A letter from Tom Goetz serving in Japan
On September 16, 2016, Rev. Kenji Shinohara, senior minister at Fukuoka International Church in Daimyo city, Fukuoka, Japan, spoke at Hokusei Gakuen University’s English language chapel service.
Thomas: Rev. Shinohara, can you tell us a little about your church?
Shinohara: Since our founding our mission has been to build a community in Fukuoka where English speakers and Japanese speakers alike can experience a deep community rooted in Christ. In that pursuit we have offered bilingual (English and Japanese) services.
Thomas: Today your scripture reading was Luke 10:38-42. It is when Jesus visits two sisters, Martha and Mary.
Shinohara: This is when Jesus went to a certain village while he was traveling. An incident happened when the older sister, Martha, invited Jesus into their house.
Thomas: It sounds like an ideal evening. But had it been an ideal evening, it probably never would have been recorded. Somewhere there is a problem through which Jesus teaches them, and us.
Shinohara: Yes. Martha was working hard to be hospitable to Jesus and his disciples. However, as she was serving, her initial joy changed into worries.
Thomas: What happened? Did Jesus say something to upset her? Did someone complain about her hospitality?
Shinohara: It would be nice if it were that simple. This is what Luke wrote: “She told Jesus, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’” (verse 40).
Thomas: Okay. Martha is complaining that her sister Mary is making her to do all the work alone. But why didn’t Jesus think anything was wrong?
Shinohara: Common sense would suggest so. And to emphasize her point Martha asks Jesus to order Mary to help her.
Thomas: At this point we have to remember it was Martha who sent out the invitation, which was accepted. This would fill Martha with joy. However, with hospitality there are certain chores that simply need doing.
Shinohara: Yes. And she became so sour while working in the kitchen to host them.
Thomas: Why was she so worried and upset? Do you think she would have been at peace if Mary had been helping her from the beginning?
Shinohara: Let’s think about this together. Martha made a point here that Mary needed to help her, but she could have asked Mary herself. I believe it was not so hard for Martha to order Mary, her younger sister, to do something.
Thomas: Then why didn’t Martha complain about this to Mary directly?
Shinohara: I believe it was because Martha was seeking an intimate, living relationship with Jesus.
Thomas: Do you mean that Martha was expecting to receive compliments or thanks from Jesus for her hospitality?
Shinohara: Oh, yes. I believe Martha was expecting to have an intimate, living fellowship with Jesus because she had welcomed Jesus at first and therefore had “earned it.”
However, the harder she worked to serve Jesus, the less she felt her relationship with Jesus becoming intimate. She must have seen Jesus and Mary’s hearts were united, making her even more uneasy. And as a result her mind started to be controlled by anger. Jesus, whom she thought would understand her feelings best, really did understand, but in a totally opposite way. When Jesus heard Martha’s complaint, what does he say?
Thomas: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (verses 41-42). What do you think Martha thought when she heard Jesus say this?
Shinohara: She probably thought that she could have worked less and still Jesus would have been happy. Maybe had Jesus told Martha that it was okay to eat cup noodles from the nearby Seven-Eleven, all would have been well just the same. When we try to figure out God’s message from this incident, we need to remember that Jesus was not criticizing Martha. She was doing an important task of hosting the travelers. Throughout the Bible God tells us how important that task is. Therefore Martha was doing what was needed. The issue was with her heart, not her hands.
Thomas: I see. Jesus is showing an example that the mind must lead the heart, not the other way around.
Shinohara: That is a good way to put it. All he expected was for her to sit at his feet to listen to him.
We too are to sit at the Lord’s feet listening to what he says. This is his desire for us. We may busy ourselves doing good works and meritorious deeds, but if we are not listening to him, what do we gain?
Thomas: Is this what you mean by your use of the word “intimate”?
Shinohara: Very much so. Why did Jesus come to their house? Was he resting to recover from his long travel? Or did he come to their house to be hosted by Martha? No, he was there to speak God’s living word to those who had the ears to listen. Martha did not understand Jesus’ will, and her heart departed from him, despite the fact that she was seeking an intimate relationship with Jesus.
Thomas: When our hearts depart from him, we worry.
Shinohara: However, the Lord showed Martha and shows us that when we join him we receive life. Peace and joy will be given, not in exchange for hard work, but by his living word which flows through him. What we have to do is to sit at Jesus’ feet. This means to be still before God and listen to his voice. His word satisfies our spiritual thirst, strengthens us from inside, leads us to the abundant life of blessing, and helps us to bear eternal fruit. As students here begin a new semester, let us hope and pray that we all will be still and listen to his word.
In years past it was common to believe that in order to be a missionary, you had to go overseas. Not so anymore. The one who invites others to be still before God and listen to the living word of Christ is the missionary in today’s world. If I were living in my hometown, I would still be pretty much the same guy.
Thank you for reading my letters, for your prayers for this ministry, and for your financial support. I always appreciate feedback and would look forward to hearing from you! If you haven’t yet made a commitment to join an overseas mission effort, I invite you to come alongside me in my ministry through your prayers, correspondence and financial support. Or support other PC(USA) mission co-workers and long-term volunteers who do, in fact, live overseas and sit with others to hear the living word of Jesus.
Ubi caritas, et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is caring and love, God is always there.
Please read this important message from Tony De La Rosa, Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1b-2, NRSV)
Dear Friend of the Presbyterian Mission Agency:
Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support of Tom Goetz this year, and any previous year. We hear from our mission co-workers how much your prayerful financial support has meant to them. Please know that you are a vital part of ministries throughout Japan.
Even as I thank you, I want to let you know that this is a critical time for our congregations and all people of faith to commit themselves to support mission co-workers like Tom. Our global church partners greatly value his service, and you well know how important this ministry is in building connections between the body of Christ in the U.S. and Japan.
We have historically relied on endowment interest and the general offering from congregations to sustain the vital work of all of our mission workers. Those sources of funding have greatly diminished. It is only through the gifts of individuals and congregations that we are able to keep Tom doing the life-giving work God called him to do. A year ago, in May 2015, we had to recall some mission workers due to a lack of funding. World Mission communicated the challenge to you, and you responded decisively and generously. Through your response, we heard the Spirit remind us, “Fear not!”
Today, I’m asking you to consider an additional gift for this year, and to increase the gift you may consider for 2017. Sending and support costs include not only salary but also health insurance and retirement contributions, orientation, language training, housing, travel to the country of service, children’s education, emergency evacuation costs, and visa/passport costs.
My heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. In the coming season, we will celebrate God’s sending of the Christ child, the source of the good news we share. May you experience anew the hope, peace, joy, and love that are ours because “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).
Thank you for saying “yes” to love.
With you in Christ,
Tony De La Rosa
Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
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