This morning Eric and I did split shifts. He got up after just 2 hours or so of sleep and went with about 12 members to climb the nearest little mountain and have a morning worship service in celebration of Pentecost Sunday. Why so little sleep? Because only yesterday he was asked to give the short message- in Japanese! He pulled it off spendidly, I heard – and they all had a really wonderful time of fellowship on top of the mountain.
He came home to me and the kids, and then I went out- with Owen…to join the rest of our community for “Clean Day”. This is a quarterly event in Sanda – always 9 – 10 am on given Sunday mornings, where at least one member of every household is expected to go outside and do one’s duty in cleaning up, weeding, raking, and beautifying the neighborhood. We find out about it by a note and trashbag placed in our mailbox the week before.
This morning as I was pulling weeds in our nearby park, I observed everyone industriously working alongside of me. There were two neighbors working on a nearby patch who obviously had a long history but hadn’t seen each other for a long time. One was telling the other that her oldest son is no longer attending high school… after a long three-day weekend he decided not to go to school the next day…and then the next and the next and just has not gone back since. They continued talking about this problem- one very severe in Japan right now.
Next to me was an older woman pulling weeds, and no matter what polite conversation I made or how much I smiled, she didn’t budge. She was doing her duty, but she didn’t like it. Nor did she like me trying to make her like it!
Thankfully, one of our neighbor friends, Natsuko, came up with her daughter and we enjoyed the last thirty minutes. We are going to take our daughters out together on Tuesday morning, which should be fun.
Several hours after this, we had an afternoon special Pentecost Sunday worship service and baptism. Since most Sundays we meet in smaller groups as house churches, it is always a treat to be together with everyone in the larger group. Two special friends were baptized today, as well- one was the pastor’s son, and the other is a newlywed who we have prayed for the last few years. What a neat day to be baptized!
I have to admit my attitude grew a little less excited as the hours wore on and the service continued (we left after 4 hours and it wasn’t quite finished!), but overall it was a joy to be together.
I started thinking – what is different about these events today? In some ways all three of them reflected the group mentality prevalent in Japanese culture– those a part of a group come together and all follow very similar and predictable ways of being. But the difference – ah!- the difference! – is that one of these 3 events was done out of obligation – cleaning the community (we felt so so guilty one Sunday when we were out of town and couldn’t participate!). Everyone does it– but not everyone likes it. It just HAS to be done, so it is done.
But worship – at sunrise; or all afternoon and into the evening – this is voluntary. I counted nine women there this afternoon who have husbands and children waiting at home for them – but they wanted to be together to celebrate baptism, Pentecost, and to participate in the healing ritual of worship. I somehow felt that our small gathering of forty or so brought joy to the Father. It’s not about the oughts, but the heart. Yet… how many times have I gone to worship because of the ought? Sometimes the oughts need to be acted out. But how I need to be reminded of the privilege of community, participation, and worship. Acts 2, as we read today, tells us that the early church couldn’t stop meeting together- it was daily – it was their joy.
(Below- Annie and Olivia taking worship breaks)
And, after Pentecost worship, we had another joy- a chance to celebrate Eric’s 44th birthday (actually it’s tomorrow) with a number of special friends at OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE in Osaka. Go Outback for having free steak dinners for member’s birthdays!