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Reflection November 20

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Jeremiah 30: 18, 19; Ephesians 1: 15, 16; Colossians 1:11-13.

Thanksgiving in uncertain times

In this month’s The Atlantic  Sarah Boxer has an article about women artists and she makes the point that what can make an artist great is uncertainty. This is what she writes: “In many of the pieces in the exhibition, the artists’ worries and doubts about what they were trying to do are there for anyone to

For a lot of the great artists a painting was an attempt.  Boxer goes on the say:”…we can once again see the greatness in anxiety (The Atlantic, p. 49).”

Friends, uncertainty and anxiety are a good way to describe the mood of the nation and the world at this moment in time.   But in a time of election turmoil that highlighted a deeply divided nation came several days late this time around the calendar takes us right up to thanksgiving which comes rather early this year.  Even though it is not part of the church year, Thanksgiving is a Biblical discipline. It also happens to be the Nation’s most modestly celebrated major holiday.  This holiday has made this a more positive and optimistic nation.

However, thanksgiving is more complicated theologically than we might think.  It has often led to smugness.  Thanksgiving was a way of reinforcing for ourselves that we were on the right path, a way of acknowledging that God has blessed us as a nation.  To be fair, there was a basis for this.  It has been, at least until now, one of the freest countries in the world for religious expression.

But what do you do with thanksgiving in an anxious time?  You can’t be smug. You can’t say:”Wow, haven’t we done well” when we you are thinking: ”My God what’s going to happen?“  It just isn’t the mood of the moment.  But I think that is where we are wrong perhaps.  Because in the smug idea of Thanksgiving God is just blessing something that is just fine, just peachy.  “Good job, people,” we hear God say.  “You’ve done great,” we hear Jesus echo.   Psalm 100, a psalm of Thanksgiving, reminds us that is “God Who has made us, not we ourselves.”  God doesn’t just give us the seal of approval for what we do.  God is engaged. German theologian Dorothea Solle rebels against the idea of the “sanitized” Jesus or the “individualized” Jesus:  Jesus as an older brother who gives you a pat on the back.  She says that that kind of thinking severs Jesus from the Old Testament prophets who spoke against the injustice of the nation.

In Jeremiah the prophet tells us that there will be great thanksgiving voiced by the people, but it is not because they did so well, but because God has chosen to forgive and reengage with them.   Ephesians ties thanksgiving to the steadfast faith of the people and in Colossians Paul connects thanksgiving to endurance and patience.  These Biblical understandings of gratitude are very different from the smug idea of thanksgiving.  So we learn that thanksgiving is about people hanging in there, acknowledging God’s work and people being patient and enduring.

Friends, I have told you before about the awkwardness of celebrating Thanksgiving on the Indian reservation where I was working, so I am not going to bother you with that again.  But as I said I have learned from different peoples about thanksgiving in uncertain times.  I have learned about how African Americans see it: they do not glue their economic wellbeing or even the justice of the society they live in up against the work of God, making it a nice package.  They see the world order and the order of the society they live in as something totally different from God.   About ten years ago I taught a class for St. Mary’s college in Moraga in their extension program. I think I did three or four semesters of that class on religious autobiography.  We discussed a book by an author representing different religions.  The Islamic perspective was represented by Malcom X.  He had a speech in which he proclaimed about the Pilgrims:”I did not land of Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on me.”  In other words he said that like the Native Americans that Pilgrim story was not about him or his people.  They were at the receiving end of that story. What African American Christians tend to be grateful for is that God has helped them keep faith and be patient and endure for the long journey with ups and especially downs.  The actor George Takei  wrote recently about the Japanese concept of Gaman, which means to endure in spite of suffering.   It is an enormously important idea for Japanese Americans also. Looking at the text Colossians, that looks like a Biblical concept now.  Thanksgiving is about enduring and keeping faith and our thanksgiving is not for the great things that we have created, but that God is at work to transform our unjust world, and to a certain extent ‘nation,’ into something good and just, mostly against the current and against the odds.  That new world is a long way off, but while God works we must work. May God help and guide us.

