Mission Headquarters Monthly Service Sermon(12/2018) – Rev. Katayama

Good morning everyone!

We have just completed the December Monthly Service of the Mission Headquarters very joyously with Bishop and Mrs. Fukaya as the core.
My name is Kazunobu Katayama and I’m currently serving as the 8th head minister of Tenrikyo Portland Church, located in the state of Oregon.
As I’ve been assigned to deliver today’s sermon, please sit back, relax.

I would like to talk about 2 things, the voice of God and the voice of Parent.

As a matter of fact, I’m in the midst of going through a “knot.” Currently facing the biggest knot I’ve experienced up to now.
If I tell you how I am using my mind each day, it’s the repetition of “anxiety” and “question”.
I was thinking recently, what can I talk in public, a person like me who’s not even living joyously.
I honestly wanted to politely decline the Bishop when I was assigned the sermon.

However after thinking for a while I changed my mind and decided to go ahead with the talk because I thought there may be a reason for me as a speaker to talk today.

So please bear with me for a little while.

In fact, last year after my wife Yohko had given birth to our second son Jayden she was repeatedly shown very negative symptoms such as hives, asthma attack, bloody sputum and frequent bouts of pneumonia and she even had to carry an oxygen tank for days whenever she was home or out.

I had to take her to the ER so many times with my two sons and even had to admit her into the hospital for several days due to a heart attack.

Also around the same time my older son fell from a 12 foot drop, broke few shoulder bones and almost had to undergo surgery.

What’s more, my chronic back pain became worse and I hurt my left shoulder around the same time.

Finally, Yohko underwent very painful exams and operations repeatedly as doctors tried to determine what disease this was, which was unknown for such a long time.

It’s basically an intractable blood vessel disease which will cause various inflammations of the internal organs, especially heart and lungs without medication.
It’s a rare disease, with less than 2 people in a million population being diagnosed each year.
The cause is still unknown.

She had started high doses of steroids and chemotherapy treatment called Cytoxin which is associated with strong side effects in order to suppress the recurring inflammation.

It really made me nervous when I received the explanation of how serious her disease is and the side effects from the Cytoxin.

She shaved her head for the potential hair loss, she froze huge amounts of meals just in case she would be sick in bed for a long period time.

She’s currently receiving treatment but always makes us laugh by saying her swollen face looks just like ANPANMAN! She does actually look like ANPANMAN!

On top of that, in the midst of this whole thing we’ve been put through another test by God the Parent.

One day a homeless family asked me if they would be able to live in the basement of our church.

I took them in soon after the phrase “By saving others you yourself will be saved” ran through my mind.

But only after a few months, big problems occurred one after another.

Everything got stolen. Yohko’s grandmother’s heirloom jewelry, my son’s clothing, personal and donation money, debit and credit cards, electronic appliances and other items had disappeared from the church.

Good thing we didn’t have to do the year-end-big-cleaning which is an annual event because the basement and the garage were nice and clean and empty! hahaha.

After a while, I confirmed pretty much all the valuable items were being sold both on websites and in pawnshops.

Moreover, the entire family was suffering from heroin addiction except for the 12 year old son.

Since last year, bad things have been happening one after another.

When I first heard about Yohko’s disease my mind went blank and I was just depressed.

On top of that, this repeated misfortune pushed me to the edge.
It was so severe that I was no longer able to think spiritually and there were some days that I couldn’t even perform the service.

Even when small things happened, I was angrily asking in my mind, “Why do you keep on doing this to us? Why??” I was actually living with the word “WHY?”

Despite raising 2 kids I had a very poor mental condition.

One day, suddenly Yohko’s condition worsened. No matter how faithfully she had taken her strong medications and used her aspiration device, she was hardly breathing.
I was extremely upset and confused.

I thought to myself, the meds are not working and it takes 20 minutes to get to the ER. All I could do was to rely on something beyond human power. I ran to the Shinden and begged God to save her. I said “Please! Please let her breath again! I will do anything to save her!” And I once again promised a resolution to God the Parent. After that we rushed to the ER.

That evening I calmed myself down, pondered and accepted the reality of what had been going on, and came face-to-face with God the Parent and performed the evening service followed by the Ofudesaki( as usual.)

I would like to share with you the verses I read as I randomly opened the Ofudesaki:

“You do not know what I shall say, but whatever I may say, please comply”
“This time, whatever test I may put you through, resolve your mind firmly by it”
“I do not indicate anyone in particular by this talk. It is for each of you to resolve the mind”
“However trying your condition may be, the Parent will work to the utmost. Take heart!”
“From now on, please be firmly convinced of the words of the Parent. There is no need to worry”

I was blown away! I mean, seriously, it was mysterious. At the same time, I was in tears and extremely thankful for the voice of God.
It’s hard to describe, but my entire body felt a sense of relief.
At that moment I confirmed with my own eyes that God does exist.
I was desperate. But God the Parent told me “Don’t worry, the Parent will work to the utmost, take heart!” Exclamation point.

If I hadn’t heard the voice of God that day I definitely wouldn’t have been able to move forward.

If you lean on God, pray sincerely and resolve your mind in a desperate situation, God will speak to you, that’s what I strongly felt.

