The Body of Christ
| 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13
|Sun, August 3, 2003
Rev. Maki Fushii
|It is now exactly 1 year since my family started to attend services at U-Hill. Mei, who was still unsure on her feet when we arrived, now commands a vast territory and so enjoys the world around her that she resists retiring from it at the end of each day. David and I have been spending a good deal of time many evenings going through the names of all her favorite people and dolls, as well as the beach and salmonberries, saying "good night" to each of them. One such evening, Mei finished with a hearty "thank you!" at the end of it all. When she said these two words, I felt a little startled. I was made to realize the importance of a grateful heart. There is an old saying in Japan, originally a Buddhist teaching, "to know is to have enough." We are all born from our mothers possessing nothing more than a breath and a heartbeat. Whenever we stop to realize that we receive more than we can hold in our outstretched arms, the words "thank you" become a prayer of gratitude.
But we often go through our day without this realization. Today's first reading records the failures caused by human pride. King David is remembered as a great leader. His many triumphs and his establishment of a peaceful and stable kingdom are recorded in the scriptures for all posterity. But amid his many military victories, it is also recorded that he committed adultery with Bathsheba, wife of one of his most faithful men Uriah, made her conceive, and sent Uriah to his death in battle.
Using today's terminology, David treated both Bathsheba and Uriah like objects, not as human beings with independent value and identity. David sacrificed them to satisfy his desires, and felt no pain or remorse. David's actions, which we might label human objectification, or a form of materialism, were evil in God's eyes. Perhaps no-one could criticize such cruelty by a King under an absolute monarchy, but even the King was subject to correction under Israel's monarchy system of the time, for God could judge the King through the prophets. This is a significant point.
The prophet Nathan did this by telling David a story involving a case of injustice. Perhaps Nathan elected to do this because he found it hard to confront the King directly. Or maybe he was wise enough to know that people don't listen well to direct warnings about their own actions, but can listen calmly when it's about someone else. By speaking in the form of a juridical parable, Nathan ensured that David would listen without going into a rage. Not recognizing that the wealthy man who exploits the poor man in the story is himself, David reacts with indignation to the story's injustice. The dramatic climax of Nathan's strategy and the moment of recognition for David comes in verse 7, with the words, "You are the man!" The truth is revealed and judgement is passed.
For myself, a Japanese citizen, this story leads me to recall Japan's war responsibilities in the Asia-Pacific War. Since the end of that war, most of Japan's 100 million people have thought of themselves as victims, of the nuclear bomb and blanket bombings of the major cities, who lost family and suffered under the repression of Western imperialism. Without any self-examination of our own history, the way we treated other peoples of Asia with contempt and invaded their lands so we might acquire more resources, wealth and power, we have achieved economic development in the post-war era by often using Asian countries as stepping stones. While we have expressed indignation concerning injustices wrought by the West, we have failed to recognize the injustices perpetrated by our own nation.
However, Japan's Christian churches have made an effort to give witness to Christ by first confessing the churches' acquiescence in Japan's evil deeds and calling for Japan to take responsibility for the war, as well as for making just restitution. You might say that, just as the prophet Nathan was charged by God to judge the beloved David, the Christian minority has made it its mission to perform the prophetic task of judging our beloved country. The message of such prophesying is not a comfortable one for most Japanese. Perhaps this is one reason why the Christian population in Japan has never surpassed 1%.
Returning to 2 Samuel, the Bible does not end with the sad tale of David's sinfulness. It goes into greater detail about the process of how David recovered a sense of justice through the prophet's words. What is important is that David recognized his sin, humbled himself before God and repented. Psalm 51 is the song of confession David wrote when Nathan's words revealed David's sins. In verse 17 David sings, "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit." Only when the walls of our pride are completely flattened can God rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, or can we return to holiness.
This story and song leads us to ponder the amazing grace of God; how we, who are as foolish and sinful as David, are granted the possibility of reconciliation with God and our fellow human beings through Jesus. It is a grace beyond any price. In this world so filled with injustice, we are given the chance to renew our participation in God's creation, through Christ the reconciler.
The New Testament reading, from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, challenges us to place our trust in the reconciling Christ, to repent our sins and choose a new life without fear. The virtues required for this appear in verses 2-4: humility, gentleness, patience, bearing together in love, and making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. These are serious challenge to anyone immersed in the habits and norms of our competitive world, where the goal is to proudly and forcefully stand, not with, but above others. Paul wrote this letter to the church in a region called Ephesus. It offers a glimpse of how Paul and other Christians visited each other and were strengthening their bonds. In a time when travel between places was difficult and time-consuming, we can imagine how precious such visits must have been. The letter is concerned with how the Christian community, which was still a loose network of individuals and congregations, could support each other in their common effort to become a single body of Christ.