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Reflection November 13

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Isaiah 65: 21,23,24; Luke 21:6

From despondency to hope

I have always respected the law in this country of separation of church and state.  Pastors are not supposed to endorse political candidates.   However, pastors are supposed to comment on moral issues even when they pertain to political leaders, from the perspective of their faith.  Eighteen years ago from this same pulpit I spoke of the behavior of President Clinton and you know very well how I feel about America’s idolatry of guns.  We can talk about the moral issues of climate change and health care for the poor another time from a Biblical perspective.  What is going on now is much deeper and it has to do with what this little church in its diversity is all about.  Nextchurch, a Presbyterian Church organization organized  a national call in for pastors three days ago about how they should preach this Sunday.  I have never seen that before. The United Church of Christ in Honolulu has counselors standing by for after this election.  Some of you, specifically women, have reached out to me in need of healing.  I don’t think they can put their finger on it but I am coming to the realization that it is about a sense of feeling violated.  It is about a sense that we got where we are now through an appeal to the darkest reaches of the human psyche.  I have seen you through five previous Presidential elections, but in all those, whether they were victories by a Democrat or a Republican the candidates, although critical, always fundamentally appealed to our better angels.   Not this time. That part is harder to heal and can only be done through conciliation and contrition on the part of the ones who have perpetrated it.  More important, the decision of so many Christian leaders to overlook such manipulative appeals to the dark forces of racism, objectification and hatred of women and ridicule of the weak raises a moral crisis that, if not addressed, can only hasten the decline of the Church in this country.  When Christians become complicit in this, as they have so often in history, the sacred is violated.  When well meaning people in this country and around the world see devout Christians excuse such behavior with reference to one or two policy choices, it reverberates through time.  I think of all the nations the Germans, who are led by a Lutheran pastor’s daughter and a Lutheran pastor, are most horrified. They have seen this before and have paid the moral price for it and we see it again in Europe too: Nigel Farage in Britain, Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in Holland to name a few.  People who abuse democracy to put people down, but then despise the right of others to speak out.  It still exists in Germany too of course, but one Dutch newspaper wrote a few days ago: “New York is now no longer the model for democracy, Berlin is.”  Can you believe that?

Luke in the twenty-first chapter speaks of the no stone being left on top of another. He writes his gospel from the understanding of the destruction of the Second Temple, a temple that to this day has not been rebuilt.   Isaiah writes of a time of hope, a time of prosperity in beautiful words: They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring, blessed by the Lord and their descendants as well.  Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”  Many of you today are thinking of strewn and broken stones rather than of hope, but I think that is a mistake.  It is time to act hopefully, not to undo an election or answer anger with anger, but to work for what you believe in.  If the current president can welcome with dignity his successor who is about to undo everything he has worked for in eight years, then we can act passionately for kindness and acceptance and diversity.  In between all your hard fundraiser work and the fun social gatherings that is what this little church has been all about during the last twenty years: to be compassionate and inclusive.  We have not been perfect but we never stopped trying.  People like you are the antidote for the hatred we have seen and heard and for what is to come.

Friends, I know you, I know what a number of you have seen in your lifetimes, the deepest darkness of the human soul.   Go to work with new energy and commitment.  If you are not happy with what happened and I assume that is most of you, then act and speak and volunteer and donate, but do so in kindness not in anger.   Conquer darkness with light, not with more darkness. That is the message of the Gospel.  And perhaps you should pray that this new leader whatever you think of him will be so awed by the weight of his office that he discovers something noble and contrite and humble inside of himself that will render him more fit to govern all the people in the time he has.  Let me close with the lines from the movie Norma Rae:” “It goes like it goes:””And so it goes like the river flows and time it rolls right on and maybe what’s good gets a little bit better and maybe what’s bad gets gone.”  May God guide and help us all.

