2014年4月16日水曜日

Next To Despair (John 11:1-45)


Next To Despair

1. 
 Sergei Rachmaninoff, a Russian composer and pianist, was well-known as a pianist when he was young. He experienced many difficulties like his family’s ruin, the divorce of his parents, and his sister’s premature death. Tchaikovsky discovered his ability, and he was top of his graduating piano class at the Moscow Music Academy with his class mate, Aleksandr Scriabin. Next year he was also top of his graduating composition class at the Academy. Then he worked energetically as a pianist and composer. But when he was 24 year old, his “Symphony No. 1” debuted as a failure. Soon after the symphony was played, the hall became clamorous, and abusive opinions were voiced. Critics severely criticized his symphony. This incident affected him greatly. He stopped publishing sheet music, and his symphony was never played again. He was spiritually damaged, because he had poured much passion and effort on it. He lost confidence and became emotionally so exhausted that he was unable to compose music at all for a few years. Three years later he restored his passion for composing music with the help of people around him, and composed “Piano Concerto No. 2.” Then he acquired his reputation. This music was devoted to his psychiatrist who had supported him. He once despaired and then was restored. His effort for his restoration was not like breaking through the despair. The music gives us a kind of tension in which he faced his own weakness. And it makes us feel a kind of hope after facing our own weakness.

A painter read about Rachmaninoff’s music, and said, “This music is not a song of joy. It is not from despair to joy, but from despair to hope.” “Joy or delight” makes us feel like going far ahead, but “hope” makes us feel a kind of strength even though despair is near at hand.

2. 
 When we watched Mao Asada’s free program in the women’s figure skating at the Sochi Olympic Games, we listened to this music, and were amazed at experiencing hope from despair, weren’t you? When she failed in the short program the day before and was in 16th place, people in the world breathed deep sighs, and Asada herself commented, “I couldn’t see.” She has never experienced such a low position in her life. When she was twelve years old, she competed at the senior All Japan Championship, and she got 9th place (finally, 7th). This record was lowest in her life until that time. Since then she had always been expected to become top in her game. So all the people, including us, were discouraged at watching the result. But she succeeded in the highest performance the next day. Her performance moved the hearts of all the people in the world. She probably must have not lost the hope of “doing her best” in her despair. Mao Asada turned her face upward when she finished her routine. We watched a human being rising up from her suffering.

3. 
 Ezekiel, a Prophet, was taken away in the Babylonian captivity, and worked there. People, who were taken away as captivities, made many efforts to keep faith and rituals to keep their own identity. They understood their sufferings to be the result of their sins. Therefore they were earnestly faithful to God. And they were very careful of not being contaminated by foreign religions. They expected to restore their relationship with God. People who were taken away at the first captivity hoped that they would be freed in the near future. But their hope collapsed easily. Ten years after the first captivity, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the rest of the people were taken away. Their cry of suffering and despair was recorded in today’s text from Ezekiel. “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”(37:11) The fact that their hope was not fulfilled brought about despair and destroyed their hope of life. Those people were depicted as numerous accumulated bones in the valley. There was no living, and there was the deepest despair that would get rid of any hope of life.

It reminds us of Rakhmaninov and Mao Asada’s defeat and despair, and also our fear and sufferings in life. People in the captivity felt that God would go away far from them.

4. 
 But God will never leave human beings hopeless. Rakhmaninov’s friends and his psychiatrist supported him. Mao Asada was supported by her fans, her colleagues and her support staff. Her memory of her mother must have supported her. They rose up from despair. Their own efforts and the people who encouraged them were important for their restoration.

People in the captivity were supported by Ezekiel, a Prophet. Through him God’s messages were told to them. Then God’s spirit came like wind. “Breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet –a vast army.”(37:10) And God exerted his power to the graves that symbolized the world of death. “O my people I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.” (37:12) God leads people to the world of eternal life that lies ahead of the world of death.

5.
 The words like “bring you up” or “bring you back” confirmed God’s promise of salvation for the Israelites. They reminded them of God’s salvation from slavery in Egypt. Further Jesus made clear that God’s salvation was revealed not only in the past. The incident was the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus would never leave people who were in deep sorrow alone. According to John after today’s text, Jesus’ life would be threatened following the incident. But Jesus witnessed despair would not be left as it was.

6.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”(John 11:25) He said this, not only referring to Lazarus, but also to himself. And his message was made for all the people who were sad and in despair. Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus came out and he rose up. Then Lazarus’ sisters and the people around him started to rise up from, as it were, dried bones. Jesus loved, and Jesus called. Then people rose from dried bones and started to live in a relationship with God. When we believe in it, we know that hope is next to despair. This hope is not a thing that is miraculously given. It is not given as the result of earnest pursuit and strong faith. This hope is next to despair. This hope is God.

I pray for Jennifer Roberts, who has started to work today, to have trust in this hope. And I also pray for each of you who have started a new life from this spring to trust in this hope.

7. 
 I, as a conclusion, would like to introduce a poem “Next to Despair” written by Takashi Yanase (from “Small Palm of Hand” by Takashi Yanase, published by FUTABA)

Next to Despair
Someone is quietly seated.
Despair asked, “Who are you?”
He smiled and said,
“My name is Hope.”

(This is the English translation of Rev Nobuo Yasui’s sermon which is to be preached at Hongo Church on April 6, 2014)
(Translated by Toshiyuki Masujima)