The Way to Our Salvation
We are living in a time when a number of us are feeling some fear and suspicion. I know I am. The other day I was in a crowded public place, and I found myself looking around, being wary of who might be in my midst. It was a new feeling for me. I suspect I am not the only one suddenly seeing the world with somewhat more appraising eyes.
This fear, this guardedness, is now being exploited in what some would call political discourse and what others would call ignorance writ large. Politicians, pundits and putzs aside, I wonder how it is that people of faith, people like you and I should conduct our lives in the midst of some of this fear?
The prophet Isaiah, said O so many years ago, "Surely God is my salvation: I will trust and not be afraid...(Isaiah 12:2)
And biblical scholar, Mariam Kamell says, "God expects his people to behave, [and] not merely believe. (p 69 Feasting on the Word).
In the midst of fear, preconceptions, and even outright prejudice, how are we, people of faith, how are we to behave?
When Beth Taylor, our former seminarian was staying over at my house, Friday night before preaching at Emily's ordination yesterday she and I were chatting about our upcoming sermons and Beth reminded me of the story of Archbishop Nathaniel Uematsu, the Anglican Primate of Japan.
She said, remember Bonnie in 2009, when the Chicago Consultation was hosting four different Archbishops at the Episcopal General Convention a couple of nights before the archbishops were scheduled to leave, you sent me down to the end of the dinner table to sit with the Archbishop of Japan and figure out where he was on LGBT rights.
You said, "Go talk to him find out if we have lost him."
To which she said, "But Bonnie I'm only a seminarian."
To which I said, "Doesn't matter he likes you. Go"
So Beth and Bishop Nathaniel started talking.
As they talked, he said to Beth, "You have a southern accent?"
To which she replied, "Why yes." How do you know Southern accents?
He said, "I went to school in Enid Oklahoma."
Then he began to tell her this story.
At one point in his life Nathaniel wanted to be an Opthamologist. It turns out one of the premier programs in the world is located in Enid, Oklahoma. So Nathaniel, a young man, from Japan moves to Enid Oklahoma to pursue his studies.
As the case with most Japanese people, he was not a Christian, but rather practiced Shinto.
One Sunday morning, Nathaniel found himself passing by an Episcopal church. On a whim he decided to go inside. To see.
He sat through the worship service, in the back of the church. At the offertory the priest invited all who wished to come and receive communion. So when it came time for communion, watching the other people in attendance, so he would know what to do Nathaniel went up and received communion. And then and there he had a full-blown conversion experience. Boom. Just like that. Just like in the bible.
Following the service he went up to the priest and he asked if he could be baptized.
The priest said yes, "Of course."
Some weeks later after conversation and preparation, Nathaniel was baptized.
The thing was, although he was at that church for four years throughout the course of his studies, the people never seemed to warm up to him. He said to Beth, "they were cold."
"I was baptized into that community, but never really welcomed by the people."
Eventually he realized that the patriarch of the congregation, an older man named Bob in particular didn't like him. That patriarch's dislike just seemed to infect and affect all the other parishioners. It turns out that Bob, during WWII had been in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
The war had ended some 35 years before so it hadn't occurred to Nathaniel that it might be an issue. But it was for Bob. And Bob's feelings toward Nathaniel seemed to just ooze throughout the congregation. Nevertheless, Nathaniel continued to attend the Church.
As Nathaniel continued his studies he would return to Japan for summers and holidays and on one of his trips back to his homeland, he met and fell in love with a woman.
When he returned to school he asked the priest if he and his fiancé could be married at the church. The priest said yes.
But still the congregation was cold.
Well it came time for the wedding and Nathaniel's fiancé was flying in the next day, when he got a call from Bob. He was surprised, taken aback. But Bob asked him if he might go and pick up Nathaniel's fiancé at the airport.
Nathaniel was very very unsure of this. Said he needed to think about it. He said, to Bob, "Give me some time to think about this." So Nathaniel called the priest and told him what Bob wanted to do: That Bob was offering to pick up his wife-to-be and that Nathaniel was worried. The priest shared his concern. But the priest said to Nathaniel, "Let me make some phone calls and I'll get back to you."
So half hour later, the priest calls Nathaniel back and says, "It's ok. Let Bob pick her up." So Bob did and he brought her to the priest's house where she was spending the night, because Nathaniel and she didn't want to see each other before the wedding.
Since the congregation had been so very cold to him Nathaniel wasn't expecting anyone except the priest and his wife to be at the ceremony. Like he said, "They baptized me but they never welcomed me."
But when he got to the church and went into the sanctuary it was filled.
Bob had asked if he could please escort Nathaniel's fiancé down the aisle.
As Bob and she processed down the aisle the entire congregation stood and began to sing Amazing Grace in Japanese.
Then when Bob reached the altar, before Nathaniel and his fiancé took hands, Bob hugged Nathaniel and said, "The war is over."
"The War is over."
Bob— had decided he had been in prison long enough.
When he heard that Nathaniel was to be married, he went every member of the congregation and said, "You know how I have felt about Nathaniel, when I see him all I see are the Japanese of my past." I don't know how to forgive, but this has to change.
Will you please come to the wedding? The only thing Bob could think of to show his changing heart, his repentance was to sing Amazing Grace. Bob said, "We need to sing it in the language of their hearts so that they know we mean it."
So the entire congregation met for weeks, learning how to sing Amazing Grace in Japanese.
Later Bob flew to Japan for all of Nathaniel's ordinations. Bob eventually became the godfather of Nathaniel's children.
As long as Bob was alive, anytime Nathaniel came to the US, he always came via Enid, Oklahoma to see Bob and his family.
Bob was set free.
My friends, we live in troubled times. I do not know what is to come. But I do know, that building walls, be they made of emotions or barbed wire; walls, fear and hate will never be the way to our salvation.
In Christ's Name.
Copyright Bonnie A. Perry December 13, 2015