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Reflection November 6

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Psalm 145:21; Haggai 2:2, 3a; Luke 20:39

The Power of the Spoken Word

How are you?  How are you doing this morning?  I know one thing you don’t want to hear about is the election.  Why do we get put through this for a year and a half every four years, you wonder?  People wind up feeling bruised and battered emotionally, and this year even violated perhaps.  Relatives argue with each other.  This year thanksgiving is going to be particularly awkward for a lot of Americans. So I won’t talk about, because today I think you need a refuge from it. A place to breathe and find a place of peace.  I hope that works for you today.  Maybe today’s texts will help you, because they speak of the opposite of what you have been hearing.  “Don’t be alarmed by what you hear either through word of mouth or letter as if it were coming from us,” says Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians.  It’s hard not to be alarmed these days.  “Hold on to the traditions you received from us either through the spoken word or by letter.”  As words meant to provoke anger and fear reverberate through you, let us try to refocus and think of the spoken word and how we all here may be better at wielding it.  How do we speak?

Friends, if we think back at the people we have known, we associate them with actions AND with words.  We remember them as kind or smart or determined or funny or attentive or compassionate or irritable or angry.  The picture we have of them comes together in a sense have captions.  The people we have know have known come with certain words.  A lot of the people at Parkview whom I have had the privilege of knowing over the past two decades come with certain sayings. For instance our long time clerk of session Carnie Ouye whenever he became passionate would say “for crying out loud.”  A beloved member like Osame Doi would so often say:”you’re great” to people. These sayings and words become captions under the picture of the person we have.  That makes us wonder, what is the caption people have of the image of us? I don’t know if you have ever used a Dictionary of Quotations.  That is full of quotes of famous people from days gone by.  Let’s take Napoleon, there are not that many quotes in the Oxford Book of Quotations from him, but here is one: “there is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.”  How about Benjamin Franklin:”He who lives on hope will die fasting;” “remember that time is money.”  Alexander Hamilton:”A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to  us a national blessing.” This is his only quote. Elizabeth I of Britain: “If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.” And “I would not open windows into men’s souls.”  The bad thing about these books of quotations is that they mostly quote white men.  The good thing about them that they have a lot a quotations  from the Bible.  So let’s return to that.  Let us think of these verses as captions under an image of people.  The verses on our program cover are of Paul who desperately tries to keep his congregation in Northern Greece from leaving the path of faith he has taught them.  People hear so many things.  They can easily lose their way. Such small congregations in such a diverse world of cultures and religions.  But this is a good caption for a picture of Paul. These words fit with him. They express his worry. Then there is the verse in Psalm which is all about praising God. This is a good caption for a person who spends much of his (or her) life reminding people to glorify God.  Then there is the verse in Luke which is a caption of a Pharisee who admits that Jesus has spoken truthfully and in a genuine way.  He explains straightforwardly without destroying anyone.  Then there is the verse in Haggai where the focus is on remembering, reminding people truthfully what their story has been.  This would be a good caption for the image of a prophet.

Friends, among my sons and my wife, I am known as the designated worrywart.  Yet I don’t really relish that caption of me.  I don’t want people to remember me as the guy who always said: “be careful.”  But then it’s kind of my job with them.  They leave the worrying to me.  I want other words that I speak also to be a caption.

What about you? What are the words you speak?  Do you speak honestly and genuinely like Jesus?  Are your words full of praise or do they break people down? Do your words correctly speak of the past?  Words matter.  The way we speak matters.  Who we are and what we say in people’s minds become one.  And they’d better fit together.  They’d better not be at odds.  May God give us courage and wisdom.

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Coach’s Corner

Change and communication

As I write this we have all just woken up to a different country or at least a country we didn’t think quite existed.  The decision made by the electorate also colors our mission as a multicultural congregation.  Can we increasingly become “intercultural,” i.e. a congregation in which people from different ethnic groups connect and engage with one another with openness.  Our country may be multicultural, but to what degree it is intercultural remains to be seen.  At Parkview we have gone through changes with our residency program and the remodeling of the Kansha house.  More change will come as we are bound to lose our parking lot.  Whenever you do something new, there is always a chance of miscommunication. The session and I have made and are making efforts to communicate clearly about the change with the result that you as a congregation supported the session’s decisions.

