a call to arms (luke 4:14-21)

St. Luke's Hospital Anniversary Service
October 26, 2011 3:00 p.m.

(Note: This address was given at the worship service celebrating the anniversary of St. Luke's International Hospital. On this occasion, employees who have worked 10, 20, and 30 years were recognized, as were volunteers who have served from 100 hours to 22,000 hours. In attendance were the chairman of the board, the president and vice-presidents, and various department heads, as well the long-term employees recognized and many of the 380 volunteers who serve the hospital.)

We just read about Jesus declaring war.

Like many a politician, at the start of his public career Jesus returns to his hometown, to Nazareth, the place where he might expect his strongest support base. There, he gives his inaugural speech. He goes public with his agenda, lays out his vision for the road ahead.

And the vision he lays out is one of war.

But what kind of war? Not the kind of war his fellow countrymen were hoping for, one that would liberate them from the yoke of Roman imperial oppression. Not the kind of war that involves airstrikes, or guerilla attacks, or indeed any shedding of enemy blood. Not the kind of war that involves the toppling of governments or the seizing of territory.

Not that kind of war. But if not that kind of war, then what kind? Look at what Jesus says:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor" (Luke 4:18-19)
So, he's talking about fighting a war against grinding poverty; against debilitating sickness; against physical, emotional, and spiritual bondage; against social oppression and injustice. In other words, it is a war against the powers of darkness that rule the human race with an iron hand.

What do all these things have in common? They distort the human person. They make it impossible to live humanly, in freedom. Jesus is going to war to restore the human person, a being with dignity and value and purpose. A being, in short, made in the image of God.

This is the fundamental understanding revealed to us by God in the Bible: Every human person is a being of great wonder and irreplaceable value, beloved by his Creator, made with care and intent.

At the same time the Bible reveals that every human person, and humanity as a whole, is set upon by powers of darkness, powers that work against God's purposes and seek to deface and destroy God's creation. And, precisely because human beings are created in God's image and endowed by God with dignity and value, these powers of darkness strive hard to rob us of our humanness.

This is the understanding revealed to us by the light of Holy Scripture.

These powers of darkness wage battle on many fronts. They work through individual sin and moral weakness and greed, through self-interest and a disinterest in the suffering of others. They work through injustice, and social evils such as strife, hunger, poverty. They work through so-called tragedies such as sickness and natural disasters.

Jesus at the beginning of his career stands up against all these forms of evil and declares: No more!

And every thing Jesus did from this point on in his life was a full-scale assault on these forces of darkness. He healed the sick. He set free those who were in bondage to evil spirits. He befriended the friendless. He comforted the grieving and those who were afraid. He hung out with people society considered worthless, the losers. He taught generosity in the sharing of material blessings. He condemned leaders who failed in their duty to protect the weak.

This was Jesus' lifework, his mission, his war.

It is our war, too. This hospital was founded to be a stronghold, an outpost in the war against the powers of darkness that threaten the human person. So, as a hospital we are also called to fight, taking our cue from Jesus Christ: 
  • We are called to carry out medical approaches that foster health, cure disease, and aid long life. 
  • We are called to alleviate pain and improve the quality of life of those who suffer. 
  • We are called to help patients and their families face the end of life with courage and dignity. 
  • We are called to help realize the physical, emotional, and spiritual flourishing of each patient, in their particular family and social contexts.
All of us have roles to play in this mission. All of us are part of the fight for the dignity of the human person. Medical teams, the support staff that make it possible to provide care, the volunteers who bring such warmth and humanity into the clinical environment.

So this hospital is called to engage in the war. But so is each one of us. We fight back against the powers of darkness whenever we, as individuals, take hold of the life we have been given, and respond with gratitude in service to others. Each of us can become an outpost of light in the darkness when we use our God-given talents and time in the service of human flourishing.

God gives wisdom and courage to those who are willing to join in the fight against the darkness. Once again, let us pray together for that wisdom and courage, and ask God's blessing on our work in the year to come.
