This undertaking still continues today, in the Christian ecumenical movement. Many people, living letters of Christ (2Corinthians, 3:3), have bridged differences of denomination, culture and language to work for "justice, peace and the integrity of God's creation" as one family inhabiting our big house Earth. The movement has unfolded over the years through mutual visitation, and by learning about the situation of each-other's societies. For me, the opportunity to worship upon the very ground where the World Council of Churches assembled in 1983 has been very meaningful, because ecumenism was an important focus in each of the churches I served in before coming here. International Christian University, where I was for 6 years until last summer, was established shortly after the war by funds donated by Japanese and North American Christians of all denominations, to offer peace education and vision to the youth of Japan. Since its beginning, ICU has strived to be an ecumenical community. By entering this community and worshipping with people of various races, languages and denominations, I felt like I learned more about who I was. By encountering what is different, we recognize our own identity, as well as how little we know about others.
I have heard from Japanese Christians who attended the WCC assembly here--actually in a great tent erected on the grounds of St Andrew's Hall--how they experienced a unique and deeply moving fellowship with their Vancouver hosts, as well as the many people from around the globe with whom they shared daily worship. Many remember the Vancouver assembly as the beginning of a particularly vibrant phase in the ecumenical movement. In Japan, it gave impetus to Christians of Okinawa and Ainu heritage, minority peoples of the South and North who have their own histories, cultures and languages, to articulate their own valuable perspectives. A minister from Okinawa, the string of southern islands that suffered devastating loss of civilians in the Pacific War and continued to suffer under virtual occupation by US forces after the war, once said; "If the church is truly the body of Christ, then all parts of the body will be aware of the pain felt when one small part is hurt. If the body cannot feel the pain of one of its parts, this can only mean the body is dead." If we are to be one body, the very first step is to listen to each-other, especially to voices from the extremities, the voices of small, or regional churches, the voices of people who don't or can't speak up in their congregation.
Whenever the churches of Asia gather in the name of our common faith, Japan’s churches open with a confession of war responsibility and apology in an effort to build bonds of peace and seek unity in the Spirit with their sister churches of Asia. For example, in 1987, women representing the churches of Japan, Korea and Koreans in Japan met in Korea to discuss issues related to the restoration of dignity and honor to women who were victims of the Japanese Imperial Army’s sexual slavery and the importance of this issue within the overall mission of East-Asian churches. This issue has become such a serious international problem that the UN Commission on Human Rights’ Committee on Contemporary Slavery has issued a warning to the government of Japan. When the Christian women first met in Seoul, they felt hopeless because of the problem’s sheer magnitude. However, through the involvement of many other Christians, public hearings were held in Tokyo in December 1992, to hear the testimonies of many victims of the Asia Pacific war who came from all over Asia. It was the first such forum to be held in Japan since the war ended nearly 50 years earlier. For several days around the time of these hearings, I accompanied some of the witnesses, mostly Asian women, but also a Dutch woman who was in Indonesia. As a minister, this was a truly precious advent season for me. In Japan there are still some people who scorn these women as they would prostitute and hurl mean words at them. Some women were so overcome with emotion during their testimony, or in response to insensitive questions by the media that they literally collapsed in anguish. If you can imagine dozens of testimonials given by people who suffered injustices like Uriah and Bathsheba, this is what it was like. But by speaking the truth, these women experienced healing, and by listening to their stories, I and countless others were able to join the search for truth, reconciliation and restoration of the victims’ humanity.
Believe it or not, we were able to feel a sense of hope, as if we saw the “Gospel’s light.” For myself, the first time I felt this was when I met Maria Rosa Henson, the first Philipina to offer testimony. Maria was just 12 years old when she was raped by Japanese soldiers, taken from her family, placed in a so-called “comfort station” and sexually assaulted over a long period. The trauma of this left her with a life-long speech impediment. Just before she gave her testimony in the hearings, she said to me in the waiting room, “I prayed to God last night.”
“What did you pray?” I asked.
“I prayed that I might be able to speak the truth in love, not out of hate. Truth cannot be communicated by hatred. I prayed that I might be able to tell the truth so I can forgive you, just as Christ forgave me.”
The woman before me was transformed in that moment, from an old, frail victim of war crimes struggling against disability and poverty, to a brave and faithful woman who would tell us about justice and truth.
I learned later from reading her autobiography that she was an illegitimate child, born to a large landowner father and a mother who worked on his estate. But she loved both of her parents. When she was attending a Catholic mission school as a child, a classmate once said to her, “You’re just like a weed that grows all over the place.” Although she was shocked and hurt by these words, she found herself replying with the words of that song by Alexander: "All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: in love, God made them all. Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, God made their glowing colours, God made their tiny wings."
Through my meeting with her, I felt that the words of Ephesians 4:6 were confirmed: “God is above all, through all and in all.” God is in every moment, with every person, and works through all beings. May the churches in all parts of the world work together in love and humility so that we may unite and grow as the body of Christ. And may we learn to say “Thank you God” with all our hearts, at all times. Amen.