However, I have noticed that miscommunication can occur despite our best efforts.  Sometimes well-intentioned people can get a piece of information wrong or draw lines between one thing or another where no line can be found.  The session, Donna and I realize full well that it is our job to inform while it is the congregation’s job to inquire and confirm. The first is on us, the second isn’t.  Let me give some concrete examples of questions that members of the Parkview family might entertain and give you the answer:

  1. Does the residency cost us money? No, so far all the cost has been covered by Presbytery donations.  If we pay anything, it will be from the mission budget we always pledge to the Presbytery.  The Kansha remodeling was paid for by a number of above and beyond special donations by certain generous individuals.
  2. Are the residents here to take the pastor’s place? No, the residents are under the pastor’s supervision.
  3. Do the residents reduce the pastor’s tasks? No, they increase them. There is considerable time spent by the pastor meeting with the resident to discuss and plan assignments and tasks.
  4. Is the pastor gone a little more this year? Yes. Why? Because he has a huge amount of unused vacation time.
  5. When are we losing our parking lot? We don’t know. We will let you know as soon as we do.
  6. Why do we have residents? So we can bring new energy and perspective and so we can do more, like develop a Sunday School curriculum, connect with neighborhood groups and address issues that impact our church.
  7. How can we find out about our church finances? Contact Betsy Eskridge our treasurer. Also Donna has copies of the financial reports.
  8. Who are our session members: Carol Sakai, Maurine Huang, May Lee, Cathy Nishizaki, Christine Umeda and Gary Younglove.

So, friends, if you hear something that troubles you or confuses you about what we are doing at our church, don’t be bashful and please contact us.  It’s our job to explain.  Thanks for all you do!  May God bless our ministry together.  Aart

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Reflection October 30

Published on November 19, 2016 by in Reflections

Habakkuk 2: 1-2; Luke 19:4.

Scanning the horizon

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where everything seemed to be going badly and you wished you could catch a break, but it just wouldn’t come?  Perhaps you found yourself no longer looking at the problems that were piling up, but you were looking around, scanning the horizon, for some sign of good news, some silver lining, some guarantee that things would be okay in the time to come.  Will the wind turn, will the rain come or will the clouds dissipate?   To many people on earth, scanning the horizon for something to save them, for a better day maybe all they can do.  Many of them will have learned to live on grace alone.

I am sure you would agree with me that doing things online can be very frustrating. This includes paying your bills or getting technical support.  You always found yourself longing for a human being to talk to. That is slowly changing. Online support may be so good in the future that we don’t want to talk to a human assistant.  Now that may be good, but it is always bad. It means that all those people who speak to us will disappear. They will no longer have jobs. Now why am I talking about this? It is because this is the reality we face.  We may be looking at long term unemployment for many Americans, a reality that no one may be able to change.  As columnist Tom Friedman said a number of years ago, the people who will do well in the future society will be “creative servers” (anyone from teachers to pastors to retail and restaurants) and “creative creators,” (anyone who can create more attractive and efficient ways of doing things).   No one may be able to create jobs for everyone and anyone who says so is lying.  Many Americans feel lost in this new reality and they are scanning the horizon for someone who can solve the problem.  All any politician many be able to do is tinker until there are new ways of helping all our people live and thrive.  On the bright side there is grace. There is always grace. Somehow God is at work in our world and in our lives.  It may come in the form of helping hands or in the form of a new vision. To help the people in need may take a lot of money, a lot of commitment and significant sacrifice. That grace may not come with a bang or even visibly.

Zacchaeus, a man, with a profession hated by his people is looking for a way out.  His intuition tells him it is Jesus.  Because he is not tall, he gets up in a tree and scans the street for Jesus.  He is a man spiritually bankrupt, a man in need of love, acceptance and redemption.  He doesn’t know it but he is looking for grace. It comes in the words of Jesus who says to him:”I want to come to your house.” In that culture wanting to come to someone’s house is a huge honor and a sign of one’s approval.”

The Yao people whom the Iu Mien people are related to believe they come from  a place called Qianjiadong.  It is a place they left centuries ago for the hills of Indochina.  Qianjiadong is  a symbol of affluence or the Bible would say: a land flowing with milk and honey, a Shangrilah of the Yao people.  It is supposed to be a valley with a stream or river running through it, accessible only through a cavern.  Qianjiadong does exist in Guangxi province in southern China, in a region of beautiful limestone formations.  But is that the land.  Spiritually the Yao and Mien people have always been looking over the horizon for the place where they belong.  They haven’t found it and they have been living on grace.  But the Yao are still looking for Qianjiadong.