  • 人々の健康を促進し、病を治して、長寿の助けとなる医療を行うよう求められています。
  • 痛み・苦しみを緩和して、病気にかかっている人のQOLを上げるよう求められています。
  • 患者さんやその家族が、勇気と尊厳を持って人生の最期を迎えることを支えるよう求められています。
  • 一人一人の患者さんの置かれている家族環境、社会環境で、その身体的、精神的、スピリチュアルな幸福(well-being)を支えるよう求められています。




sermon preview: all you need to know

"All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt 22:40)

"All the Law and the Prophets" is shorthand for the whole Jewish Bible. In other words, the commands to love God and love neighbor sum up everything God wanted made known in the history of His people. Saved out of suffering and bondage in Egypt, the people of God learned that they had a God who was imminently worthy of their worship and their love—whose loving-kindness went out ahead of any human attempt to respond. For those who have been freed from bondage and brought into friendship with God, the only fitting response after worship is to try to live together with the same care and compassion.





get dressed and come to the party (matt 22:1-14)

(Translated from the Japanese. Translation note: The word "manners" (manaa) in Japanese has a much stronger moral connotation than in contemporary English. To have bad manners is a sin against community, a reflection, not just of poor education but of poor character.)

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A, Proper 23)
St. Luke's International Hospital Chapel
October 9, 2011– 10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist

I still have a clear memory from when I was a toddler. One night, like usual, my parents put me to sleep in their bedroom, in my baby bed, the kind with fence around it like a jail cell.

I think I must have slept and then woken up, but suddenly I became aware of something that made the blood run cold in my veins. Across the dark room, sitting on my Mom's big chair, was a huge, black gorilla. He must've weighed 300 kg. He was absolutely still, just staring at me.

I thought, "I have to be quiet! If I make a noise, he's gonna get up and come over here…"

I sat in the darkness for what seemed like hours, staring at the gorilla, ready to scream if he moved. I was terrified. Finally, I decided I had to make a break for it…

It took me a while to screw up my courage. Then, I climbed over the fence, jumped to the floor, and ran. I ran like the wind down the hall, turned the corner, dashed into the living room--where I found myself in a brightly lit room full of people, all talking and laughing. A fire was going in the hearth. There was popcorn out. People were drinking wine and egg nog.

It was December 31. My parents were having a New Year's Eve party.

I reported the gorilla to Mom and Dad. They were…skeptical. But I begged them, so we all went back to the bedroom and turned on light. Wouldn't you know it, that clever gorilla had put some shopping bags on the chair and covered it with my father's raincoat to make it LOOK sort of gorilla-like. So, he could make a clean getaway without rousing suspicion.
 (NOTE: The congregation was absolutely silent at this point. No smile or chuckle anywhere. Yikes!)
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So, before, I was in darkness, alone, afraid, paralyzed by fear. I thought I might get hurt or die. I felt trapped, powerless, small.

Then suddenly, I was in the middle of a party. People were happy. I was set free from fear. I even got to eat popcorn and drink root beer!

I suspect that the people who responded to Jesus' call to enter into the Kingdom of God had a similar experience--only a much, much bigger, better experience.

Let us recall that the Kingdom of God is not a place found on a map and it's not somewhere you go after you die. The Kingdom of God is friendship with God, and fellowship with God's friends, here and now. To be in the Kingdom is to be free from the weight of guilt, reconciled to God, and living a common life centered around mutual love and service.

Imagine you're living in Palestine 2,000 years ago. Now imagine you're a hated tax-collector, or a prostitute, or a so-called bad apple, or a loser, or a foreigner.

There are some Jews who seem to have it all together. They obey every last commandment in the Torah, and even all the rules and regulations set up to make sure they never even come close to breaking a commandment. They pray seven times a day, tithe 10% of EVERYTHING, never even so much as carry a fig on the Sabbath, never contaminate themselves with profane things or interact with sinners. They're above all the grime and sin of the world.

But not you. You're right in the thick of it. Maybe it was the family you were born into, or maybe it was bad decisions you made, or maybe somebody wronged you, or maybe you just messed up--but you're a sinner. You know it. Everybody around you knows it.

And one thing seems certain. The Pharisees are in good with God, but sinners can't approach Him. Just as a flaming sword barred Adam and Eve from going back to the garden (Gen 3:24), your sinfulness stands between you and God, blocking your way, keeping you from grace.

As a sinner, you may not even WANT to approach God. After they sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. Guilt is like a 300 kg gorilla that keeps us cowering in a corner. We know that, as a sinner, to encounter God is to encounter wrath, to encounter judgment.

But then Jesus of Nazareth comes along and says: "Come! Repent and enter the Kingdom. Come and be friends with the Father. His love is a lot bigger than your sinfulness. Repent, receive forgiveness, join the Kingdom party."

