Sunday, March 10, 2019
First Sunday of Lent
If you have ever driven the southeastern flank of Haleakalā from Ulupalakua to Kaupō, you know how breathtaking the view is from mauka to makai. The lush area of Ulupakua disappears into the grasslands as you drive further east –withered and brown during the dry season but vibrant and green when the rains come during this season of the Makahiki.
Today the area is sparsely populated and despite the presence of cattle ranching, the area can feel like a wilderness. It was not so in ancient times.
A significant population of fishermen, farmers and aliʻi or chiefs lived in the area. Mau Loa the first aliʻi to rule Maui was born in Kaupō. The area is rich in Hawaiian mythology and archaeological evidence. It is believed that the first Polynesians to arrive on Maui landed in this part of the island.
Twenty generations later, the great chief Piʻilani laid the foundation for the road that would encircle Maui and bear his name. Loaʻaloa heiau was the largest war temple throughout all of the islands and it is located here along with archaeological sites that include fishing shrines, petroglyphs and the remains of extensive sweep potato fields.
In 1832, the year that this church was established, American Protestant missionaries recorded the kanaka maoli or native population at over 3,000. At that time it was the highest count for any Maui district.
In the years that followed a small pox epidemic swept through the area and decimated the population. It almost seems unimaginable that the area was once a thriving community.
It’s windswept grasslands, wide open terrain and rough rocky shoreline can overwhelm the senses during the day but I imagine there would be stories to tell that only the night would know. After all kau means “to arrive” and pō means “by night.” Some say this is in reference to the midnight landing of war canoes.
My own unease of the wilderness of Kaupō came at a stop along the shoreline at Manawainui gulch. It is the one section of the highway that drops down to the ocean. One can pull off to the side of the road, get out and take a few steps and be down at the water’s edge.
It was at that landing at Manawainui that I thought, “Hmmm! I am not sure how I would feel about being out here after midnight. I had already heard more than a few night stories about the area and though fishermen frequent the area during the day, they are more inclined to come out at night. It is then that there seems to be other inhabitants of a less visible sort that come out at night.
I suspect my unease has a lot to do with being afraid, of being alone.
We do not know how Jesus would have felt if he found himself out in Kaupō at Manawainui but I imagine he may have thought, “Hmmm! I am not sure how I feel about going out there.” But he did go out into the wilderness when he returned from Jordan the day he was baptized by John – and thankfully we are told he was full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness (Luke 4:1).
Today is the First Sunday of Lent. This season sets us on a journey that begins in the wilderness. We follow the way of Jesus who faced trails, troubles, temptations and testings.
Like him, we know we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is with us and God’s Word is on our lips. Our call is to trust in God alone, to do God’s will in all things. God leads us not only into the wilderness but through the wilderness (Pastoral Perspective: Luke 4:1-13, Jeffery L. Tribble, First Sunday in Lent, page 48).
In our reading from The Gospel According to Luke, the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, to take control of the kingdoms of the world, and to perform a spectacular stunt that would cause the crowds to “oooh” and “aahh.” But Jesus refused.
He refused to succumb to allure of possessions, prestige and power. He knew enough that bread alone – material possessions and material wealth was not something to be desired. He knew enough that prestige – being venerated and held in high regard by others - was not something to be desired. And he knew enough that testing God’s power was not the same as trusting in God’s power.
If we are to follow in his way and if we are led by the Spirit, the temptation of possessions, prestige and power will give way to a life of service. And if we are to follow in his way, we will find strength that comes through prayer.
We remember that when Jesus was at the Jordan being baptized by John, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the kinolau or bodily form of a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
It was when he was being baptized that he prayed and it was when he returned from the Jordan that he went in the wilderness. As we begin our journey during this season of Lent, we do so mindful that our truest hunger is not for possessions, prestige or power, but for what our souls craves most. “Lent reminds us that we desire God – that we need God, if we are to truly live” (Reflections on the Lectionary: Luke 4:1-13, Winn Collier, Christian Century, February 13, 2019, page 21).