Friends, when the Old Testament finally gets to the book of Habakkuk, the people of Israel have known very little but despair and exile.  They have known oppression and have become accustomed to injustice.  But they are still, speaking metaphorically, sitting in a tree looking for a better day. The major theme of Habakkuk is trying to grow from a faith of perplexity and doubt to the height of absolute trust in God. Habakkuk is unique among the prophets in that he openly questions the wisdom of God. In the first part of the first chapter, the Prophet sees the injustice among his people and asks why God does not take action. “1:2 God, how long will I cry, and you will not hear? I cry out to you “Violence!” and will you not save?” God answers: “ for I am working a work in your days, which you will not believe though it is told you.”  The people face despair but they are reminded y the prophet of God’s grace.  “I am working a work in your days.”  That is grace right there, friends.  God is always doing something in our lives. God is always at work.  It may be small to us. It may be big to us. It may be in between.  It may be barely enough to us at times. But grace is always there and time will show its working .  Thanks be to God.

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Reflection October 23

Published on November 19, 2016 by in Reflections

Luke 18: 10,13,14; 2 Timothy 4:7

Our best for the world

Friends, in the lectionary readings for today there are lessons for how to live life spiritually.  First we have the parable Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the tax collector who is more like a loan shark.  Jesus gives us the lesson of humility, a theme that comes back time and time in the Bible.  Lao Tzu wrote: “there are three treasures that I keep and cherish. The first is love, the second is simplicity, the third humility. Those full of compassion may be generous. Those who are humble may govern others. “ He also wrote:”He who stands on tiptoe will quickly lose his balance, he who takes too many steps will not last the distance. He who wants to shine will shed no light. He who wants to be valued will go unnoticed.”   The second passage is about running the race of life.   That too is a well-known theme to us. But what if we put the two together?  What if we combine humility with running a race.  To run a race to us a competitive thing.  We would tell people what was our number or rank. “She came in tenth. Pretty good!”  But what if running the race had nothing to do with people being the best or close to the best.  What  if the mere fact of the race was all that mattered?

You think we are competitive in this country. In many countries in Asia they tend to rank children in class according to their grades and other accomplishments. Imagine being the last in the class. That’ll do your self-confidence a lot of good wouldn’t it?  But in Asia the winner in a race may be more humble than in the West.   We have trouble keeping “becoming the best” separate from “doing the best you can.”

Recently I talked to you about a talk at Presbytery by Dewitt Jones, a former National Geographic photographer and some of his life lessons.  Here is another one.  Jones says that we should not be the “best in the world;” we should be the “best for the world.”  One word makes all the difference and creates a huge perspective shift. Just move from “in” to “for.”

For a century or so the Chicago Cubs have been the team that every loved just for being there and competing. Winning wasn’t there thing and that sort of added to their fame.  Supporting became about loyalty and longsuffering.

Pep Guardiola is a well known soccer coach. He has won two European trophies with Barcelona, has coached Bayern Munich, the best team in Germany, and is now coaching one of the best teams in England.  In a recent interview he talked about his mentor, the famous footballer and coach Johan Cruijff who passed away recently and who taught Guardiola ever since he was a teenager. Cruijff is known for being kind of a soccer philosopher who would say things like: “soccer is a simple game but is very difficult to play it simply” or “there is only one ball so you have to make sure you have it.” Guardiola said that “when I am losing a game, when I am doubting myself, ‘he comes to me.’”  He says that at such moments he remembers Cruijff’s words.  One thing he always said to Guardiola was: “you have to do what you believe or it will not work out.”  Another thing he said was: “if you do not enjoy what you are doing, you will not be very good.” That is great advice for the church.  It has a tie-in to the bonus passage in your program from Luke 8. People who do not hear God’s word because they are distracted by life are like seed that falls between the rocks. It cannot grow.  The word does not speak to them. Their heart isn’t in it.

