Fifth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 17, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
You may have seen the decal on the back window of an SUV while driving along Mokulele Highway. It features the eight major islands of Hawaiʻi in a familiar pattern beginning with Hawaiʻi island on the right and Niʻihau to the far left with Kahoʻolawe, Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Oʻahu and Kauaʻi in between.
Below the outline of the islands appear two words – Liquid Nation. The first time I saw that decal I thought it was very clever in expressing what we have come to value about our island home.
We are a liquid nation. The Hawaiian archipelago beyond the eight major islands extends 1,500 miles to the west with 10 smaller islands, atolls, and reefs and 137 minor islands and a whole lot of water in between and around.
Those who are malihini, new to island living often fall victim to “rock fever.” Psychiatrists and psychologists have coined the term “rock fever” for those who feel that an island somehow restricts their movement – both physically and mentally. Such individuals have allowed the water surrounding our islands to define a limited view of the world in which they live.
Who has not heard someone say, “I have to get off this rock!”? The truth is getting off the island and on to a continent only means one is getting on to a bigger rock. After all two thirds of the earth is covered with water. To say we live in a liquid world would not be far off the mark.
The Rev. Dr. Michael E. Williams is the senior pastor at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of numerous articles, stories, poems and books and is the general editor of The Storytellers Companion to the Bible Series. He has been a featured storyteller at the National Storytelling Festival and has taught at the National Institute of Storytelling.
Williams points out that in the ancient world images of water were “central to the core stories of the Hebrew people” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 122). Images of water – of the wai – were also central to many of the stories of the ancient Hawaiians.
Such images of the centrality of water are clear this morning in our reading from The Book of Isaiah. In speaking for God, Isaiah uses images of the sea. From the outset, Isaiah provides us with a description of the identity of God as the one “who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” (Isaiah 43:16). We are reminded about the way in which God intervened to allow the Israelites to cross through the waters of the sea in their journey out slavery and into freedom from Egypt to Palestine.
But Isaiah makes what Williams describes as an unusual turn. God offers the following instruction, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old” (Isaiah 43:18). Rather than focus primarily on the past – of what was - Isaiah encourages his listeners to look forward to the future – of what is to come.
In one sense it was probably very difficult for those to whom the prophet Isaiah spoke directly because the story of the parting of the waters that allowed for the safe passage of the Israelites out of Egypt was a pivotal moment in the life and history of the people of Israel. Why, Williams asks, would God now say that such a recollection or memory was no longer important?
Williams then points to the words of Isaiah – (God) is “about to do a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19). Isaiah calls on his listeners and us “to experience the reversal that God is initiating for the sake of all creation” (Op. cit., page 124).
Like the pathway through the sea, God will now provide a pathway through the wilderness and it will be in the wilderness that God will cause rivers of water to spring forth. There will be water to drink, to irrigate the fields and to water livestock.
The reading from Isaiah seems to suggest that those who should be listening and responding are not. The question is asked, “Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19) The same question could be asked of us.
As we consider our lives, both individually and collectively as the church, the question is whether or not we perceive that God is doing a new thing in our own lives and in the life of our churches. Williams raises two questions for us to consider.
First, has God provided us with a pathway through the wilderness of our own lives and of our world? Second, as we look about at the changes that have come, in particular to Mākena and to Maui, how will we respond?
Maui is not just a “rock.” The islands of Hawaiʻi are not just “rocks.” Each is a geological jewel rich with life and each is filled with the abundance of God’s goodness. There is a voice and a heart to Hawaiʻi that is rooted in the wisdom and aloha of our kūpuna, of our ancestors.
As they made the long journey by canoes from the Marquesas and Tahiti to Hawaiʻi centuries ago, I believe their perception of their world changed to something new. The vastness of their world did not end at the edge between land and sea. Their understanding and appreciation of both is what sustained them through the generations that followed.
In our reading from The Gospel According to John, Mary understands that God is doing a new thing among God’s people. Judas sees the world in its older form when he criticizes Mary for her extravagance when so many of the poor need help.
But Jesus reminds the disciples and us that there will always be the opportunity to serve the poor, but for the moment, God is doing a new thing through the story of the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary at Bethany. Mary leaves the old ways for now and instead turns our attention to the impending death of Jesus. She understands that her sacrifice of costly perfume pales in comparison to the costly sacrifice Jesus will make as he turns toward Jerusalem. His death will bring new life, new hope.
As we move through this season of Lent and as we approach Holy Week and Easter, may we remember what God has done and anticipate the new things that God is about to do. As someone said, “Always the same God, but not always in the same way.” (Op. cit., page 127)
On this St. Patrick’s Day, a blessing for the Irish amongst us and the Irish at heart:
May the raindrops fall lightly on your brow
May the soft winds freshen your spirit
May the sun shine brighter on your heart
May the burdens of the day rest lightly upon you
And may you be enfolded in the mantle of God’s love.
[ Lu'au photos above by Karen Rollins; more posted at KUCC's Facebook page. ]