Last Sunday After Epiphany
Sunday, February 10, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
It is ironic that the venue for a Tibetan Buddhist leader was at the War Memorial Stadium in Wailuku. I was there on the second day of his visit sitting among the more than 10,000 who had come to hear the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso speak on “Eight Verses for Training the Mind: A Buddhist Philosophical Discourse” in April 2007.
The Tibetan leader who was then 71 years old arrived with an entourage that included members of the U.S. State Department who provided security and other arrangements. While on Maui, the Dalai Lama participated in several private gatherings, including the blessing of a prayer stupa at the Maui Dharma Center in Pāʻia and a meeting with Native Hawaiian kūpuna or elders at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.
I know there are some who may feel anxious about why I would attend such an event in light of the mission and ministry of this church. I know there are some who may feel uneasy about the mention of a religious tradition that some consider anathema to the Christian faith.
But I am reminded of our reading from The Gospel According to Luke last Sunday (Luke 4:21-30) in which Jesus makes evident as he spoke in the synagogue that God’s presence and power are often revealed in those whom we least expect. In this instance, in a widow of Zarephath in Sidon who was not a believer and in the healing of Naaman, a Syrian soldier with leprosy (sic).
Both the widow and Naaman were “outsiders.” Luke makes the case that God’s power and presence were with those were not in the synagogue.
Having heard this, all in the synagogue were filled, not with anxiety, but rage. They were so angry that Jesus had dared to remind them of what they already knew that they got up and drove him out of the town and led him to a place where they prepared to kill him. (Luke 4:28-29)
I thought about the Dalai Lama and what I saw, felt and sensed that day at the stadium. There was an ano about him that was unmistakable.
In the Hawaiian language dictionary, the word ano is translated to mean “awe, reverence, peacefulness, sacredness, holiness.” The Dalai Lama sat on a cushioned platform as he spoke that day at the stadium. There was a quietness and calm to the day.
Despite the distance between the Dalai Lama and the crowd that had gathered that day, there was an intimacy to the occasion that occurred because of his ano. An English equivalent to ano is the word aura. There was an aura about the Dalai Lama – “an invisible breath, an emanation or radiation.” There was a distinctive quality that surrounded him, but there was also a quality coming from within. I believe that it was a quality shaped by his profound commitment to non-violence and the hopes and aspirations of the Tibetan people.
Today is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany. Today is also Transfiguration Sunday. It has been a season of light.
It is a time when we remember what happened to Jesus the day he took Peter, John and James with him to a mountain to pray. It is there on the mountain while praying that Jesus’ appearance changes – his face changes, his clothes become a dazzling white (Luke 9:29).
Yes, it is clear from Luke’s account of that day that something external to Jesus changed. But something internal also changed.
It was there that his identity is affirmed by God for the second time: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). It is amazing that Peter, John and James were unable to comprehend what had occurred and that they felt compelled to remain silent, speaking to no one about the things they had seen.
Luke tells us that they were weighed down with sleep. So it may have been that they were initially unable to see or hear very clearly what happened at that moment on the mountain because they were physically exhausted.
But again something in Jesus changed that day. His ano changed. The transfiguration occurred on a mountaintop but Jesus knew that coming down from the mountain into the muck and mire of the world is what is required of us if we are to be faithful in our living.
God is present in and working through Jesus - the Chosen - to whom we must listen. Like him we too will pray and by doing so, we will be about the work of bringing healing and wholeness to the world.
Sharon Ringe, a Professor of the New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. reminds us: “The glory of God’s presence and the pain of a broken world cannot be separated” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 457).
Lori Hale, a Professor of General Education at Augsburg College, in Minneapolis, Minnesota adds: (Op. cit., page 456): “...living high up in the rarefied air isn’t the point of transfiguration . . . (It was) never meant as a private experience of spirituality removed from the public square. It was a vision to carry us down, a glimpse of unimagined possibility at ground level.” (Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, Heidi Neumark, Beacon Press, Boston, 2003, page 268) So we must all leave the mountaintop for the rough and uneven places where we live.
While there are differences between Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity we may never be able to reconcile, compassion and aloha are at the heart of the teachings of the Dalai Lama and Jesus. Their ano should give us pause to look at ourselves and question, “What is my ano?” “Am I someone who is open to others and the ways in which God works through those whom we least expect?”
Thanks be to God. Amen.