Well, would you accept Jesus' invitation?
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In Jesus' day, the ones who refuse the invitation are the ones who seem to have it all together. They think they have a right to enter the Kingdom of God, so they don't need an invitation. I don't need an invitation to sit at my own dining table.

So God's invitation falls on deaf ears. In the parable Jesus tells, the king (=God) even condescends to plead with the invited guests. "Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet" (Matt 22:4).

"But they paid no attention and went off" (Matt 22:5).

But you don't earn your way into the Kingdom. It's strictly by invitation only, and the fastest way to get yourself uninvited is to act like you've got a right to be there. The Pharisees had no time for Jesus--or for John the Baptist either, for that matter--saying "Repent!" They were like: "Repent? Of what?"

"The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come," says the Lord.
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So, entering into the Kingdom is by invitation only. But just look at who God invites:
"'Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests" (Matt 22:9-10).

The bad as well as the good. Normal people, as well as prostitutes, tax-collectors, sinners, losers, foreigners, and bad apples. "Anyone." Even people like you and me!

There is no minimum requirement for entering the festival of the Kingdom. All you've got to do is accept the invitation.

What that means is: Churches are always going to be full of sinners. A few really good people, a few really awful sorts, and a lot of folks somewhere in between. And if you don't like some of the people sitting here this morning...well, the king is the one who gets to do the inviting.

So, there's no requirement to be saved. And that's what the Kingdom invitation is, isn't it? To come in from the darkness and hopelessness of a life of serving yourself, and to enter friendship with God, and fellowship with God's friends, and a life of serving others in love.

Aside from saying, "Well, okay" to the invitation, there are no other requirements to be saved.

Well, actually, there are requirements, pretty steep ones--and Christ satisfied them all on the cross on our behalf. His blood quenched the fiery sword that barred sinners from grace. His light has conquered the darkness. He has taken away the 300 kg gorilla of guilt.

Thanks to Christ, our encounter with God is no longer an encounter with wrath and judgment, but an encounter with forgiveness and mercy.
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So the requirement for salvation has been fulfilled. Nothing remains for us to do other than accepting the invitation.

There are, however, manners befitting those who've been saved. I want you to stay with me through this last turn: There's absolutely nothing we can do, no work that can earn salvation, earn a place at the banquet table. But there are manners that are expected of the guests.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless" (Matt 22:11-12).

What exactly are these wedding clothes? I think St. Paul can help us out here:
Kill off everything connected with the life that leads to death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy…It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk. Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete….
  So [since you have been invited by God,] dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Colossians 3:5-14)
Christ has invited us to the wedding baquet. He has given us new clothes to wear, given us the strength to live as new people. Why would we show up wearing our old, grubby street clothes? Why would we keep on living in all the same ways as before?

Lord, help us to appreciate the feast that you have prepared for us. Help us to understand the joys of life with you.


司祭 ケビン・シーバー
2011年10月9日・10時30分 聖餐式







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the soccer ball

One of my young friends wrote a story, called "The Soccer Ball." Her aunt puts books on computer for people with vision disabilities, and now the story is on You Tube, too. It's a story about an ethical dilemma, and holds some real tension at points. The author is also reading the story. Someone else did the graphics.

Check it out!

hey, thanks

I was up for three or four hours last night, in pain. First, I thought it was heartburn, which I almost never get. Eventually, it felt like my stomach was being twisted like a washcloth.

I tried to ignore the pain for awhile but couldn't. I tried shifting positions. Sitting up. Drinking water. Walking around. Nothing helped.

After a while, the pain got so intense I started to worry. I'll have to get my fellow chaplain to take morning prayer, to give the talk at the noonday concert. And what about the wedding tomorrow? Can I celebrate while doubling over in agony?

Finally, it hurt so much I thought I might scream.

At that point (why did I wait?), I prayed. Jesus, take away this pain. Jesus, just take away the pain enough so I can rest a little.

After one last agonizing stab, the pain started receding. Like an electric stove when you turn off the burner.

Within five minutes, the pain was completely gone, and I fell asleep.

Hey, thanks, Jesus.











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back to india

Mari shows me pictures from last year's school album. She was eight then, and had long, dark hair. She's nine now. Her smile hasn't changed at all. She's smiling all the time, with her eyes and her whole face.

Mari was going to an international school in India before she got sick. She has three best friends. One is Japanese, like Mari, and the other two are Korean.

