Good afternoon, welcome and thank you very much for joining this annual Spring Memorial Service of the Konko Church of Chicago.
Memorials are a time for remembrance. This memorial service is a time to remember our ancestors, of course; but it's even more than that when we can see it as a good time to honor all those who have gone before us into the next world. Countless friends to complete strangers have contributed to make this great land that it is today. It is appropriate that we acknowledge their efforts and honor their sacrifices. It is they that have made our lives more meaningful for us. Thank you for coming together to let us show them our appreciation.
As we acknowledge our forebears, let us ask them to draw close to our families alive today. May they join us to help unite our peaceful and joyful hearts with theirs and receive blessings that will enrich us all in the future.
Ancestors are the foundation of our inheritance. If we separate ourselves from those roots through neglect, the branches of our tree-of-life suffer and die. Therefore it is very important to respect and honor our ancestors with this Memorial Service. Earlier today we prayed especially to honor the Mitama spirits of forebears of those who are close to this Church. And I do believe they were listening to us. They are here with us and I know they must be pleased to see all of you.
Each day, morning and evening, I extend a prayer appreciation to the Mitama spirits that are the foundation of this church. I do this especially diligently during March and September, which are memorial months. I say special prayers after each evening's regular service, and read teachings of my spiritual mentor, the late Rev. Soichiro Otsubo. As I pray to the Mitama spirits I encourage them to continue to develop their peaceful, joyful hearts. I have found great inspiration in the Mitama spirits of those whom I called out during my special prayers.
I'm sure that by now they know the vital importance of holding peace and joy in their hearts. I feel encouraged by them because I sense they do their best to develop their hearts in the next world. I have grown to feel a profound oneness with our ancestral spirits and all departed souls. As I pray for them, I ask them to strengthen and deepen the peace and joy in my heart too.
I've found an especially powerful connection with each of them. This is particularly true with my patron minister, Rev. Soichiro Otsubo. His life was a wonderful example of faith. He died in 1994, the same year my family came as missionaries to the US. Rev. Otsubo told about a dream he'd had a few months before we left Japan.
He told us he'd dreamed Kami seemed to ask him what words he wanted to leave in this world. He replied, "There are no other words for me to leave to this world than Peaceful and Joyful heart (Wa-Ga Kokoro). I have been seeking Peace & Joy in myself throughout my whole life. I still seek Peace & Joy within, every day, at each and every moment, and wish to continuously seek Peace & Joy in the next world."
He added, "It is due to Kami's blessings and this Faith that I will be able to enter the next world with this kind of gratitude and delight."
What a blessed heart he achieved in his lifetime! He did everything he could to accept whatever happened as Kami's doing. He used every event to deepen his heart! It was through his absolute faith that he completely changed my life. Honestly, he's the reason I'm here speaking to you today. Like him, I want to give myself to serving Kami and people in Chicago. For 13 years I have felt his presence beside me, supporting this ministry. As you know we dedicated our Konko Church of Chicago last year in honor of the worldwide commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Konko Faith's founding.
Whenever I offered prayers in front of the Mitama altar I'm reminded that these blessings have not been received through my faith at all. I believe they come through the virtue of all the Mitama spirits supporting us. Daily I pray, "May my heart be deepened into a more peaceful and joyful heart. May I accept each and everything that happens in my life as faith training, with all my heart!"
Still... my heart has not yet reached the stage of being unbreakable. I always feel that I cannot receive any blessings through such a fragile heart. And yet the wonder is that I find myself constantly blessed beyond measure.
I am overwhelmed by the fact that first, Konko Daijin opened this way of the peaceful and joyful heart and then, that it has been passed down in an unbroken succession from Him to our fifth Principal Mediator, Konko Sama we have today.
Our predecessors, our ancestors, did their best to be of great service to Kami and people while they were in this world. They devoted themselves to perfect peace and joy in the next world. They knew Kami's glory would appear to deepen their peaceful, joyful hearts. This ministry has been richly blessed through the virtues of all those Mitama spirits. As I realize this my determination is renewed to perfect peace and joy in my own heart as I respect each event in my life without failing and ultimately achieve the peace and happiness which is the reflection of Kami's glory.
We have all been blessed by the virtues of our ancestors. I realize more than ever when I offer my special prayers during this month. Actually, it started happening last month. Let me give you some examples.
Masae-san's mother, Mrs. Ume Nishimura passed away on Feb. 17 in 1970. This year is her 40th Mitama anniversary. We extended our appreciation to her Mitama spirit during the evening prayer on that day this year. During our prayers I felt Ume-san wanted to record the Nishimura's footprints in the history of the Konko Church of Chicago. And so I made up my mind that after today's service I would like to learn as many details as possible about the Nishimura family by hearing the Ogawa family stories.
Also, on Feb. 19, 1971, Mr. & Mrs. Harold Nakaoka's daughter, Charlotte-san passed away. We offered our prayers to her Mitama spirit on that day during our evening prayer service. It was quite a surprise when our Korean neighbors brought us some roll sushi (fish on vinegar rice) on that evening. We offered that sushi to Charlotte-san and with a sense of awe I prayed to her Mitama spirit.
The written Japanese characters for sushi translate literally as, "to preside over celebration."
Through Kami's uniquely appropriate gift of sushi, I believe that even though Charlotte-san died when she was very young, causing her parents incalculable grief, her Mitama spirit is blessed in the next world by the virtue of her parents' sincere and generous faith.
And it's continued this month. Tim-san's father, Mr. Terry Ogawa passed away on March 14 in 1996. I have prayed to his Mitama spirit to show me his wishes since the beginning of this month. Then Rev. Joanne Tolosa, head-minister of the Konko Church of San Francisco, sent me the ‘Chicago Families Memorial Lists.' Earlier that same evening someone had given us the most delicious sponge cake. It was made by the Fukusaya in Nagasaki, Japan. Fukusaya is written in Japanese as "Blessing, Sand and Shop." During the evening prayer we offered it to the Mitama spirit of Mr. Terry Ogawa. I believe his Mitama spirit was blessed in the next world by this gift.
Finally, another coincidence involved the Mitama spirit of my father. Mr. Michinori Takeuchi passed away on March 26, 2008. I happened to find a book in our house, published by the Konko Church of Katsuragi that I'd forgotten I had. It contained some of my father's speeches which he had given around the time he was the mayor of Imari. When I read it, I was awestruck by the depth of his faith.
Reading my father's speeches, it was clear that over the years he listened to Rev. Otsubo's teachings, my father came to clearly understand the true connection between heaven and earth he'd had sought throughout his life. As Rev. Otsubo so succinctly expressed it, "All is Divine Love."
My father was very thoughtful when he spoke. These speeches were filled with logic and conviction. Just reading them again, I knew I should translate them from Japanese into English. I believe they would be of great value to vast numbers of unhappy English-speaking people around the world.
I cannot properly express my great appreciation to all these Mitama spirits. But together, by being part of today's Memorial Service, we can help the Mitama spirits of those who have gone before accumulate divine virtue and more perfectly become one with Kami.
So, let us reverently honor these precious Mitama spirits. They are our heritage. As they are now, we someday shall be. May we so live that we too become spirits, worthy of being one with Kami.
Let us begin by caring for all those who live with us between heaven and earth. Let us then add together with them the spirits, past, present and future, in a pledge that beginning now, we shall work to create a new era.
An era in which the Divine Will of the Tenchi Kane No Kami will be fulfilled! May we create an era in which peace and joy will shine forth from the hearts of all people in this world, together with the power and virtue of all the Mitama spirits who have gone from this world into the next to show us The Way!
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