Good morning, and Happy New Year to those I am seeing for the first time this year. Thank you for returning to Taiheiyo Church for the Spring Grand Service in this significant year, the 180th year since the founding of Tenrikyo. I’m sure we have brought delight to God the Parent and Oyasama through our spirited performance of the service. If I may ask for your kind attention for a few minutes.
In Tenrikyo it’s not 2017, or Heisei 29, but “Rikkyo 180-nen.” It gives a sense of how young the teachings are. I work for a company where the founder will turn 102 this year. So 180 years is not even two lifetimes ago; that’s how close we are to the beginning, the time when God became revealed through Oyasama. Don’t you wish you could go back in time to be there, get a glimpse of the period when Oyasama was physically performing miracles of salvation and making arrangement for the completion of the Service? Being there to witness Oyasama in her bright red kimono, delivering talks on the Story of Creation, and granting the different types of Sazuke on Her disciples. What a time of hope and anticipation!
Or what about the period immediately following Oyasama’s withdrawal? This month marks the date when Oyasama withdrew from physical presence to save the world, right? The first Divine Direction delivered following Oyasama’s withdrawal, through the Honseki, Izo Iburi, God said:
“Because of My love for you, My children, the Parent shortened Her life by 25 years to step out and save the world from now. Observe well what the path has been and what the path will become… Sah, there was a thing I had intended to give to My children but I was not able. I shall bestow this truth on you step by step hereafter.”
This truth that would be bestowed, was the Sazuke of the Teodori, the Sazuke we perform today for the cure of physical illness. God said observe well what the path has been and what the path will become. Once the Honseki, started bestowing the Sazuke on more and more followers, the first generation Yoboku were all fervently spreading the teachings, and devoting their lives, almost fanatically, to saving others. During this time, the path grew exponentially.
At the time of Oyasama withdrawal, how many followers were there? A few thousand? Maybe 5,000? Well, in the 10 years that followed, the number of churches grew to 1,300, and the number of followers exceeded 3 million….“Observe what the path has been and what the path will become.” In the decades that followed, the intensity only grew, to the point where at the peak there were some 17,000 churches and upwards of 8 million followers. How broad and spirited the path must have been.
So again, imagine living in that era when Tenrikyo churches were sprouting by the thousands; when grand churches were being established by the dozens; and when new followers were joining by the millions? To quote the mikagura-uta, Song One, “How remarkable it is!” “How promising it is!”
But these days, there aren’t very many Tenrikyo missionaries. Consequently, congregations around the world are shrinking. This is not unique to Tenrikyo, but is especially concerning for us because of the relatively small number of followers we had to begin with. Many of us are busy with jobs or schooling. Not only that, but as descendants of those who have sown the seeds in the previous generation, we are reaping the benefits of healthier and more comfortable lives. As a result, we tend to lower the significance that the church and God plays in our lives. And we forget that Tenrikyo, is really about saving others in order to be saved.
The other day I asked to someone, “Monthly service is coming up, have you completed a Salvation Prayer Card to offer?” The person replied, “Do I really need to do that?” I said, “Yeah, at least one card a month.” Again, the reaction suggested a heavy burden was being placed on them. I felt disappointed. For one, it takes just a minute to fill out the card. But worse, it made me think maybe they didn’t have anyone that they were praying for.
If we’ve come to the point where daily and monthly services are just repetition, where we are praying for our own blessings, for our own family’s illnesses and problems, and not using our bodies and minds as instruments for the salvation of others, then God’s message is not being properly conveyed. So the disappointment quickly shifted to myself: What can I do, and should I do, to help our congregation wake up from the routine-ism?
What I think needs to happen is change. We can change. We need to change in order for the path to survive and thrive. I have a dream, that someday our church will return to the glory days, when we had 100 or more people at the monthly services; when the downstairs hall was full of people the day before the service, helping and preparing for the next day’s luncheon. In that dream, we are not only praying for others during the services, but also reaching out to the community to help people in need. In that same dream, we meet people who are suffering and offer them the Sazuke, and they have actually heard of Tenrikyo before!
This happened to me recently, and I want to share a story with you. I’m sure all of you heard the unfortunate news about the woman who died on New Year Day from injuries sustained while setting off illegal fireworks. That incident happened on the street just outside the property our company owns. I reached out to the family because the family knew I was an employee of the landlord, so they allowed me to visit the injured man at Queen’s hospital to administer the Sazuke.
I was supposed to meet the family members that I know at a certain time, but they got caught in traffic and when I got there, the room was full with close friends & family whom I didn’t know. I must admit it was an awkward moment of silence when I stepped in and they were like, who are you, and what are you doing in here? I explain that I worked for the landlord, and that I was also a reverend and wanted to perform a prayer for the injured man. I could sense some apprehension, then all of a sudden a voice from behind said, “I know Tenrikyo. My son was in Tenri judo, and a Tenrikyo minister did my house blessing.” The voice came from a family friend and I couldn’t help but think Oyasama had arranged for him to be there, to give me strength and reassurance. After that, there was some validation, and I was able to administer the Sazuke, and share the teachings of a thing lent, a thing borrowed. I am confident that he will make a full recovery from his injuries, and I was able to introduce Tenrikyo to the family, even direct them to the taiheiyochurch.com website.
I would like to ask all of your help to achieve the dream, actively engaging in salvation work, by keeping your minds open to changing the way we do things at the church, as well as supporting the activities and direction that the board decides to take. Thank you for your kind attention.