It turns out that the Japanese girl used to school with a boy who was also treated for leukemia at St. Luke's. "It's a small world!" Mari and I say it at exactly the same time. She giggles, and I am very happy.

"India is a country of wonder," she says in Japanese (fushigi no kuni). She mostly speaks English with me, though. Neither of us has other people to speak English to.

She has an unidentifiable accent, a little British, a little American, and little Indian, a little Japanese. Her English is miles better than her Mama's, but I can tell they enjoying sharing a foreign language. They can both speak a bit of Hindi, too. I am jealous.

Mari waxes poetic as she describes Indian food. She's okay with spicy hot, she says proudly. She's very careful to distinguish North Indian from South Indian cuisine. I wish I were more cosmopolitan so I could understand the difference better. Nan versus rice, is about as much as I could pick up.

Mari has finished all her chemo. It went well, and we're all just waiting for her white blood cell count to return to normal. She doesn't know how to say "white blood cell count" in English. Of course. She never had to give it a thought before. Nine year old children shouldn't have to learn such words.

All this waiting, and praying...it is a river of anxiety, half-born sorrow that flows through our lives, just under the surface. We all silently agree not to acknowledge it very much. It could drown us.

Merciful God, please keep the light of Mari's smile shining in this world. In Japan. In India. In my heart.


sermon preview: salvation and good manners

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, 'How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?'" (Matt 22:11-12)
There's no minimum requirement for entering the festival of God's Kingdom. On the contrary, for people "without one plea," there's nothing we can accomplish to make us worthy of the grace of salvation. Indeed, it's only by God's loving-kindness that people who have no anchor, no place to turn in the world are invited. So, there's no requirement to be saved. There are, however, manners befitting those who have been saved. The person who, even after having met Christ, keeps on living in all the same ways as before is a lot like someone who shows up to a wedding reception wearing grubby street clothes. Someone who takes such a cheeky attitude hasn't yet understood the joys that are prepared for us.





聖ルカ礼拝堂 夕の礼拝 2011年10月2日

神の心に大きな葛藤がある。 一方では、神はその民をトコトン愛している。他方では、神は裏切り者であるその民にひどくがっかりして、無念極まりない。




















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me and mr. st. james

As a hospital chaplain, I never know what I'm in for when someone calls to make an appointment.

Last week, I got a call from a woman I vaguely recalled having met once before. "I want to ask you about 19th century Evangelicalism in the Church of England."

Yeah, right, I thought, I've heard that one before (?). I made the appointment, figuring we would talk for a few minutes about Wilberforce and Spurgeon and then she would unload about her horrid recent diagnosis, or her shattered relationship with her boyfriend, or her grief having lost her mother, or her conviction that "They" were planting bugs in her bedroom.

But no. She wanted to talk about...19th century Evangelicalism in the Church of England. For a research paper on Jane Eyre. Jane's relationship with her Calvinist cousin, Mr. St. James.

Well, it's easily been 25 years since I read Jane Eyre. But we had a good time talking about Wilberforce and John Newton, the Continental Reformation and Puritanism, as well as John Henry Newman. We both shook our heads and tut-tutted at the grim doctrine of Total Depravity. I gave Calvin’s concern for the sovereignty of God its due five minutes and then went all Armenian on the subject of free will.

But as we were talking I realized something: Whatever their stripe, all those Evangelicals were tapping into some kind of huge energy source. Wilberforce’s tireless, decades-long campaign against slavery. Charles Spurgeon’s impassioned, prodigious preaching. A whole army of Christians setting out across the globe into hostile, unpleasant, sometimes lethal situations to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

They had all discovered some secret spiritual dynamo that gave them the courage, the endurance, the eagerness, the creativity to do all these things.

And I knew what that dynamo was: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

The knowledge that God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Righteous and Holy Judge, would bother to notice, much less reach down and lift up...even one such as me.

Then it clicked. I may not be a five-point Calvinist*. But I am a forgiven sinner. And knowing that I am a sinner, and knowing I that I have nonetheless been forgiven extravagantly by a gracious God--yeah, that knowledge is for me a source of actual energy and encouragement, even in the daily grind of ministry.

* The five doctrinal points of Calvinism are represented by the acronym TULIP:
Total Depravity (the unaided will is incapable of doing good)
Unconditional Election (God doesn't look into the future and see our choices before electing us)
Limited Atonement (Christ's atoning work only extends to the elect)
Irresistible Grace (I'm just a sinner who cain't say no)
Perseverance of the Saints (once saved always saved)