Today we honor Paul Sasaki and Philip Tsen, bishops in Japan and China in the mid-1900s. Bishop Sasaki, from Japan, was persecuted and imprisoned for his support of the independence of the Anglican Church during Word War II. Missionaries from the Episcopal Church first came to the area in 1859; it was the first church in the Anglican Communion not composed primarily of British expatriates. The Episcopal Church there elected its first bishops in 1923. But when WWII came, with Japan opposing the West, the Japanese government ordered all Christians into a “united church.” Bishop Sasaki refused to be merged, and inspired most of the church to stay together and faithful to their Anglican heritage. Bishop Sasaki was tortured and imprisoned for his actions, but his witness rallied the church after the war.
Bishop Tsen was raised by Episcopal Church missionaries. After his ordination, he worked closely with Canadian missionaries in China. During the Sino-Japanese War, he worked to sustain the people of his area, eventually becoming the leader of the Chinese Anglican Church. But upon his return from the 1948 Lambeth Conference, he was put under house arrest by the Communist authorities.
When I was in Burma, learning about the Episcopal Church there, I sometimes wondered how they did it – and honestly, why they chose their path. Their lives would be so much easier if not for the Christian identity. They could earn more money, avoid persecution, stay out of the watchful eye of the government. I wonder if Bishop Sasaki or Bishop Tsen did not feel the same way at times. Though we often encourage standing up for our beliefs, the path of least resistance would certainly be easier. Surely, we have all had even some small instances when we have either caved or wanted to cave when faced with ethical challenges to our faith. We knew what we should have done, but the path of least resistance was just too easy.
I think the way Bishops Sasaki and Tsen overcame those challenges was by believing in the promise of Holy Scripture. We hear the words of promise in Ezekiel today. God promises a shepherd, security, rains for produce, abundant yield, freedom from invasion, release from poverty and hunger. These must have been words of promise for these bishops in tumultuous times.
These are words for us in tumultuous times, too. Whenever we are feeling overwhelmed by the powers of evil or are feeling tempted to take an easy way over what feels like the hard way – Ezekiel reminds us that the way of God is full of abundant promise. That kind of promise is the kind of promise we can lean on, no matter how hard something is – for we are the sheep of God’s promise, and the LORD God is our God. Amen.