Friends, can we live life not comparing ourselves to others? Can we not ask who our parents’ favorite child is? Can we not ask who the smartest is? Can we not ask who the best looking is? Can we not ask who the richest is? Can we not ask who the most influential is or the most powerful or the greatest is?  Can we just ask: are we the best for the world?  Are we the best for God? Are we the best for our family? Are we the best for our friends? Are we the best for our community?  Are we finding that niche that we must fill in our time? Is our heart in it? Do we believe in what we’re doing?

I think this is key for a congregation such as this, to ask: are we the best for the world, the best  we can be? Not more, not less.  Are we going to believe in what we’re doing? Is our heart going to be in it?

Friends, comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time and a burden for the heart.  No one’s task on earth is the same. No congregation’s task is the same either.  Finding that path to walk that is only ours is the challenge we must accept. There is only one race to run: our own.  There is no reason to be ashamed of that and apparently no reason to brag about it either. May God give us strength.

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Reflection October 16

Published on November 19, 2016 by in Reflections

Jeremiah 31: 34; 2 Timothy 3: 14; 4: 4,5; Luke 18: 5

Wandering into myths

There is a pervasive myth in Northern Ireland that part of it is a land of giants. There is even a rocky part of the Atlantic coastline that looks like a stepping stones which is known as the Giant’s Causeway.  Actually the myth and some truth to it.  Part of the population of Northern Ireland carries a gene that leads to Giantism with people as tall as “7 ft 1” last century.  In Hawaii there is the myth of the Menehune, pigmy type people who used live there and whenever something goes wrong, like a car that doesn’t start or lost keys, the locals sometimes quip: ”The Menehune did it.”  Who knows, perhaps there is truth that the first to arrive in the islands from the South Seas vanquished a group of very small people.  But probably not.

Friends, you and I “wander into myths” or as the text in 2 Timothy says “wander away

into myths.”  The text also says that people will have “itching ears.”  We humans get impatient with old stories and when things don’t go well, we get “itching ears” and we reach for myths.  Our love affair with myth is as old as time. We could even say it is essential part of being human.  Presidential campaigns are long drawn out struggles for myth.  It is not so much which myth turns out to be true, but often what myth people are most attracted to or as in this election which myth is particularly horrifying.   One definition of myth is: “a widely held but false belief or idea.”  So myth can we dangerous.  History has shown us what the myth of Aryan Supremacy can do in its description of Nazi Germany.  Myth and the fear of shattering the myth of the Kim family has made North Korea a frightening country.  So humans crave myths but at the same time myths can be dangerous.

Friends, there are all kinds of myths we create to make life manageable or bearable.  We create myths about our own abilities and value. Even resumes, including when they are full of facts, attempt to create a kind of myth that makes the applicant look supremely skilled in a particular area. Research shows that successful people are often skilled at creating a myth that inspires them to deny their limitations.  It drives them to achieve beyond what even they believed was possible.  But we also use myth to push ourselves down, creating the idea of failure when we’ve had a bad week.   I have whispered to myself when I could seem to do things right:” Aart, you’re just totally a inept.”  That is a kind of myth (although I hope it is not widely held) that doesn’t hold water, for I have been known to do some things right.   But I think you have all felt that way.

Friends, we have a habit of wandering off, of losing our way, of disregarding our compass.  It is easy for us to follow some leader, some great attractive philosophy or to come up with views that feel good at the moment.  But in the end whatever thing we believe in must be rooted in the greater story of God’s love and faithfulness.  If it is incompatible with that, the myth is a threat.

The fundamental issue is that we want stories to pay off for us. If stories don’t educate us or challenge and inspire us to do great new things, we don’t want it. That is the story of the Old Testament: when the story of the Israelites with their God did not seem to pay off, they got itching ears and they went looking for other stories.  This is what 2 Timothy warns about.

