United Church of Christ (USA)
‘Aha ‘Aina Wai Maka/Hepedoma
First Sunday after the Epiphany
Baptism of Jesus
Sunday, January 8, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Many years ago I was invited to offer a blessing
for the opening of Azeka II in Kīhei. Such public blessings are
a way of life for us here in Hawaiʻi – whether it is businesses or homes,
events, or objects such as airplanes, boats, motorcycles, vans, canoes,
monuments even a cattle pen. From time to time there are a few
that others call “ghost busters.”
When I arrived at the site for the blessing in the mauka parking lot, a crowd of people were beginning to gather in front of a white tent. I don’t remember the time of day but what I do remember was the view from the parking lot to the slopes of Haleakalā.
Stretched across its slopes from north to south was a thick, low bank of dark, dark clouds hanging from the sky. I was certain we were in for the first major storm of the winter season.
I was not the only one. Organizers for the event seemed anxious. It was hard not to notice folks glancing up at the clouds wondering if the deluge was about to begin. No one really said anything but one could easily sense the collective thought of everyone: “We better do this fast and get out of here.”
A man standing next to me said as much. “Oh, no look too good, yeah?”
The best response I could come up with was what any of us would say in such a situation of profound denial: “Ah, not going rain.” There was not much more to say because contrary to what some may imagine, pastors do not have an inside track to God when it comes to the weather – whether we are praying for it to rain or not rain.
As the time drew near for the blessing there was a last
minute scurry of activity to make certain everything and everyone was
in place. Speeches would be made to welcome those gathered for
the blessing. The work of those who were a part of the construction
of the center would be acknowledged. Lei would be given.
Just before the first words were offered, a puka opened up in what appeared to be an optical illusion – dead center, above the tent. The sun broke through and a shaft of light bounced off a light mist that had begun to fall and a rainbow appeared.
The man next to me said with great amazement, “Eh, how you did that?”
I answered, “Wasn’t me. I nevah do nothing.”
The blessing proceeded and after it was pau, it began to rain. As I was leaving, the man who was standing next me turned to me one final time and said, “Nevah mind the rain now. Suppose to rain. It’s a blessing.”
There was something about that day that reminded me of
another occasion when a puka opened up in the sky. In
our reading from The Gospel According to Mark we are told the
story about the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River.
Mark writes: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” (Mark 1:9-10)
This was no gentle puka in the sky, but a puka that was torn open. I can only imagine the amazement of those gathered at the river. But Mark’s account suggests that no saw or heard what transpired in that moment when the heavens were torn apart, the dove appeared and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
What is important for Mark is that we understand the distinction
between John’s baptism with water for the repentance of sins and Jesus’
baptism with the Spirit to enable and empower us to be about his mission
of love in the world. We are reminded by Mark that God in
Jesus Christ is doing something brand new.
John and those who have gone before him all have prepared the way for Jesus’ coming. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John and many others
“prepared the way.” In every time and in every generation there have been others who have prepared the way.
Today is a time when we remember and celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us. We give thanks for the witness of their lives including:
Mary Jo Arndt, Lombard, Illinois
Peter John Awai, Kahului, Maui
Cynthia Bailey Cataldo, Napa, California
Daryl D. Conroy, Surprise, Arizona
James V. Cummings, Maʻalaea, Maui
Barbara Davis, Sun City, California
Elizabeth Keanona Dando, Kīhei, Maui
James Owen Dando, Kīhei, Maui
Caroline Kalama De Lima, Kahului, Maui
Dorothy W. Edwards, Kīhei, Maui
Kenneth C. Edwards, Kīhei, Maui
Helen M. Estep, Seattle, Washington
Terry Driskell, Honolulu, Oʻahu
Bruce Gough, Kanata, Ontario, Canada
Kai Kailiehu, Land-O-Lakes, Florida
Rachel “Puni” Poepoe Kalua, Honolulu, Oʻahu
Audreé Patricia Kavanagh, Kahului, Maui
Merle E. Kekuku, Aiea, Oʻahu
Verona Ronnie Kekuku, Aiea, Oʻahu
Eric Takashi Maehara, Honolulu, Oʻahu
Leland Stanford “Stan” Maag, Oceanside, California
Patrick Martin, California
Justin H. Morren, Kīhei, Maui
Joe Noland, Thomaston, Connecticut
Helen Louise Calder Page, Kīhei, Maui
Dr. Christina Raj, Kula, Maui
Stanley Raymond, Pukalani, Maui
Elizabeth McBain Reed, New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada
William Curtis Richter, Kīhei, Maui
William John Riley, Wailea, Maui
David Robinson, Boulder, Colorado
Charlotte Rogers, Homer, Alaska
J. Arthur Shoquist, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Joeann “Merry” Hampel Silva, Wailuku, Maui
David Sulgit, San Jose, California
Saun-Shane Manapaukoaikaika Suzuki, Pukalani, Maui
Mary Troll, Anchorage, Alaska
Lorraine Johanna Wagner, Mākena, Maui
Sally Weaklend, Kīhei, Maui
Diana J. Whitehead, Kahului, Maui
Janie Whittaker, Hereford, England
Judith Frances Wolgamott, Olympia, Washington
Dr. Bradley Paul Wong, Moanalua, Oʻahu
Today is also a time when we celebrate new beginnings for
those who are about to be baptized. As we recall the lives of those
who died, may we honor the legacy of their faith and faithfulness by
sharing God’s aloha so that future generations may say of us that we
were also faithful.
Mark wants us to know that the puka in the sky above the Jordan River is his way of letting us know who Jesus really is from the very beginning of his story of Jesus’ ministry and death. He wants us to know that Jesus is the Son of God.
Mark wants us to know “of Jesus’ true identity, clearing up any misunderstanding about the significance of the baptism: Jesus is the divinely appointed Messiah.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, Exegetical Perspective, Leslie J. Hoppe, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, page 241) But what makes Jesus’ baptism even more significant is that when we are baptized for the repentance of sins we are also baptized into his baptism.
Through his baptism the Spirit that descended from that puka is the same Spirit that has come to each of us in our own baptism. It is through the Spirit that Jesus fulfilled the mission given to him by God – a mission of aloha that came at a great, great cost.
Our baptism has transformed us into God’s beloved sons and daughters, into God’s children. The question we must ask ourselves today is: “Will we commit ourselves to completing (his) work on earth – sharing God’s aloha from generation to generation – whatever the cost?”