Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
Sunday, February 3, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Prophets have existed in many cultures throughout human history. In Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions, prophets had a role in society of promoting change through their messages and actions and included the kāula or prophets of ancient Hawaiʻi.
It is said that a prophet is someone who claims to have been contacted by the supernatural or divine – God, if you will - and to speak for God as an intermediary with humanity, delivering whatever the message may be from the supernatural to the people. In our reading from The Gospel According to Luke, Jesus makes reference to the Hebrew prophets Elijah and Elisha.
He makes the claim that prophets are always rejected in their own hometowns and as if to demonstrate his point he manages to alienate those who spoke well of him and of his gracious words. Their amazement is evident when some asked, “Is not Jesus the son of Joseph? We know his family.”
Jesus had captured their attention moments earlier when he read words from the prophet Isaiah that underscored his ministry to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the acceptable year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:14-20, Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6). Those in synagogue in Nazareth that day would have been hard pressed to object to Isaiah’s words.
But their initial acceptance and amazement with Jesus quickly turns into anger. Jesus confronts them with an unexpected truth – that “outsiders” are sometimes the models of faith. He offers the examples of two prophets – Elijah and Elisha – reaching beyond the people of Israel to welcome those who were outsiders.
Elijah went to an unnamed poor widow at Zarephath in Sidon and Elisha healed a Syrian leper known as Naaman. The poor widow was obedient and faithful to God (1 Kings 17:1-6). She endured a severe famine and yet remained faithful.
Naaman was healed of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14). How was it that God would allow such a healing to take place – of a man who was a leader in the Syrian army and a threat to the Israelites. Both the widow and Naaman would not have been welcomed in their midst and so their rage becomes evident.
Jesus has moved from declaring the acceptable year of the Lord’s favor to calling judgment on those who were not willing to accept the “least of these.” It is a judgment on those who are unwilling to accept that God works with, through and among those who are often considered “outsiders” to those who assume they are the ones who are faithful and deserving of God’s grace and mercy.
It is a judgment we may well face ourselves were we to be so quick to dismiss the many and varied ways in which God is present in our lives and in our world. I felt such a presence here yesterday as family members and friends gathered to remember and celebrate the life of José Krall.
José died in a plane crash on December 1, 2012. He was the owner of the Maui Bake Shop in Wailuku. He died a few days before what would have been the 23rd anniversary of the shop’s opening.
I met with his wife, Claire Fujii-Krall, several times as we prepared for the service. Claire was not certain about how many would be able to attend so it was a surprise that an hour before the service was to begin, the church was nearly filled with people.
Claire’s hula sisters and her Kumu Uluwehi Guerrero from Hālau Hula Kauluokalā came to support her. Members of the Hongwanji Buddhist Temple were among the early arrivals. Members of the French-speaking community were also here.
I noticed one of the candle lighters wearing a yarmulke or Jewish skull cap; someone else was wearing Buddhist prayer beads around his wrist. Before the service began a friend of the family lifted up a Roman Catholic rosary and said someone dropped it in the parking lot and someone else had picked it up.
As a consequence it made sense that the food at the reception that followed would be reflective of those who had come. There was pain perdu or what I am told is the “real” French toast. There was cooked kalo or taro from Keʻanae.
Someone made beef stew and rice. Someone else made spam musubi and maki sushi. There were two trays of turkey wrap sandwiches and teriyaki chicken, fried chicken, and baked chicken.
Here we were – an unlikely mix of folks and food – drawn together in this place for a feast. It occurred to me that in his living and in his dying, José had brought us all into one another’s lives.
We learned among other things that José was passionate about flying. He counted getting a pilot’s license one of the highlights of his life. So it was appropriate that the poem, “Impressions of a Pilot”, by Cary Claud Stokor was read by one of his friends:
Flight is freedom in its purest form,
To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within;
To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;
Then back to earth at the end of a day,
Released from tensions which melted away.
Should my end come while I am in flight,
Whether brightest day or darkest night;
Spare me your pity and shrug off the pain,
Secure in the knowledge that I’d do it again;
For each of us is created to die,
And within me I know I was born to fly.
We gather this day for yet another feast. The table that is set before us today is open to all people – kamaʻāina and malihini alike. Thanks be to God.