A Letter from Thomas Goetz, serving in Japan
My summer break is over. It was restful and refreshing. How many of you watched the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics? I enjoyed the Japan-U.S. baseball game. Japan won the gold medal after a carefully played and fair game. For the fans of the Japan team, that was good news.
And the good news continued. Many people here are getting vaccinated! Little by little, with careful planning and organization – of which Japan is famous – people are receiving their vaccinations. How wonderful it is, knowing that after such a long time, soon everyone who wants to be vaccinated can be.
The sad news is that Japan lags behind many other leading industrialized countries with its vaccine rollout. And skeptics are becoming more vocal. People on both sides agree with one thing, the Japanese government’s mismanagement is to blame. Grown-ups who can get the vaccine are now becoming “given-ups” refusers.
Why? The “refusers” say, and they are not entirely wrong, that the COVID-19 vaccine will not prevent them from getting COVID. But the counter argument is that getting the vaccine will help them stay healthier. Because of this argument and counter argument Japanese society has not reached a consensus and has reached a critical juncture. Presently 40% of the population is fully vaccinated. What is the other 60% thinking? Are they better off without the vaccine? Many believe that if enough people get vaccinated, everyone should be safe. They could be right, or they could be wrong. Equally troubling is they might be right and wrong at the same time. We have a problem, a problem that can be illustrated by Mark.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:38-40 New Revised Standard Version
John noticed that someone who was not a follower of Jesus was casting out demons. John was not accusing this person of not believing in what Jesus stood for but of not being a part of their group. Why should John, or anyone, have a problem with this?
According to the Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper (1902-1994), before you can say something is true, you first need to show how it cannot be false. Popper would say that John’s thinking lacked this. While John could confirm that the someone was not a follower, he could not claim that what this someone was doing was wrong or harmful. If someone can work miracles in Jesus’ name, so be it. It should not be a time for complaining, but rather, celebrating. Right?
In more recent times, the world has encountered this problem. Karl Popper was a Marxist for some time but left Marxism. He said Marxism had proven itself to be more on the problem side of life than on the promise side. Popper said that Marxist thinking was impossible to prove false. For example, if the workers of the world were to unite and revolt, then the Marxists would be right. And that proves absolutely nothing. The decades of Communist Socialist governmental leadership show that when people have a choice, they will leave if they can.
In this reading, we find John complaining rather than celebrating. The main point is that if something is worth believing, it needs to be testable and falsifiable.
Recently, I asked my students if all wild birds in Japan can fly. Most said yes. Then I asked if they could prove that. Then we went on an internet quest. After two minutes of searching, one student shared a picture of the Okinawan rail, or Gallirallus okinawae – the only flightless wild bird in Japan. We walked the Karl Popper trail! Now we have evidence to prove that the belief that all wild birds in Japan fly is a false belief. Additionally, we can learn from Mark that anyone who carries out the ministry and work of Jesus Christ is just as much a follower of Jesus as the original twelve. The time and place in which we live do not matter.
Mark wants us to learn that if there was no evidence of wrongdoing, the person in question could not be harmful. If this person was not one of the chosen disciples, yet miracles were being done, then there are no grounds for disqualification. Jesus rejected John’s allegation of wrongdoing by instructing, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
In Japan, it is uncertain how many among the unvaccinated 60% will refuse vaccinations. What do they need to hear? What can we do?
We have a road map, everyone. In 1991, the PC(USA) adopted the Brief Statement of Faith. In it, it says that we are to “unmask idolatries in Church and culture.” The earth upon which we live is entrusted to our care. And while many people lament that what we have is a mess, God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation. Among those who are vaccinated, many thanks. May we hasten the end to this pandemic. And for those who refuse, we greet you with love looking forward to the day when this is history.
Thomas H. Goetz
Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:
Dear partners in God’s mission,
I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.
God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.
How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it? Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.
We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:
Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe: pcusa.org/missionyearbook.
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.
Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.
In the light of hope,
Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
To give please visit https://bit.ly/PCUSAmission
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
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Tags: COVID-19, Mark 9:38-40, Tokyo, truth, Vaccine hesitancy
Tags: Thomas Goetz
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