Hello, everyone! I hope you are all enjoying good health and in excellent spirits. Thank you very much for attending today's service. It is our first monthly service for February, 2010.
Mr. Tekkan Yosano was a famous poet in the Meiji era who composed a poem, titled "A Poem of Yearning for Humanity."
Yosano wrote that the important matters in a mans' life are to find a good wife and faithful friends. I think I can say, without fear of correction, that I am blessed with a most wonderful wife, and in a minute I'll share the story of a special friend. But I would add to Yosano's list that I believe the most important task in life is to find the most worthy spiritual guide to life that one can. In that sense I was most fortunate at age 15 to find "my life master" in the late Rev. Soichiro Otsubo, founding minister of the Konko Church of Airaku.
My parents were both ardent Konko believers. My father searched for the real faith of our Founder, Konko Daijin, throughout his life. As a young man he believed that somewhere, there existed a minister whose faith in practice was similar to that of our Founder. As a young man my father was more than willing to go on a pilgrimage throughout Japan to try to find such a person, like Konko Daijin. After searching near and far my father believed he'd found a genuine mediator when he finally met Rev. Soichiro Otsubo.
Some time later, when I met him for the first time at age 15, I, too, deeply felt that there was something about this man that set him apart from others. I was awestruck by his gentle nature and great dignity. The more I heard his teachings the more I felt he was the appropriate guide for my life.
Twelve years later I made up my mind to try to seek the depth of virtue his faith had brought him. I became a trainee under his guidance and spent my life with him for nearly twenty years.
I came to understand that Rev. Otsubo believed that the core of faith was to live out the conviction that all is divine love by learning to see whatever occurred as evidence of the infinite workings of Kami. To emphasize this, in his sermon Rev. Otsubo often told three stories, with deep emotion. These are now the so-called three classics of Airaku. He said, "All truth for human fulfillment is included in these stories."
They are "Toyotake Rosho," "Six Jizos," and "Story of Gaining a Bridegroom." These are all classical Japanese stories. But Rev. Otsubo maintained that he had experienced all the things that happened in each of these three stories in pursuit of the real faith for human fulfillment. I will share stories two and three in my next two sermons.
But for today... the first story. He first heard ‘Toyotake Rosho' when he happened to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Konko Church of Hirao in Fukuoka City, October 25, 1948.
Because of the extreme poverty during the post-war period in Japan, he was so poor he wore his only summer suit, which was threadbare, all year round. His shoes were broken, and he carried a broken briefcase. But his spirit was not broken. He sought the real faith of our Founder with such enthusiasm that he put the will of Kami first, second and even third.
At the opening ceremony of the Hirao Church, Rev. Matsutaro Yasutake gave his sermon. He was a man of great divine virtue and talked about the story "Toyotake Rosho" in his sermon. Rev. Otsubo was greatly impressed by it and remembered the whole story.
The story tells of a young woman Joruri storyteller. Joruri is a dramatic narrative chanted to samisen accompaniment. This storyteller dominated the world of Joruri at that time. She loved to sing was apprenticed to a famous Joruri Master and was ultimately named Toyotake Rosho.
The other trainees were taught new songs one at a time. But her master only taught her one song, called "One Passage of Nozuki," even though she stayed under his guidance for three to five years. During the rest of the time she was asked only to babysit, cook and do laundry. She was not taught any other songs besides ‘One Passage of Nozaki.' She thought it was hopeless and deciding to give up. Secretly she left her master.
She got on a ship and waited for it to leave. Her thoughts turned to going home, without realizing her ambition. Without thinking, she sang out a story. The story she sang, in a mixture of joy and sorrow, was ‘One Passage of Nozaki,' the only song she'd been taught.
Suddenly she heard voices shouting, "Bravo." When she looked around, there were many people listening. She realized that her talent had been raised to this level by the wisdom of her master. Immediately she got off the ship and couldn't wait to return to her master.
When she got back it was unusually silent. No one was practicing their singing. Her master sat by himself, alone and lonely. She said to him, "I am very sorry."
He spoke, opening his mind to her for the first time. "When I heard your voice for the first time, I thought you had promise. I decided a special training was important for you. So I asked you to do chores. Although I only taught you One Passage of Nozuki, it contained all the concepts of Joruri, from laughter to weeping. When you can sing it with all your heart, you can sing others with equal skill as well. When you left here, I lost my energy to teach anyone else."
The young woman and her mentor took each other's hands. From then on she trained herself with all her heart under his guidance. In due time she became the number one female Joruri storyteller of the day.
This story profoundly touched Rev. Otsubo. At the time he first heard it, he was suffering from dire poverty. He had gone through a similar experience in his own personal story. He could never tell this story in a sermon without great emotion. Because it reminded him so vividly of his own bitter, but great experience. He used to say, "Sufferings are divine blessings in disguise."
He believed through faithful practice that everything that happens in your life is the Divine Parent's doing. The reason you have difficulties is that Kami expects great things for you. When you can accept each and every thing that happens as a way to deepen your peaceful and joyful heart, Kami will be pleased. More important, as you faithfully improve your heart through practice, Kami's glory will surely appear. Through Kami's glory you are blessed beyond measure.
I have tried to develop peace and joy in my heart by accepting each and every thing that has happened in my life as Kami's doing since I met Rev. Otsubo. Like the young Joruri singer, I now realize that Kami's glory has appeared in my life, step by step.
I would like to tell you about one very important step. Today is the birthday of one of my best American friends, Mr. Ben Vose. Happy Birthday, Ben!
When my family moved to the USA 15 years ago, my wife, Kanako, and I were sponsored as associate ministers of the Konko Church of Portland. Our eldest son, Mitsunori, entered the fourth grade at a local elementary school. Mr. Vose was his classroom teacher. He became interested in Mitsunori's achievement when he discovered that he'd come to the local school without any formal training in English, either in Japan or in the United States. Ben offered to tutor my son in English personally.
He visited our house once a week to teach Mitsunori English and before long I wanted him to teach me more about English too. He knew I was a Konko minister. We had wonderful conversations about religion because he is an earnest member of the Presbyterian Church. At the time I was working on an English translation of Rev. Otsubo's teachings with some minister friends at Airaku. I asked him to help edit our draft translations of Rev. Otsubo's speeches. The more he learned about the Konko Faith, the more interested he became. Several times he has said that through studying the Konko Faith he feels he has gained some valuable understanding of the early Christian Church.
Happily, although we live half a continent apart, we continue to learn together. He has edited all my English writings and speeches. He is intelligent and a clever writer. I am always amazed at how deeply he can understand what it is that I'm trying to say. It is the greatest of Kami's glories that we have gotten so well acquainted and deepened our mutual friendship as we have.
As I said earlier in this sermon, as I continue to develop my heavenly, earthly and orderly understanding of the nature of the universe through everything that happens, Kami's glory surely appears in my life more and more and I am blessed beyond expectation. Thank you!
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