Good morning everyone. I sincerely hope you are in great health and good spirits on this wonderful spring morning. It is always my great honor and pleasure to be in Portland to see all of you who I got to know very well. It is even a greater pleasure to be asked to speak in this most important celebration.
I'm sure most of you know that last Nov. 1st, we honored the worldwide 150th Anniversary of the Founding of the Konko Faith, with a Dedication Ceremony that transformed our Propagation Hall of Chicago into The Konko Church of Chicago.
I truly believe this was Kami's Divine Arrangement. But I am also convinced in my heart that without your welcoming love, prayers and support for us over the past 16 years, this wonderful new identity and the opportunity to serve Kami and people in the heart of America could never have happened. Revs. Michie & Lisa Uzunoe came all the way with members of our Parent Church in Portland to join us in this celebration.
It was memorable & I was overwhelmed by the awesome workings of Kami. I always feel grateful for all of you and this church every moment of each day of our ministry as we try to proclaim in faith as far and wide as possible in Chicago. Whenever I think of it feelings of awe, gratitude and joy well up in my heart. So in a way, my whole message to you today could be an attempt to say, "Thank you," so perfectly that you too could feel the great bond of connection that joins across the 2000 miles between our two churches.
But it's a brand new year. 2010 is already four months old and it is time to look forward instead of sitting back on our laurels. I have been thrilled by the thought that this year of 2010 might possibly be more remarkable than ever before for the Konko Church of Chicago.
Early on the morning January 1st I stepped out of the entrance of the church to pray to Heaven and Earth. Above me was a beautiful full moon shining brightly. I was mesmerized by its beauty and solemnity. I stood in speechless wonder for a while.
If we represent Kami as the sun, then the moon can be seen as our heart. The moon itself doesn't have a light. It only reflects the light of the sun. If we see the moon as a crescent, it is reflecting only a fraction of the sunlight falling on it. If the moon is a half moon, it is reflecting only that much more of the sun's light.
A Japanese proverb says, "The full moon shines so brilliantly it looks as if it is full daylight." Similarly, when our heart becomes perfectly round it means we have an unbreakable peaceful and joyful heart that can reflect the whole of Kami's light.
The thought came to me when I saw a beautiful full moon right in front of me on New Year's day that Kami wanted me to have a heart like the full moon by practicing this purity of faith for the whole year.
So how do we practice this faith? I'd like to share with you three traditional folk-tales I learned in growing up and becoming a minister. They are "Toyotake Rosho," "Six Jizos," and "Choosing a Bridegroom." I had surgery of hernia on both of my groins on March 1, this year. When you know how I put these three stories in my faith practice, you could understand the essence of the Konko Faith.
The first story tells of a young woman who is a Joruri storyteller. Joruri is a kind of dramatic narrative, chanted to samisen accompaniment. As a girl she loved to sing and was apprenticed to a famous Joruri Master and the story tells how she became the most famous Joruri singer of the time.
All the other trainees were taught new songs one at a time as their talents grew. But her master only taught her one song called "One Passage of Nozaki." The rest of the time, she was asked only to babysit, cook and do laundry. She patiently stayed under his guidance for three to five years. But finally she thought it was hopeless and deciding to quit.
Secretly she left her master to catch a ship and leave forever. As she thought of going home a failure she sang out a story of her misery without thinking. The story she sang with a mixture of great joy and deep sorrow was ‘One Passage of Nozaki,' the only song she knew. Suddenly, as she fell silent, she heard voices all around her shouting, "Bravo."
When she looked up she was stunned to see how many people had been 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.
As she approached, no one was practicing their singing. Her master sat by himself, alone and lonely. She said to him, "I am very sorry."
He replied opening his mind to her for the first time. "When I first heard your voice I thought you had promise. I decided you needed very special training. That's why I asked you to fill your time with chores. Though I only taught you "One Passage of Nozaki," it contained every emotion of Joruri, from laughter to weeping. When you can sing it with all your heart, you can sing all others with equal skill. When you left, I lost my desire to teach anyone else."
She and her master took each other's hands. From that day on she trained herself with his guidance and a willing heart. Ultimately she became the number one female Joruri storyteller of the day.
Like Toyotake Rosho I learned from my mentor, Rev. Soichiro Otsubo, founding minister of the Konko Church of Airaku in Japan, that there is only one way to deal with the many problems of life. From this story I learned Kami's true heart behind any problem. I learned to face any challenge by accepting whatever happened in my life, good or bad, as a gift from Kami. That is why I accepted my double hernia operation with deep gratitude.
To me, it became Kami's challenge to become a more perfect, genuine mediator. The whole time I said repeatedly in my mind, "Thank you Kami-sama for giving me this faith training. Thank you Kami-sama for your Divine Love."
The second story is called "Six Jozos." A Jizo is a guardian spirit for children.
Once there was an old couple who made hats to sell for their living. It was the day before the New Year and they were so poor they had no money to make rice cakes for their celebration. So the old man went to town on foot to sell the few woven hats on hand to get money for at least a couple of cakes.
He nearly walked his feet off in a heavy snowstorm but he couldn't sell even one hat. Discouraged, he was on his way home when he passed a temple, blanketed with snow. Six stone Jizo figures stood before the temple covered in snow.