In Osashizu, we read:
“When you find yourself in a situation where you think this may be your end, recall that it is a knot. Make a commitment of spirit and stand firm. If you stand firm, the Truth of Heaven will work for you. This I teach.”

Thankfully I was gradually able to change my mindset and started to see things differently.

First, the side effects from the chemotherapy were much milder than we all expected.

Also a lady who lost her job and home moved into the church and she is a really nice person and loves children.

Furthermore, regardless of what Yohko is going through right now, Yohko’s never complained about anything. Rather, she always appreciates that the kids are healthly and she’s still kept alive.
One day she said “when I became Tenrikyo few years ago I was really impressed by the phrase “Reducing a great misfortune to a small misfortune and a small misfortune to no misfortune at all.” When I was in the working world, I thought it was “No misfortune to a small misfortune and a small misfortune to a great misfortune” “Right now I’m reducing a great misfortune to a small misfortune.”

I really couldn’t believe what she was saying and how positive she can live each day with her trying condition.
I’ve been encouraged by how she lives everyday full of joy!

In Osashizu, it is written:
[You reflect over illness and troubles, day in day out, and think, “If that is the way it is-” I ask you to understand well and accept the present moment joyously. In your practice of joyous acceptance, transforming a dissatisfying situation into the object of joyous acceptance is sincerity. Sincerity I accept.]

I gradually started to have a moment to think God is testing us so that we can grow spiritually, God is looking ahead to the future and providing the best situation for us.

Our mind will be cultivated through hardship into a life asset upon implementing salvation work.
We will become people who are able to not only listen to but actually hear those who are suffering.”

Although this situation will continue, I know it is important to seek out more and more joy and take advantage of this seasonable time to grow spiritually.

In Ofudesaki we read:
“As human beings are shallow, you can never see where your paths will lead in the future”
“Do not complain about your present situation. A broad path will appear ahead of you”
“Do not grieve over whatever path you are now on. Take delight in the main path that lies ahead”

On another note, please allow me to change the subject.

As I mentioned earlier, my mental state becomes very anxious and questionable.

However, something happened to help relieve my mind.

It was a message from Mr. Daisuke Nakayama at the YMAC held in the Jiba in Oct.

It was the most innovative message that I’ve ever heard in a Tenrikyo speech.

I studied his message closely and would like to share part of what he said in his own words.

[The important thing is how much you enjoy your everyday life.
Do you enjoy following this faith?

In the questionnaire given at the end of the Seminar for Successors last year, one of the items was : “What generation of faith are you?” The top answer was the 4th generation. Up to the 3rd generation of faith, people see their grandparents’ faith on their own, parents convey well the story of their grandparents being saved by the faith, or the faith is naturally transmitted to them. However when it comes to the 4th generation and after, I think there are many who cannot accept the faith of their ancestors as their own although they have heard of how their family faith started.

Considering that, the important thing is how can we, who are in this faith now, enjoy our everyday life and emanate such joy of faith.

In the Anecdotes of Oyasama, there is a story:
[Kiku Masui made it a rule to visit the residence every day. However, there were some days when she could not go there for various reasons. On such days, she never failed to abstain from eating salt or cooked food for the whole day. When she returned to the residence one day after she had abstained from eating salt and cooked food, Oyasama told her tenderly: “Okiku, you need not do such things. The Parent never wants to give children hardships. This God is never happy to see the beloved children suffer. You need not do such a thing anymore. God is pleased only to see children enjoy themselves.” ]

He continues on~

Are you excited with your everyday life?
Do you enjoy your everyday life?

Oyasama repeatedly encouraged people to “enjoy the life of faith” instead of “imposing the life of faith.” Needless to say, the most enjoyable time for people is when they are doing things they like to do.
Also, when people feel joyfulness the most is when others take delight from what they have done for them. So convey the teachings and engage in salvation work through things you like to do or things you are good at. That is very important.

Have you been refraining from doing what you like to do?
There must be a way to make the most out of you.

Please take another look at yourself and think of things you like to do or you are good at. Then, think about how you can make the best of combining what you like to do or doing things you are good at, with conveying the teachings and engaging in salvation work. By doing so, let us send the message to those around us that following the faith is such fun.]

As I was listening to his address, I felt these messages are full of Parental love.
Mr. Daisuke Nakayama, the person who will eventually become Shinbashira got down to our level to convey the message clearly with positive words, which was very easy to understand.

This was very much needed for those who are struggling to find their faith. I know so many people, especially successors or family members of the church who are feeling stuck, and I totally understand that.

“The teachings of the vertical mission”, “Repaying the debt of gratitude”, and others– these are all wonderful teachings. But if we don’t have the fundamental mindset of positivity and joyousness, only a mind of compulsion and obligation, it’s difficult to put these teachings into practice, especially from generation to generation. Also, it’s hard to convey this faith to others if we ourselves are not finding joy from it.
It’s important to tell others how enjoyable this path is!

As Shinbashira and Mr. Daisuke Nakayama have repeated the words “Let us walk the path with Joy” Let us take the voice of our parents to heart and do our best to enjoy what we already have today.

Lastly, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to those who prayed for the recovery of my wife Yohko.

Thank you for your kind attention.