Grace upon Grace
And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. Genesis 45:5
As late as a few weeks ago, I wondered whether there will be a time when I just feel good and hopeful.
I would think about times like the end of World War II, or other times when people could emerge from trying times and truly celebrate a new time of freedom, or renewed prosperity, or unity. As COVID would roar back every time we thought we were past it, I became cautious about thinking we could ever be free from the virus or whatever else was bothering us.
But today, at least for the moment, things feel good.
It’s not like there’s world peace, or poverty has been eliminated, or that we can confidently say COVID is behind us. And maybe it’s just idiosyncratic to me, because I need the brightness and warmth of the sun once in a while or I get depressed, and I love the Olympics, and I love LA, so today is a good day.
And, of course, it’s St. Valentine’s Day. I don’t have a special Valentine, but hey, that wasn’t who St. Valentine was either. He was not so much about romantic love, but love for people suffering from blindness or mental illness, and all Christians during a time of persecution by the Roman Empire. It is said that he was martyred for persisting in evangelizing the gospel, even to the Roman emperor, and caring for Christians. St. Valentine is an inspiration and a challenge to stand for our faith, and care for the most vulnerable among us.
And there are many ways we can live out our faith, and care for others. Recently I was asked to read excerpts from sermons of my uncle Donald Toriumi and my grandfather Kengo Tajima for an exhibit on faith during the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. These were the last sermons given before the Japanese-Americans were displaced and sent to the camps. One of the things my grandfather said in his sermon was:
We are losing much or all of our worldly possessions including our civil rights and liberties. . . When all things are taken from us, we shall have yet people whom we can love. When we can do nothing, we shall have occasions and opportunities to exercise love.
So no matter what our circumstance is, we do have the opportunity to love. I remember this from when I was on Kaua‘i, and the church I pastored held a regular food pantry. There were people from the community who came pretty much every time, and one thing we would do is talk about challenges in the town. We would ask them to pray for those challenges. I appreciated that, because we don’t need money or a job or education to pray; we all can participate in the power of prayer.
This last weekend was a great sports weekend for us LA types. Not only was it great to see the LA Rams win, and for the city of Inglewood and LA musicians be celebrated, but it was lovely to hear the players after the game be so humble and caring for each other. And Andrew Whitworth, the elder statesman of the team, was given the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his community activism. Upon receiving the award, he spoke about an opposing NFL player who came up to him after the end of a game. It was Derrick Barnes, who wanted “Big Whit” to know how much it meant that he would come to the Girls and Boys Club and spend time with him and talk with him when he was a kid growing up in Cincinnati. (In watching the video about Whitworth’s service, there was mention of a $50,000 grant from the NFL to Heart of Los Angeles. I hadn’t heard about them lately, but they are a youth organization that was founded and hosted by Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Koreatown. They are building a great new arts and recreation center, developed with TELACU, a community development organization founded by the son of a local Presbyterian pastor, César Lizárraga, who founded our own La Casa de San Gabriel. Just a few ways that our Presbyterian legacy is woven into the life of our community.)
From the Olympics, we witness more stories of love and grace. This weekend, Erin Jackson won the gold medal in the women’s 500 meter speed skating event at the Olympics. She is the first Black woman to win a Winter Olympics gold medal in any individual sport. But she might not have even been at the Olympics at all, because a slip during the US trials caused her to fall to third place. First place went to Brittany Bowe, who happens to be a childhood friend, as they are both natives of Ocala, Florida. Bowe, who also qualified for the 1000 and 1500 meter events, gave up her spot in the 500 meter event so that Erin Jackson could qualify.
For myself, I am thankful to be able to announce that Sam Bang has been hired as our new half-time bookkeeper. When Twila French retired and moved to Arizona, we tried contracting with an off-site bookkeeping service, but realized we are not staffed up for that approach. With Sam, we have someone who brings great management experience from his 20 years at Fuller and with several churches, a love of the Presbytery, and a deep faithful servant’s heart that wants to serve Christ’s mission through San Gabriel Presbytery in whatever way he is called to. Because of his expertise, I will be asking that his title be Business Manager. Sam is also serving quarter-time as Associate for Ministry Development, so he is dedicating 75%-time to the Presbytery. Sam has already been a gift to us in many ways, and I anticipate he will be a blessing to many of our congregations as well.
After times of stress and uncertainty, it’s sometimes hard to enjoy moments of joy. But for our spiritual and mental health, it’s important to take those moments, and give thanks. God does offer us grace upon grace—and invites us to be bearers of that grace to others.