came to my notice too, when I delivered a sermon on this passage years ago. At this time, as I was reading the work of Kanzo Uchimura titled, "A Study on the Letter of Paul to the Romans," I've come to know that he was saying the same thing in his work, giving me sort of an assurance that my way of reading it wasn't wrong. Uchimura translated the original text to say in Japanese, 'Do not think too much of you beyond what you can consider justified.' Not to think too much of oneself beyond what one can consider justified means not to think too highly of oneself on the one hand, but it also indicates a warning against under-estimation on the other hand. Saying this in relation to the problem which the believers at the Church of Rome had, Paul's intention may have been more on the under-estimation aspect of it, I gather. Many members of the Church of Rome were fearful of what sort of evaluation they may get from their lords, and the handicapped people I talked about are constantly exposed to under-estimation by the people around them. All of us mind what evaluation we get from the surrounding, and based on their criteria we under-estimate us ourselves. Because Paul knew such problem of theirs, he advised them what kind of estimation will be given them as Christians, or as ones belonging to church.

3 What was the evaluation they are given as Christians like? What I think is important is the criterion by which to make an evaluation; what is the scale with which to measure. On this Paul says at the beginning of verse 3, 'By authority of the grace God has given me I say,' and verse 6 says, 'gifts allotted to each of us by God's grace.' Verse 3 also says, 'Based on the measure of faith that God has dealt to each of you.' This last phrase is a bit tough to translate or to understand. On its surface it sounds as if faith is the criterion for making evaluation. Should a Christian be evaluated by how strong a faith God had given to each ? in other words, should strength or weakness of faith be the criterion for evaluating Christians, then the evaluation made in the community of faith is no different from that made in this world.
What Paul intends to say here I think was that we are well advised to form an estimation of us based on the grace and gifts allotted to each of us by God. They are what he gives us having faith in and trust on us. Here the word 'faith,' should be construed to mean God's faith upon us, not the faith we have in him. God puts his trust on us and makes us perform the seven functions listed on verse 6 and the following as his gift for us in grace. At any rate we are advised to use what God gives us for his gifts to us in grace as the criterion for estimation.
What, then, does it mean when it says God gives us gifts in grace? On the 2nd Letter of Paul to the Corinthian chapter 12 which I referred to in connection with the group 'Let us boast of our weakness!', Paul wrote that Jesus gave him the words saying, 'My grace is all you need; power is most fully seen in weakness.' By this Paul meant to say that because he was given a thorn in his flesh or because of the weakness of having been given a handicap, the grace and gift from Jesus and God were given him fully. The gift God gives us in grace with his trust on us is something which is given us in our weakness. That is the criterion by which we Christians estimate us ourselves.
This estimation is vitally different from those which the people of this world, the slaves, are given from the lords of this world. The criterion which this world uses is the measure of ability we exercise in our strength. But the criterion for the Christians is that which is gifted from God and Jesus in our weakness. Though I've failed to identify at this time the exact source of the word, grace in Greek is 'charis,' and the plural form of it, 'charisma,' means gift. In the Catholic Church, the word 'charis,' means a cup or a container according to a book about Mother Teresa if I remembered it correctly. A container is concave shaped, for which reason it can hold water there. Just like that, the charis and charisma which God gives are poured on us who have a concave. The charis and charisma are not given to people not having concave or a minus element. The grace and gift are given us who carry weakness, and it is for this reason that we can make sober estimation of us ourselves and of the people around us.

4 With the God-given grace and gifts, we are made ready to perform the seven functions listed on verse 6 and the following. Of these works, Paul begins to elucidate on verses 4 and 5, saying that they are the functions performed by many limbs and organs or parts composing the body of Christ. I take a great consolation from the word, 'parts.' It is telling us I think that the works we perform as ones given grace and gift from God don't have to be prominent or great. As slaves of the lords of this world, the followers of Christ are always being asked to perform prominent major roles. I saw a TV drama the other day. A youth was being asked at interview for a job saying, 'If employed what can you do in our company? How will you contribute?' He couldn't utter a word in reply. I also wonder how I can answer such a question at an interview to become pastor of a church. What is going to happen if we, the pastors, were to be asked by church members always to do that much work? Innumerous people are facing such a demand.
In contrast to this, what Paul is seeking from us is that it is enough for us to perform the function of a part of the body of Christ. Christ of Resurrection exists in all corners of the world. So what we do as ones composing his body is to do just a tiny part of his work at where we are sent. What we do is only what a part of the body does. So we are not to blame being told that eyes did this, ears did that, hands and feet did so and so whereas you did only this much. Whatever a part does it doesn't get prominent and only gets reflected as the work of the entire body. It is un-natural if eyes, ears, hands and feet are asked what they did and they get evaluated according to their respective performance.
'It is good and enough for you to be just a part of the whole,' is indeed a comforting expression. In the unit of a married couple, or in the relationship of a family, we are not allowed to be a part. That explains why we tend to hold the partner accountable saying, 'why don't you work and earn more, why don't you play greater role?' Here lies an aspect that gets sick in what is ideally a nice couple or a family. However, in the community of church, we free ourselves from the relationship of a married couple or of a family, and gain an opportunity where it is good and enough to be just a tiny part of the body of Christ. In a sense, Christ exists even if I don't do any work at all. To carry it to extreme, Christ exists if I remained idle. To silently attend the worship service is the contribution in itself.
Having such a space for breathing and deploying the grace and gift given because of our weakness, we'll go ahead doing a tiny work. That the seven different works are listed carries a symbolic meaning. 7 being a perfect number in the Bible, it means that there are that much varied works. In the relationship of a married couple or of a family, the work you are expected to do is predetermined. You are bound having to do that work as your duty. Unless you do that you are not valued. It is true of slaves and of us in society. But it is not so for us being a composit part of the community of church, of the body of Christ. The works are indeed varied. No one does the same work as others do. No one is compelled to work pressed upon. This is where the joy and the diversity of living as a part of the body of Christ hit home to my heart.
(Translated by Hiroshi NISHIDO from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

Paul's letter to the Romans 12: 3-8

3 By authority of the grace God has given me I say to everyone among you: do not think too highly of yourself, but form a sober estimate based on the measure of faith that God has dealt to each of you.
4 For just as in a single human body there are many limbs and organs, all with different functions,
5 so we who are united with Christ, though many, form one body, and belong to one another as its limbs and organs.
6 Let us use the different gifts allotted to each of us by God﹊s grace: the gift of inspired utterance, for example, let us use in proportion to our faith;
7 the gift of administration to administer, the figt of teaching to teach,
8 the gift of counselling to counsel. If you give to charity, give without grudging; if you are a leader, lead with enthusiasm; if you help others in distress, do it cheerfully.
(The Revised English Bible)


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Sermon 2016


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