Hello, Everyone! Thank you very much for attending our second monthly service in October. We had our wonderful Ikigami Konko Daijin Grand Ceremony on Oct. 3. At that time Kami brought Rev. Tateo Suenaga all the way from Brazil to be a guest speaker. Suenaga is the head-minister of the Konko Church of Birigui, Brazil. When we first met, he was a senior trainee for Kanako and me under the guidance of our late, great mentor, Rev. Soichiro Otsubo, founder of our home church, the Konko Church of Airaku in Japan.
Rev. Suenaga's sermon was great and inspiring. Today's attendees couldn't show up on that day. So I would like to share his sermon with all of you today. His subject was a three-part story of the Way. That is, the way of Konko Faith. The part one told of our Founder Ikigami Konko Daijin, the person who had opened this Way. Part two was about Rev. Soichiro Otsubo who had clarified this Way. The final part told how Rev. Suenaga had walked this Way.
I mentioned part one or part two many times in my previous sermons. So today I would like to deliver the third part of Rev. Suenaga's sermon.
(Translation - Rev. Suenaga Sermon, 10_03_2010, by Mitsunori Takeuchi)
Lastly, I would like to talk about the steps I took, on that same road.
When I arrived in South America in November of 1979 half way across the globe from my childhood home, it fulfilled the divine call to propagate the teachings of the Konko Faith to the world.
Now when I'm asked to describe the past 31 years in one sentence, I'd have to admit that our South America Mission was opened and has survived by simply accepting each and every that happens: day by day; minute-by-minute and second-by second as Kami's Divine blessing.
There were times when things happened that were very devastating. Honestly, I wondered more than once, "Might this put an end to my missionary work in South America?" I tried to face those times head on without thinking about myself.
For example, 3 years after our propagation began I was faced with a situation where all the Japanese believers stopped coming to the church at the same time. Our church was rented and so the worship hall was very small. When it came for out Grand Ceremony many other Brazilians came to visit the church with their friends. Finally I discovered the reason was that native Brazilian believers were visiting the church so frequently. This offended many first generation Japanese believers. Out of respect for age, these older members disliked the Brazilians. So when the elders stayed away, everyone stayed away.
The reason this was such a problem was, when the Japanese believers left, most of them had made it a habit of donating each time they visited a church. But the native Brazilian people don't have this kind of giving tradition. So, no matter how many more Brazilian people came to visit, there were fewer donations for the church. Had this continued, the church would very quickly not be able to pay off its bills and would naturally have ceased to exist.
When I decided to accept this event as without judgment, with the open heart, as though I have become a fool or crazy, I received a great cheering message from Kami.
It was a teaching from Airaku Church's first parent minister, Rev. Otsubo that had been sent to me. It stated, "Even after the whole mountains burns, the new bracken (fern) will sprout from its ashes."
I was moved without any reasoning, and my tears could not stop for a while. Even now, when I recall the memories of back then, it brings back deep emotions.
From there, strange workings started to happen. Although none of Brazilian people gave offerings until then, there came to be some amongst them that have started. Of course, I did not mention a word about the financial situation of the church, or anything related to that matter, some just started to offer without knowing anything. The Brazilian believers do not put the donation in an envelope; they just bring the money right to the altar.
Before this happened, one day I had written a letter to Rev. Otsubo with displeasure that the Brazilian believers do not give offerings. The reply from one of the ministers in training quoted Rev. Otsubo's reply as, "Do not take a look at the offerings." From then on, even today, I don't pay any attention to the offerings. In fact this is similar in every Konko churche, especially those in South America.
When talking about happening, there are some that may threaten ones life, or some that may fringe on an existence of one's church, but in fact, I believe the most important ones in terms of maturing one's faith are the happenings that occur in our daily lives.
For example, the closest presence I feel is my family. Next are, the church believers, then Konko Churches in Brazil, the community, the Nikkei communities, a state called Sao Paulo, a country called Brazil, happening in Japan, happenings in the World. All those happenings that may relate to me, I look at each one of them as a blessing bestowed upon me by Kamisama, accept it as a blessing, or more precisely, look at the happening as a foundation to build the heart of heaven and earth, sun and the moon. I believe that such a perception exemplifies the faithful life of Konkokyo.
I think that out of all the happenings that occur daily, 80 percent could be said to be happenings that occurs through the applications of family members.
To put it in more detailed example, when I was writing up the draft for this speech, Birigui's Japanese Association held an Art Festival in conjunction with a 40th anniversary celebration of Women's Association of Birigui, at 1 pm on that day.
Given the choice I did not want to attend the event because I had a mountain of preparation before my trip back to Japan.
My wife went on ahead to the opening that began after lunch, at about 1 pm. As she was leaving she said, "Remember the dinner party is at around 5 pm after the stage performance. It would be embarrassing if you just showed up right before the dinner party."
I always take an hour-long nap after lunch, so I rested that day as well. But that day I over slept for some strange reason. When I opened my eyes it was already 5 pm. I got up and walked to the kitchen just as the phone rang.
"Are you coming or not?" my wife asked and her voice sounded peeved.
I answered, "I'm coming, I'm coming," quickly and humbly, but I felt heavily burden.
Then I thought, "I'll take this situation as a blessing." I did not waste any time and one of my children stopped what she was doing in the kitchen and said, "If you are going, I will drive you."
To me it was like hearing the cheerful voice of Kamisama. And I got there just before the dance performance of one of the church believers. I felt the natural rhythm of Kami's working. I also saw many people whom I hadn't see for a long time. It was wonderful to be able to greet them. At the very end of the program, after the dance performance by the Women's Association, there was a joint performance of Yosakoisoran by the church youth group and the Japanese Association youth group.
Birigui's Yosakoisoran troupe is well known because they won a nationwide championship competition in July.
The core members of Birigui's Yosakoisoran group are of the church's youth group.
On that day, I came very late and was sitting at the last row. But before the Yosakoi performance began the seating was rearranged and the dancing took place right in front of my eyes.
The church's youth group comes to practice at Taiko every Saturday. They pick a person from the group to lead prayer after the practice. Then I give a sermon. Because we have this relationship, they were very glad to see me in the last row and performed the Yosakoi in right front of me. I felt as though I was in the natural groove. When you take time to notice and savor each happening, there is always an uplifting message in it somewhere from Kamisama and the rhythm of nature emerges.
Something is happening 24 hours of every single day. It's our choice what to do with them. By accepting all of these things as Kami's gifts we can practice building our hearts into the reflection of the heart of the universe. In other words, it's up to us to recognize each happening in a way that sets them apart as an illustration of the heart of heaven. Whatever happens can be overcome by having a heart of earth. Every thing that happens can be transformed into a reflection of the brilliant heart of the sun and moon. The result of constantly choosing Faith Practice in this Way is that you will eventually nurture a grateful and caring heart into being.
The founder said, "Kami's blessings begin within grateful and caring hearts, in harmony and joy."
A few minutes ago I said the South America Missionary had begun by respecting each and every that occurred as a blessing from Kami. So when all is said and done, it could be said that it has continued through developing a collection of grateful and caring hearts.
In the end the Konko Faith has been propagated through accepting every happening as blessing, and the end result is directed toward each and every one of us individually. I would like together with everyone to continue taking on each happening as Kami's blessing.
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