Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 15, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Hanu had just turned three years old in early December. He died three months later in late February following two massive seizures within a twenty-four hour period.
I was determined to make certain that the veterinarians who had treated Hanu the week that he fell ill would not simply shelve his medical record. I made an appointment to see the primary veterinarian who had been treating him.
During our conversation I reminded her of the extraordinary measures we had taken to transport him to Honolulu to an animal hospital. I recounted to her how I noticed while driving him to the airport that his breathing had become more and more labored and that the plan to go to Oʻahu did not seem like a good idea to me.
I called her to express my concern and she said, “It is his best chance.” While we were waiting to board our flight, Hanu died.
During my visit with the veterinarian, she sensed my distress. In an effort to provide some words of comfort she said of the animals they treat, “We do everything we can to save them.”
I thanked her for what she said knowing that she meant well and then said, “It is a bit of an occupational hazard for you as a veterinarian and for me as a kahu. We are both inclined to want to save others.”
“But I learned a long time ago that it is not my job to save others. There is only one Messiah, only one Savior, and it’s not me.”
“You didn’t have to save Hanu,” I added. “What was important to me was to know that if he was dying, we were going to do everything to make him comfortable.”
I felt a great, great sadness the moment Hanu died but I also felt great relief knowing that he was no longer in pain; that he was no longer suffering. While many of you did not know Hanu, I can tell you what he was like from the day he came to my home in Wailuku at eight weeks old until that moment when he breathed his last breath.
Others may tell you about Hanu - what they have heard, what they have seen, what they looked at and touched with their own hands. Although he is gone, he remains. Although he died, a part of him lives on.
That is a truth we all know in our own lives well beyond the animals that may come into our care. That is a truth we all know especially in our relationship with family and friends – whether it is a spouse or partner who has died; a tūtū or a keiki (child); a friend or neighbor; even a stranger – a part of each person remains; a part of each person lives on in the stories we tell. It is a truth which comes to us in our reading from The Gospel According to John when we consider the message of this Easter season.
The writer of John tells us the stories – of how Jesus came and stood among the disciples; of how he “breathed” on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”; of how Thomas insisted that he would not believe in the Resurrection unless he was able to see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and put his finger in his side; and of how Jesus came to Thomas for the first time and to the other disciples a second time. These stories are written and told so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that through believing we may have life in his name.
Within the community of the early disciples, Thomas is given an opportunity to be face to face with Jesus. He has his own experience of the Resurrection.
Like Thomas, Peter, Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18) and the other disciples, we all experience God and respond to the invitation of Jesus to share the good news of our Easter faith in our own unique way. It has been said that we can never truly understand another person’s relationship with God and so we are never in a position to judge who is saved and who is not. The story of Easter reminds us that the Risen Christ welcomes all, regardless of our fears or questions; regardless of our doubts and uncertainties. No one is ever left out. No one ever turns up too late.
At the heart of our reading from The Gospel According to John is what it means for us to experience the Resurrection as individuals as well as what it means for us to experience the Resurrection as a community of faith. Like Peter, Mary Magdalene, Thomas and the other disciples each of us experience the Resurrection in our own way, but together we are called to be more than disciples.
We are called, as Peter, Mary Magdalene and Thomas were called, to be apostles who are sent into the world just as God sent Jesus himself. We go from behind doors closed and locked out of fear into a world where good and evil contend. We go into a world empowered by the Spirit to “bear the forgiving, transforming love of God into every sphere of human existence.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, page 404)
Lest we become too lofty in our spiritual ambitions, Robert Fulghum reminds us in his classic book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, (Villard Books, New York, 1988) about what is important for us to remember. He has been cited so often in speeches and sermons that he draws his share of criticism from those who view his writing as “trite and saccharine.” But there are others who have found his observations worth quoting and I confess I have done that at least once before from this pulpit.
Fulghum writes, “All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday school.
These are the things I learned:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- When you out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
- Be aware of wonder.”
And if by chance we should neglect to apply any of these lessons learned, we are also reminded by the writer of The First Letter of John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:1-2:2)
We bear witness to the Risen Christ not because we have seen him as did Mary Magdalene, but because we have heard the stories. We bear witness to the Risen Christ not because we have known him as did Peter, but because we have heard the stories. We bear witness to the Risen Christ because despite our doubts, we live by faith believing in the stories we have heard.
Christ is Risen! Thanks be to God. Amen.