Sunday, June 16, 2019
It is enough to say that my life was in a turmoil. Maybe it was the times in which we were living. It was in the summer of 1967 that I left the relative safety of six years of boarding school.
The country was embroiled in a war in a place called Viet Nam. Someone I knew enlisted in the Army and by the end of that summer we learned that he was shot and killed in combat.
It was the tumultuous Sixties – a time when it seemed that every aspect of our lives was changing. In a way, it was not surprising that the Jesus Movement emerged out during that time. Some say it was out of the “Summer of Love” that the movement was born; a movement that grew out of the counter-culture of hippies who became Jesus people and whom others referred to as Jesus freaks.
It was on a late summer night that I found myself bicycling down the Waikiki side of the Ala Wai Canal in Honolulu. I knew that the ride would take me to the Diamond Head end of the canal to a grove of trees.
I had heard the story of a young man who found himself in a grove of trees one evening praying and yearning for some spiritual direction in his life. And it was there that he received a vision.
I imagined if I prayed with enough faith that I, too, would have a vision. I had been baptized two years earlier, attended church every week, prayed every day, read the Bible and in every way sought to live a faithful life.
I had just begun my Freshmen year at a community college. I was attending a church and but realized one day that I was troubled by some of the churchʻs teachings.
I thought the bike ride would help me clear my mind. As I approached the grove of trees I could sense my own excitement - anticipating that I would be greeted by a clear and certain vision about the decisions I needed to make for my own life.
But nothing happened.
I entered the grove. There was no thunder. No blinding lights. No voices. Nothing. I turned around and headed home.
I left the church a few weeks later.
It would not be until years later that I would come to realize that Ke Akua – God – had indeed heard my prayer. In our reading from The Gospel According to John, Jesus offers a final farewell by promising to all who follow him, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to comfort, counsel, teach and guide them all (John 14:16-17; 14:25-26; 15:26; 16:7-11).
Jesus made “the following promises and affirmations [to the disciples]: [He] will ask God to send the Spirit of truth as another Counselor to be with the disciples forever; the Holy Spirit will be sent from God in Jesus’ name to teach and to remind the disciples of Jesus’ words; the Spirit, sent by Jesus but proceeding from God, will bear witness to Jesus; and finally, upon his departure Jesus will send the Counselor to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (Preaching the Word Through Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 282).
Jesus did not touch every human condition or question that might arise in life during his ministry. But he did promise the Holy Spirit [would] “guide [us] into all truth” and “[would] declare to [us] the things that are to come” (John 16:13).
Such a promise is frightening because there will always be those who will seek to bless every “new notion and to footnote with authority all manner of behavior as well as prophesies as to the fate of the world, the time of the Eschaton [or end time]; and the certain will of God in every crisis” (Op. cit., page 283). If questioned by whose authority such declarations are made, those who make such declarations are quick to say it was God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. But even with that danger, we know that it is the Holy Spirit continues to guide us.
“The Spirit will speak or act independently, but the Spirit would rather glorify Christ and reveal only that which comes from Christ and from God” (John 16:14-15). The following is worth our consideration: “ . . . if the spirit by which any person or group acts and speaks is really the Holy Spirit” the question we must ask ourselves over and over again is this: “Are the actions and words in accordance with what we know of God and of Jesus Christ” (Op. cit.).
Grayson Fritts, a Tennessee pastor who is also a detective, said in a sermon on June 2, 2019 at the All Scripture Baptist Church in Knoxville that “people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender were ‘freaks’ and worthy of death” (“Tennessee Pastor Who Is Also a Detective Calls for L.G.B.T. People to Be Executed,” Sandra E. Garcia, The New York Times, June 15, 2019). He quoted Leviticus 20:13 as a justification for his position.
He argued that the Bible demands that LGBTQ people be put to death. He is quoted as saying: “God has instilled the power of civil government to send the police in 2019 out to the LGBT freaks and arrest them and have a trial for them, and if they are convicted, then they are to be put to death” (“They are worthy of death: A cop preached that the government should executive LGBTQ people,” Allyson Chu, The Washington Post, June 14, 2019).
We are compelled to ask the question: Are the actions and words of Pastor Fritts in accordance to what we know of God and of Jesus Christ? That is a question we must ask ourselves time and time again as we seek to live our lives as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus said the Spirit of truth will come and it is the Spirit that guides us into all truth. Jesus said the Spirit of truth will come and it is the Spirit that guides us into all truth.
When I started my Freshmen year at the community college in Honolulu, Frank and I became quick friends. He was African American and I was the poi person – the person with a mixed ancestry of Hawaiian, Japanese and Portuguese.
One day we began talking about “church” and he asked if I was a member of a particular church. I struggled to respond because at that point the church I attended taught that African Americans were cursed when Cain killed Abel. They were descendants of Cain and because of Cain, they were punished with dark skin.
I grew up in a coffee farming community with neighbors who were Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Hawaiian and Haole. There were no African Americans in our grade school or high school.
At the time I joined the church in Kona, there were no African Americans that I knew of who lived in communities throughout the district. Although I felt the teaching of the church made no sense, there seem to be little reason for raising any questions – that is, until Frank and I became friends.
That is what prompted me to take that bike ride along the Ala Wai Canal and into the grove of trees.
There was no thunder. No blinding lights. No voices. Nothing.
There was only the whisper of the evening wind through the coconut trees and the sound of rippling water in the canal. I turned around and headed home. A few weeks later, I left the church.
God had answered my prayer.