Dear Christ Church Family,
What is the point of reading the life of a saint? Perhaps the best reason is that when that saint truly lives the way of Love vs. Hate, they leave us an example to follow; an example that can change us. Our Gospel lesson contains Jesus’ most famous commandment, to live the way of love, and our Saint this day is someone who lived it, and by doing so showed others who followed him, that way.
Thursday, April 23, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
John 15:12-27 – The Gospel of Love vs. Hate, and a Saint who lived it. What does it mean to give your life for love, and to risk that life to oppose hate? To give our lives for love means, according to Jesus, to be willing to love as he loves; to belong to him so much that we are willing to risk everything to show his sacrificial love for others, even in the face of the hate that opposes such love.
I received my initial lesson in that understanding of love from my father. When I was a little kid in the early 50’s, my playmates and I would play all sorts of “War” games. Reenacting WWII battles was the most popular. And as we were on the West Coast, the “enemy” was usually the Japanese. It’s hard to imagine now some of the hateful things we learned to say during our play. It was all stuff we had heard from the adults around us, and even heard and seen in movies and on TV. The hate was just accepted as how one should think. I remember how my father, after witnessing one of those many reenactments, took me aside afterwards and solemnly charged me never to ever repeat, or to even think, those terrible things again. “That is hate,” he said. “You follow Jesus and his love!”
Later on, I learned that my dad had put his own career as a pastor on the line at the beginning of WWII when Japanese Americans were sent off to the internment camps. Most lost their businesses, and their homes along with their freedom. There were two Japanese American families in the small coastal California community in which my dad pastored. He managed to convince the leaders of his congregation to store all the household goods and treasures of those families in the church basement, for free. One leader went so far as to purchase and then maintain one of the family’s fishing business so that it wouldn’t be seized and then auctioned off. After the war, when the family returned, he sold it back to them for the same dollar he had bought it. Others in the congregation bought those families’ homes and sold them back as well. That church was not “honored” for that action at the time. It suffered for it. But they stuck to what they knew was the way of Jesus, the way of love.
Now, the saint I referred to in the opening of this devotional is not my Dad. Though it may have looked like that was where I was going with this. Instead, that saint is the one whose day today is, the saint who inspired my Dad years earlier when he was at Princeton Seminary: a fellow alum, Toyohiko Kagawa.
While the link under Saints Days will take you to Kagawa’s picture and a brief statement of his life, I’m putting in a more detailed version here.
“Toyohiko Kagawa, born on July 10, 1888, in Kobe, Japan, was a Japanese evangelist, advocate of social change, and pacifist.
Kagawa was the son of a wealthy Kobe Buddhist business entrepreneur-politician and his concubine, both of whom died when Kagawa was four years old. The youth was raised by Presbyterian missionaries and had a conversion experience at the age of fifteen. “O God, make me like Christ,” he prayed repeatedly.
Kagawa studied at theological seminaries in Japan and at Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, but was increasingly drawn to an evangelism of social reform, seeking to apply Christ’s teachings directly to Japan’s poor in a theologically uncomplicated way. From 1910-1924, he lived for the most part in a six-foot square windowless shed in Kobe’s slums. A skilled organizer, he helped found trade unions and credit unions among dock workers, factory laborers, and subsistence farmers. Trade unions were forbidden at the time, and Kagawa was twice imprisoned. He was also a pacifist and organized the National Anti-War League in 1928. Kagawa was arrested in 1940 for publicly apologizing to the people of China for Japan’s invasion of that country. An advocate for universal male suffrage (granted in 1925), he later became a voice for women’s right to vote as well.
A prolific author, his autobiographical novel Crossing the Death Line (1920) became a best seller and many of his other novels and writings in a Christian Socialist vein were translated into English. He used the revenues from his substantial book sales to fund his extensive slum work. Although Kagawa was under police surveillance much of his life, the Japanese government called on him to organize the rebuilding of Tokyo after the (devastating) 1923 earthquake (and fire tornado), and again at the end of World War II to serve as head of the country’s social welfare programs.
Although some knew him best as a social reformer and pacifist, Kagawa saw himself first of all as an evangelist. “Christ alone can make all things new,” he said. “The spirit of Christ must be the soul of all real social reconstruction.”
Kagawa died on April 23, 1960 in Tokyo.
May Kagawa’s example inspire your walk in Jesus’ way of love vs. hate, as it did my father’s walk, and my father’s mine; and may your example so inspire those who will follow you.