Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Sunday, June 12, 2011
“The Gift of the Spirit”
Henry Wilfred Waia‘u was born in 1889, the second child of Gersham Kelekoma Waia‘u and Haole Kaupu in the fishing village of Ho‘okena of South Kona on the island of Hawai‘i. He died in 1949, the year that I was born.
Uncle Henry attended the Kamehameha School for Boys in Honolulu and graduated in 1908. It was while he was a student at Kamehameha that he received his formal training in music and the skills to excel at reading, writing and arranging music compositions, some secular, some sacred.
Over the years his passion always remained close to the church and to music. It is said that he particularly loved church hymns.
He met a woman from the island of Kauai several years after graduating from Kamehameha by the name of Lydia Kaluapi‘ilāhainā Ellis. They were married at Lawa‘i, Kōloa and together, they raised four children.
of the children were musically talented. As a Hawaiian song writer,
Uncle Henry composed and arranged songs as gifts that he dedicated to the
classes of his children. For his daughter Haleakalā, he composed “Ku‘u
Home O Kamehameha” and for his son Pu‘unoni he composed “Kona
It was the latter, “Kona Kai ‘Opua” that I remember well. Having been born and raised in Kona, the song is one that has stayed with me all through these many years. Although this mele or song was written to describe a love affair between the young King Liholiho and a woman of rank, it sings of the places and activities of Kona and compares them to the deep emotions of love. (http://huapala.org/Kona_Kai_Opua.html)
Known in English as “Kona of the tranquil seas,” it describes the ‘opua or pink cumulus cloud formations that hang low along the coast that are regarded as omens of good fortune and good weather. Much of that good weather today has been obscured by the volcano at Kilauea that has been in a continuous eruption since 1983. The term “vog” has been coined and refers to the volcanic haze that has blanketed the island of Hawaii for over twenty five years.
I remember the clear blue skies, the glowing sunsets, the gentle winds and the calm ocean waters of Kona. In the refrain “Hanohano ‘o Kona kai ‘opua i ka la‘i”, Uncle Henry captured the essence of a memory that is shared by many - “Proud, the cloud banks over Kona’s peaceful sea.”
sense of mālie or sense of peace and calm is where I find the
deep emotions of God’s love for us. It is not in the wind or earthquake
or fire that I have come to know of the power and presence of God’s Spirit,
but in a still small voice.
Yet I know for others, like the disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the power and presence of the Spirit was not to be found in a still small voice but in what can only be described as the sound of a “violent wind” and “fire.” (Acts 2:2-3) The sudden appearance of the wind caused the crowd that had gathered to become “bewildered,” “amazed and astonished,” and “perplexed.” Amid the commotion there were others who could only “sneer” at what they saw occurring before their eyes. (Acts 2:6-7, 12-13)
I imagine if I had been there that day I would have counted myself among those who would have sneered. Jana Childers, a Professor of Homiletics and Speech Communication at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California points out in her observation of our reading from The Acts of the Apostles: “Many Christians have become accustomed to thinking of the Holy Spirit as more of a Hawaiian breeze than a Chicago gale.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, Bartlee & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2011, page 17) It is an apt comparison in more ways than one because I would count myself among those think of the Spirit as a breeze rather than a gale.
In the months preceding my graduation from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo in 1975, I sat down with my pastor one day to talk about what my plans were for the future. I had spent two years serving in the youth ministry program of the church and initially thought that I would go to law school.
He asked if I considered going to seminary and I said no. He suggested that I give it some thought. We talked a bit and when I indicated that I knew nothing about seminaries and where to go, he mentioned that he had graduated from Chicago Theological Seminary. He offered Chicago as one option.
My immediate thought was “too much snow, too cold.” I asked if there was somewhere else closer with a climate less severe in the winter and he suggested Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California.
The choices were there before me: Chicago or Berkeley; cold or moderate. The decision was not based on whether or not I would find God in Chicago or Berkeley. After all, God is omnipresent; God is everywhere.
The decision was based on what I knew to be true for myself – that I had come to know the God who created heaven and earth in a place called Kona. By the fall of that year I boarded a flight for San Francisco and “the rest is,” as they say, “history.”
But Childers also writes of the reading: “ . . . this important passage may at least remind (us) that the Spirit does not always arrive as a still, small voice or a faint stirring in the heart. The Holy Spirit’s power is not always subtle, fragile or polite. Even today,” she adds, “it can be electric, atomic, and volcanic.” (Op. cit.)
In our reading we discover that the coming of the Holy Spirit was not associated with a gentle wind, but a violent wind, as Jesus predicted and as Childers reminds us, with power – “the kind of power that could knock a person into orbit, even ‘to the ends of the earth.’” (Ibid., page 15) It would take that kind of power for the disciples and others to overcome their sorrow and distress, their fear and anxiety, their reluctance and uncertainty.
Almost forty years ago I sat in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas with over 80,000 youth and young adults who had gathered for a conference on evangelism. I traveled to Dallas with a group from Hawai‘i for the week-long gathering.
It was my first time to the city. I am always amused when I think about the things that I remembered – of how hot and dry it was; of how the fish in the city’s aquarium were all brown and grey and lacking in color; of how I quickly came to acquire a taste for Dr. Pepper.
On the last day of the conference the speaker extended an invitation to those who would commit themselves to being “witnesses” of Jesus Christ “to the ends of the earth.” I am not one to take such an invitation lightly. I am never one to jump up in response to the emotion of the moment.
The weather forecast for the evening was for thunderstorms. As we sat there in the stadium, the clouds gathered and darkened the skies. It was late afternoon. The sun was setting.
I was seated at one end of the stadium. We could hear the crackle of thunder. Rain began to fall and I thought, “Great, it would just be my luck to be in a place that was about to get hit by lightning.”
Somehow, despite my own worry, there was a calm that swept through the stadium. The speaker had asked that everyone be in prayer – eyes were closed, heads were bowed.
Those who were willing to make a commitment were invited to stand. At the time I would have said I am not sure what came over me, but I stood as did others – not everyone – but many, many others. And at the “Amen” I looked up as did the thousands of others in the stadium and noticed off in the distance that there was a break in the clouds. The sun came shining through and as it hit the rain drops that were now lightly falling, a bright rainbow filled the sky.
There was a moment of quiet and then an enormous roar went up from the crowd. I know that my life and the lives of many others were transformed that day not by the meteorological phenomenon we had just experienced but by the promise we had come to believe: that it is the gift of the Spirit which enables and empowers us to be witnesses of the risen and ascended Christ and the God we had come to know.
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