Now there is a problem that the mythological elements have made it into certain parts of the Bible.  And we have to see those elements, however inspiring they may be, for what they are.  Nevertheless the text in 2 Timothy reminds us that we must hold fast to the truth we have received.  There is a central truth in the Biblical story that moves us and gives us hope: that God does not give up when we wander off.  God is always ready for a new covenant, ready to bond again with God’s wayward people. But God wants us to be persistent too, like the poor widow who keeps on demanding justice from the judge (Luke 18).   As 2 Timothy reminds us: hold on to what you learned. God wants us to hang on and hang in there.     Jeremiah clearly brings out God’s faithfulness as the text says: “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Friends, myths do not love us, myths do not forgive our sins. God does. Time and time again; over and over again.  Not only does God forgive sin, but forgets its: “I will remember sin no more.” And this comes out of a deep and faithful love.  God is a committed relationship with us. Thanks be to God.

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Reflection October 9

Published on November 19, 2016 by in Reflections

Psalm 66:12; Jeremiah 29:5 & 7; Luke 17:18

Strangers in the City

About three weeks ago, Eddie Fong and some of his friends from our church helped prepare a meal for the visiting health care workers from Indonesia. It smelled so good that soon we heard a knock on the kitchen door.  A homeless man had stepped out of his wheel chair from the parking lot driven by the smell of Eddie’s delicious chicken.  He asked if he and his friend could get some of that food that had been beckoning him.  I asked Eddie if there was enough and he communicated that he feared there wasn’t.  So I offered him a box of cereal from the cabinet by the door where we stock some food for the hungry.  He declined.  Frankly I felt annoyed.  I have thought a lot about that moment since then.  What was the annoyance about?  Was it that we couldn’t give him the food our Parkview folks were preparing for our guests from the other side of the world?  Was it because he picked and chose the food he wanted while the truly hungry might not?  There is truth in that too.  It so happens that last Tuesday we met a young homeless man who was very cheerful and who told us about his own private religion. He asked for some food and he was more than happy with the box of cereal we had offered the other man.

Friends, we have had homeless sleep around the church for decades now.  For years there was even one living under the floor boards of my office. They have slept behind the bamboo bush, outside the window of Donna’s office, next to the Heiwa, on the veranda of the Kansha and  in the courtyard garden.  I expect one or two are not too happy the courtyard is mostly closed off now the Kansha is a residence.  Jeremiah speaks of exile and of the strange city where people must find a place and he channels the words of God Who says:” seek the welfare of the city.”   The city is a place of exile, but the people are not asked to shun it or to fear it but to seek its welfare.  Sometimes even cities can provide us with “a spacious place” as Psalm 66 verse 12 says.  But this spacious place is not necessarily a house with three acres, it is a place where we can experience a sense of spiritual space.

The Presbytery held its meeting away from the city at Zephyr Point Lake Tahoe last Wednesday and Thursday.  Wednesday evening they had a speaker named Dewitt Jones, a former National Geographic photographer.  He gave an inspirational talk and he reminded us that what National Geographic has always done is “celebrate the best of life.”  Their photographs show the world in its greatest beauty.  In a sense this is what God asks the Hebrew exiles to:” to celebrate the best of the life they now have. “They are to accept what good there is.  They are told in so many words that the foreigner can bring wisdom and blessing to the locals just like the leper in the healing story in Luke is able to show his full gratitude and appreciation to Jesus even though he is the Samaritan and the others are not.  The foreigner can bring blessing.  We forget that and we certainly forget that in this election season.  The foreigners just need a chance.

Friends, but what about that homeless fellow who was picky about the food?   He too lives in the city.  He too is kind of a foreigner like we were all foreigners in this city or in other cities at one point. The text is Jeremiah says:”for the welfare of the city is your welfare?” What I think that means is that that welfare cannot be separate from the welfare others, including the discerning homeless man in search of Eddie’s haute cuisine.  Their lot is linked to our lot, practically but also spiritually.  “For the welfare of the city is your welfare.”  We can “celebrate what is good in life” as the text also seems to imply, but we must allow and empower others to do so always.  When it comes to the homeless we have found that is not so easy and we never seem to feel fulfilled.  But maybe something should be gnawing at us.  For the situation isn’t right.

One pastor at the Presbytery retreat said that:”the church should do two-thirds of its work for others, not for itself.  Another person said: but many churches are just struggling to survive.  This angered the pastor who was still stewing about when the meeting ended.  Yet once again the text says:” the welfare of the city is our welfare.” This is where we hope our residency program will start bearing fruit as we try to look outward more.

