February 11, 2024 - Transfiguration Sunday
Final Sunday at Keawala’i

"Not Knowing What to Say”

Rev. Scott Landis

Mark 9:2-8

You may have thought – perhaps even hoped – when you read my sermon title for today that it was I who was at a loss for words – “Not knowing what do say.” But alas, that has rarely (if ever) been the case for me when given a pulpit and a captive audience.  I must admit, this week was different, and this service has been rather humbling. I have so many mixed emotions that it IS difficult to know what to say that might be helpful to the members and friends of Keawala’i, but I’m gonna give it my best shot. 

I decided it might be beneficial to take a trip down memory lane and review a few of the highlights of the past four years and then reflect on what we have learned as a result of our time together. Finally, I’ll refer you to the scripture passage Kate read moments ago – Mark’s recording of the very strange event known as the Transfiguration. I think there’s an interesting connection between the two.

When I was a young father, my kids and I would we end each day, as part of our bedtime ritual, by engaging in a practice we called “Highs and Lows” or “Pow-Wow” for short. In Pow-Wow, we invited each child to describe a “low” or “pow” that happened that day – something that troubled them, and to talk about how they were feeling about whatever happened. They were also encouraged to offer a “high” – a “wow” – and do the same.  My kids now all in their 40s still talk about those nightly chats that brought us very close as a family. Perhaps your mind may do the same as I invite you into my own pow-wow of the last 4 years. 

We started off with a bang. March 1, 2020. Remember that day? The church was packed. Covid was only beginning to appear on our radar, and I was raring to go. With my instruction manual on “Interim Ministry” in hand, I was ready to fulfill the call I was convinced God had ordained. That week I received this lei from former kahu Kealahou Alika, one that I have worn every worship service since, and began what was supposed to be an 18-month interim until Covid took center stage and our lives transitioned from in-person to on-Zoom as worship was beamed into your homes from mine over Facebook Live. All of this was not without its hiccups. I could describe many “pows” during that time and very few wows.

I got to know many of you through a computer screen before we spoke face-to-face. We had to learn new ways of communicating, worshiping, meeting, and I had to learn to read Hawaiian very rapidly. These too, were not without their hiccups. 

Life became a daily exercise of listening to the “experts” on what next to do. In reality, none of us knew. They were frightening days – ones with many more pows – than wows as a planned three-week church closure lasted longer than a year. Fears of massive budget shortfalls were realized. Uncertainties grew and we learned how to be the church scattered rather than gathered. Since most of the congregation is in the kūpuna category or living with pre-existing health conditions, we decided it best to err on the side of caution. In short, we went from a massive “high” to a deep “low,” in less than 2 weeks and I wondered why on earth God called me to this position. We had to move ahead — imua! but I had no idea where we were going. 

While the church doors remained closed, we decided to begin our pastoral search process. Over zoom meetings and one in-person gathering, you identified some things about this wonderful place that make you unique. You reaffirmed your mission, you realized anew the need for growth – spiritually and numerically – identifying the desire to reach out to the rapidly changing community that surrounds the church AND, you reaffirmed your commitment as an historic Hawaiian church to do everything you can to honor, teach, and promote Hawaiian culture and tradition. This was a pivotal wow! As you reaffirmed your core values, and highlighted their importance to you. 

Unfortunately the pastoral search terminated with no viable candidates. A big pow! I was asked to serve another two-year term, and we determined my ministry would focus much more strategically on issues of transition. By this point I had long tossed my handbook on interim ministry and we began all over again. 

A formal Transition Team was appointed, and we reviewed all aspects of the church making recommendations to the Church Council for further consideration. For me that was a WOW of honest evaluation and creative imagining what Keawala’i might be in the future. 

Eventually a new pastoral search committee was appointed. Cognizant of the work of the transition team and embracing the work done by the former search team, the new search committee began looking for the person they believed could hold the core values of the church along with implementing some of the suggestions of the Transition Team’s Final Report. That person, the Rev. Gary Percesepe, is packing his bags right now, eager to come and serve among you. A huge wow! But the pows were not over. 

During the time of the search, we got hit with the Maui wildfires that destroyed property, lives, and the dreams of many in Kula and in Lahaina. We are honored today by the presence of Kahu Anela Rosa from the Waiola Church that was completely destroyed in the fire in Lahaina. The reality of that fire will haunt us for years as we seek to remain sensitive to the needs of those directly affected while trying to bring our island aloha to all who visit here. 

So, when Joe McDermott, the chair of the search committee, called to tell me the news about Gary, I was elated – for the church but sad for me. At that point I really DIDN’T know what to think, or feel, or say. How can a wow be a pow – at the same time? But it was – and it is. And that’s as it should be. 

When you love hard – you grieve equally hard when a relationship ends – or changes. This ending, for me, is both the termination of a call and of my full-time career in ministry — a career that I have loved and have been blessed by in so many ways – something I am still trying to wrap my head around. That will take some time. That’s my work, and I know myself well enough to believe I will be just fine. 

Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up a mountain and they were blown away by the experience of what they saw. Wow! It must have been amazing. Peter got so nervous he began to rummage the grounds for material to make some tents. “It’s good that we are here. Let me build some dwellings so we can hang out here. I’ll make one for you, and one for Elijah, and one for Moses” … he was terrified, Mark records, and “ he didn’t know what to say.” 

Things were shifting – the great huliau – referred to as the Transfiguration – was happening right before their eyes. They were blown away, frightened but they didn’t want it to end either. Jesus knew otherwise. There was still a whole lot more work to be done.

  Liturgically we stand today between Epiphany and Lent. Epiphany being the season of enlightenment – a time of introspection and centering for future callings. It happens to be my favorite season of the year. Lent offers a much more austere experience of preparation. Lent invites us to cast aside worldly distractions and draw nearer to spiritual presence as we journey with Jesus to the cross. If Epiphany is about contemplation – Lent is about action. But in between there is this moment of Transfiguration for Jesus – and, I believe, Transformation for us – even today. 

We have before us an opportunity to reflect on our experience of the past few years – its highs and lows. It’s important to honor all of that just like the kids and I used to do in Pow-Wow. We may even be transformed by the experience of doing so. But we cannot stay here. We are called to a new reality. To the work that is before us.  

I will not be a part of that here. You will have a new pastor that is excited about working and walking with you on a journey that is yet to unfold. My role will be to pray for you as you  listen for ke Akua’s challenge and direction for new opportunities and I will do the same. 

Most mornings right now, long before the sun comes up, I head out in an outrigger canoe with others from the Kīhei Canoe Club looking for whales. Whale season is an exciting time. When one is sited, we paddle like mad to get there – often followed by a hushed moment of awe – as one breaches, or a baby starts flapping its tale, or pods begin slapping their pectoral fins in a form koholā ballet.  We don’t know what to say but we know we have been blessed. Eventually, we have to head back to the beach and get on with our day. 

We never want to miss the breach, the blow, or the pec or tale slap, but we cannot stay there. There’s work to be done. Keawala’i I will be cheering from afar as you continue your work.  My prayer will continue as you experience new “highs” and “lows” – “pows” and “wows” as you seek  “To minister to all through the spiritual gifts you share as a diverse community – uniting your Christian faith and Hawaiian heritage.”

Ke Akua pu! – May God bless you.

Mahalo ke Akita! — Thanks be to God. 


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