Living as children of God
1 John 3 (New Revised Standard Version)
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
When we were but young adults, first making our way in the world, David and I lived in Japan for a couple of years. In terms of culture shift, we couldn’t really have gone much further: we were young, white twenty-somethings with two small children, transplanted into a rural Japanese community, with hardly any other expatriates. We were “gaijin” – literally “outside people”.
We were there for David’s work – then in the computer industry – but I had no role beyond wife and mother. A major aspect of living there, that we had not reckoned with, was the absence of Christianity. The Church’s presence was tiny, and for several months we could not find that sort of support.
Eventually we found our way to the Abundant Life Bible Bookstore run by a fundamentalist American pastor and his family. They had faithfully lived in Japan for many years, and their outreach was via the teaching of English – a skill many coveted.
For us though, his ministry had the opposite effect – we were waiting to hear the good news of the gospel, but week by week we were treated to sermons on the book of Judges, and, if I remember rightly, a sense that these Japanese “English students” were not being reached. So much for abundant life.
After several more months I learned that there was also a Lutheran Church in Matsumoto with an American pastor, so I tentatively rang to make enquiries. the Reverend Earl Berg was delightful. He explained that the services were in Japanese, but that he would make them accessible for us. He knew I would struggle to find the building, so he offered to pick me up from the station and take me there!
I rang on the Friday, and by Sunday morning he had written out the entire service in phonetic Japanese so that I could join in, with the English translation written above it. He wrote his sermon in English too, so that I could be part of that as well. I was overwhelmed that he did all this just for me. If I remember rightly, my first visit to his church was when David was away on business, probably in the USA, for the best part of a month.
I had made a friend at the bookstore church and she was interested in this new discovery. Earl offered to conduct a monthly service in English, and after a couple of these, I invited my new Japanese friend, Mikako, to come too. When he saw her with me, he changed everything he had prepared, and gave a very simple Gospel message, using easy-to-understand English.
All of this happened thirty-five years ago, but it made a lasting impression. What is the gospel, but to reach out in love to our fellow human beings with a simple, un-self-conscious, lived message of God’s all-embracing love?
What was so different in those two experiences was that the second was an expression of the heart, not an explicit (and sometimes desperate) attempt to convert. I know which one connected with me.
Earl and his Japanese wife had a ministry of inclusion – inviting us into their home, inviting other pastors to visit, modelling welcome in their congregation The Japanese members welcomed us too – attempting to speak with us in English (outside their own comfort zone), and bringing us gifts of rhubarb. “We don’t know what to do with this”, they said, “but we think you will”. And we did.
And though our Japanese speaking was limited, even by the time we left, we had found what we needed – a community that held us. By comparison, although we could understand our expatriate friends’ words more easily, I was saddened that, really, that was the only thing we had in common with some of them.
We learnt so much about ourselves! Looking back, we learnt what it means to be dependent on the kindness of others – from translating school notes or doctors’ comments, to caring for us when we got snowed in. We learnt over time how very different the culture was, placing a value on loyalty and harmony above truth and justice.
We had to adjust our perspective to see the world through their eyes. We learnt what it feels like to be the outsider, the foreigner, the gaijin. We learnt that the language of love is easy to translate!
As we end, it would be good to pray.
There are many versions of the Lord’s Prayer in Japanese on YouTube. David and I particularly liked the one that’s embedded in this post, where you can see the Japanese phonetically and in Japanese script, in parallel with the English.
So, inorimashoo (祈りましょう)… let us pray.
Revd Kate Brooke
HMP Holme House