Rob Watkins, the Interim Presbytery Executive said that research shows most churches wait for visitors to come and he said:”they aren’t going to come.” We have to go out and engage with people.  That is the only way to do things in this day and age.  Friends, may we celebrate what is right with the city and pursue not only our welfare but all who dwell in it.  May God bless our efforts.

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Coach’s Corner

Published on October 10, 2016 by in Coach's Corner

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Reflection September 25

Published on October 10, 2016 by in Reflections

Jeremiah 32:14,15; I Timothy 6: 18,19

The future inside the present

After Lyndon Johnson signed the voting rights bill, something strange happened.  During the summer the ghettoes of America’s big cities exploded in violence.   Johnson took it personally. Why was this happening? He had made more progress in racial equality than all presidents excluding Abraham Lincoln.  It was a personal affront to him.  It was as if the nation had woken up out of a slumber of complacency about race.

What is going on in today’s cities, seems similar but it isn’t or is it.  With an African American president much of the nation was in a kind of illusion that racism was almost gone in America.  But as the evil it is in popped up in strange places, including in some of the nation’s police departments.  What makes this year different is that people are recording what happens.  So the cities are once again in turmoil.

Friends, perhaps the answer to Johnson’s question about why this was happening is that the past is always a part of the present.   The present carries traces of the past.  America is what it is because of its history and we never fully seem to deal with our history.  So it keeps coming back to haunt us.  This is not just true of our society, but of you and I also.  The fact that we have iron in our blood is very likely a remnant of the iron in the earth we emerged from.  So physically we carry traces of a distant past.  But the way we behave is also   It is also true of our values and In Jeremiah the people face the consequences of the past.  Things look bleak.  The past has poisoned the present.   How do you live in the present in a country that has no hope?  In our day and age we could ask: how do you live in Aleppo, in Syria, and see anything but smoke?  That is one lesson here, friends, we must deal with the past or it will haunt the present in our lives.

Yet at the same time, we must live in the present. We have to deal with the past, but we cannot live in it.  That’s just not healthy.  And as the Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vazquez says: “the past in unreliable, because our memory is unreliable.” (NPR September 2016).  We also cannot live in the future, for we would be a ball of anxiety and worry.  Yet 1Timothy tells us we must lay “a foundation for the future.”  We do so by trying to be good.  Then the text goes on to say:”so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

In other words living in the present must be real and worthwhile and meaningful, a life of engagement with others.   But inside the present we must live, lie the seeds of the future.

I have just told you about the visit of Indonesian health care workers. I told you how important it is to take a remnant of what was built in the past, strengthen in the present so that the depth of knowledge and quality of care will go up in the future.

Friends, as a congregation we too must live in the present.   As a congregation we too have to recognize the past and lay a foundation for the future, but we have to live in the present, living “a life that  really is life.”  It is a delicate balancing act isn’t it: dealing with the past, living the present and laying a foundation for the future?  Yet we must do all of them.  I think we do that pretty well however.

We could decide to live in the past, to think of a time in the fifties when churches were full and located in the center of society. Now we are more at the fringes.  We could decide to live in the future, thinking about our life without a parking lot and wonder what that will mean for the decades to come. But we are not doing that. I believe we are living in the present, for that is the only place we can live.

Nevertheless, sometimes the future needs a little push.  That was the point of the Indonesian  program.  The future does not come by itself or at least not in the shape we like it to come.  This is why we have our residency program, as a way of shaping and trying out the future, bringing in new personalities, new perspectives, new ways of serving God and new energy.   In Jeremiah a deed is purchased and put in a pot.  Land will be bought and sold. It is a promise that it is right to invest in the future.

For us personally the same questions are valid.  Are you living in the past instead of dealing with it?  Are you just existing in the present or are you fully living it? Are you pushing the future, to see where it might take you?  Do you have a dream in an earthen pot or have you given up on dreams altogether?  What is the task ahead of you for which you are laying the foundation today?  Only you can answer that question.   But let us be reminded that God’s grace guarantees us that the One of days goes by is with us now and will be in the days to come.  Thanks be to God!

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