The old man thought, "They must feel very cold!"
He swept snow off the Jizos' heads and put one of the woven hats on each of them. But he had only five hats to sell… and there were six Jizos. Then he wrapped his old towel around the head of last small statue saying, "Please accept this substitute for a while."
At home his wife eagerly awaited his return. "How did it go?" she asked.
He told her what had happened on his way back home. She replied, "You did a good thing. Come, let's spend New Year enjoying our good feelings instead of pounded rice cakes."
What she said is actually a play-on-words. In Japanese the words ‘Pounded Rice' Cakes (Tsuita Mochi) & Feelings (Kokoro Mochi) have the same sound in part.
They went to bed enjoying their good feelings. They were awakened in the middle of the night by a familiar sound. They heard the pounding of rice coming from their closet. Opened the doors they found six Jizos pounding rice and making cakes with all their might. Not only that, the Jizos were rebuilding the couple's house and bringing in great quantities of food and clothing. There was everything necessary to provide human happiness. The old people were very surprised!
Not only they had a New Year more wonderful than ever before..., but from that day on they lived the blessed lives the rest of their lives. Now, what do you think is the most important lesson in this story?
I believe it is importance of having total acceptance, or joy, in your heart, whatever situation. You see it was not enough for the old man alone to accept his situation with pleasure. Suppose the old lady had told him he had done something stupid by giving all the hats to the Jizos, the six Jizos would never have appeared and the couple' happiness would never have happened.
It was the compassion in the heart of the old man and the old woman in accepting her husband's caring for the Jizos with joy that agreed with divine and amazing heart of Heaven and Earth. As a result, they lived happy lives free from worry.
Like this story I was not the only person who respected my surgery with satisfaction as faith training. My wife Kanako also accepted it as the opportunity for her to renew herself, which is the essence of "Six Jizos" story.
Now we come to the last story. It is called, "Choosing a Bridegroom."
This very ancient story tells of a beautiful young lady from a very wealthy family who has reached the age for her to marry. But she will not marry just anyone and her family agrees. She sends messengers all over Japan announcing that on a given date she will only marry the first brave man who passes a series of the most challenging tests.
Many young men gathered on the appointed day. Each one of them was a wonder and seemed they'd make an ideal husband. They were strong, intelligent and handsome. However, before they begin, they were told they'd be tested individually and if they failed, it was on pain of death or they had to leave immediately with the same dignity as they arrived, without uttering a sound.
One at a time they went to be tested. One by one they failed to return. Actually after each was tested they had run away.
Finally there was only one suitor left. Actually, the young lady had chosen this young man to be last, because he was the one she secretly hoped would succeed. But she would not accept him unless he truly passed all the tests.
There were many difficult and challenging kinds of tests, indeed. But the suitor prevailed and the young lady took him at last to a dark, mysterious room, saying, "You must know and accept my most secret desires in order to marry me. I have very unusual tastes."
Inside the room was a group of witnesses and… to the young man's horror… a pile of human bones! He was absolutely shocked. The sight of the bones was bad enough… but she broke one in two with a loud snap, put a bite-sized morsel in her mouth and ate it without batting an eye. Then she handed the other end to the would-be bridegroom and said, "Now you..."
Everyone but the young suitor failed at this point. But, without taking his eyes from the young woman's gaze he ate it in one bite. To his complete amazement his mouth filled with a delicious sweetness and utter joy transformed the young lady's face!
You see... it was made out of crystallized sugar.
So the cunning young lady in a good way got her ideal husband and the brave young man who had so completely trusted her got the young lady he desired. By eating one of the bones she offered, even though it seemed like a totally unreasonable request, he proved how completely he trusted her.
It's impossible to imagine how pleased she was. This was the most important thing she was looking for in a life partner.
This is the same kind of trust I relied upon in accepting my surgery with complete gratitude. I left everything up to the loving care of Kami and I believe Kami was pleased. Because it is the behavior Kami longs for from all of us. Received in this light, my hernia surgery definitely became a Divine gift of love and an opportunity for me to renew myself.
All of us can come to understand that by living out the Konko Faith every moment of our lives, we more perfectly know Divine Love by experiencing it. We can feel through every experience the manifestation of Kami's desire to share with us the Divine Power and Virtue of Divine Love.
Our Founder's words help guide us to accept this great blessing and in faith, to receive even something that is most painful as a blessing also. If we do, this Faith is simple, clear-cut and blessings do follow.
The lessons of these three stories can guide and assist us through every problem we encounter as well. Understanding this we can apply the messages of each in accepting, with gratitude, whatever occurs in our life as Kami's gift no matter how difficult they might be. When we appreciate that everything is Divine Love through constant practice, we are blessed fully so that every possible human need for happiness comes to us. As the Divine Reminder says, "Kami's blessings begin within our own grateful and caring hearts in harmony and joy."
The lesson learned from my hernias was, for me, a resounding echo of Kami's Divine heart. And it echoed through me into the lives of my entire family. May this experience continue to show forth Kami's glory throughout our church, our neighborhoods and city, the nation and ultimately to the world. May it become a blessing beyond all measure.
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