Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, July 15, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I stopped by for a visit in the early afternoon last Thursday. I came bearing flowers and a stuffed toy turtle. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with me or with the turtle. Her mom put the flowers that were already in a vase on the dining room table.
I saw her dad the week before and he initially said they would come by the office for a visit. It would have marked the first time I would have met his daughter who is now a year old. But around noon that day he called to say she had not awakened from her morning nap, so I offered to stop by to see them on my way home to Wailuku.
“I’ll be leaving the office in about 45 minutes.” I said. “I’ll see you soon.”
To say she is a hapa baby would be a disservice to her mom and dad and to humanity. On her mother’s side she is – Hawaiian, Pilipino, Irish, Japanese, and Korean – and not necessarily in that order. On her father’s side – she is an Ashkenazi Jew – with grandparents who immigrated from Russia and Poland to Canada at the outset of World War II.
I noticed very quickly that she has a hula girl smile and that she loved to move to sound of music. Her mom said, “We’ll see about getting her into hula.”
We talked about the ways in which their lives have changed since their daughter’s birth. Mom talked about being sleep-deprived for the first year having to get up two or three times a night to nurse her. Dad talked about child-proofing the house by boarding off open shelves in the living room and restricting access to the various rooms in the house.
“We were ready to be parents,” he said. “It’s a lot of work but that’s okay,” he added with a smile.
Midway through our visit it was time for her to have a snack. Mom filled her sipping cup, set her down in her high chair and scattered some treats on her tray.
I kept my distance and from time to time would venture closer to her. We made eye contact several times. At first she seemed tentative about my presence, uncertain about who I was or what to do.
But the more her mom, dad and I talked, the more relaxed she became. An hour of conversation went by and soon it was time for me to go.
I shook hands with her dad. We gave each other a hug. I turned and gave her mom a hug and a kiss. “Honi,” her mom said as she directed her daughter’s attention to me. “Kiss.”
She puckered up as I leaned over to say goodbye and we gave each other a kiss.
Her dad smiled, “She usually doesn’t do that with someone she just met.”
Before leaving I turned and pointed to a photograph that was transferred to canvas and mounted on a square fame. His daughter was dressed in blue and white top with a tiny single yellow plumeria in her hair.
Her dad is a professional photographer. He took the photograph three days after she was born.
“You must have lots and lots of photographs,” I said. He smiled.
“Good thing it’s on digital,” I added. He smiled again.
I left feeling a great sense of joy.
That sense of joy permeates our reading of The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians. I know that talking about a one-year-old baby girl may seem an unlikely analogy but how else to make sense of what some have described as the excess of words found in the passage addressed to the early church in Ephesus.
I realized that mom and dad may not have been effusive in their words but they were with their emotions whenever the conversation turned to their daughter. I saw joy in their daughter’s life because there was joy in their lives.
Karen Chaokian serves as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Granville, Ohio. She writes of the passage, “We are reminded again and again of who we are and whose we are, brought back to the sheer joy of living as God’s people.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 230)
The letter spares no superlatives when it comes to what God has done. Blessings upon blessings and grace upon grace are lavished on us not because we deserve it, but because we have been adopted as God’s own children.
“The focus,” Chaokian points out, “is on God’s actions. This is not our doing; it is all gift. In fact, these verses offer no obvious imperative at all, nothing for us to do but live for the praise of his glory.’” (Ephesians 1:12)
Last Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Anja Noelani Pressler of Coronado, California. Today we celebrate the baptism of Glenn Daniel Kaleikaumaka Leidig Sears of San Pedro, California.
Through their baptisms we are reminded of our own baptism and the way in which God has claimed us as God’s own. We remember how in Jesus Christ our sins have been washed away. We see the sign and seal of God’s promise and we pray for the Spirit to come upon the water and upon those who are receiving the sacrament of baptism.
Through our baptism we celebrate the joy of living as children of God. We are reminded of God’s love for us. The words from our reading embraces us with that kind of love: “excessive, tender and richly abundant.” (Ibid., page 232)
In a way it is not unlike the “excessive, tender and richly abundant love” of a mother and father for a daughter who has brought so much joy to their lives – even with the sleepless nights and the worries that come with every sneeze and every cough. If there is a distinction to be made between the love of a mother and father for a child and God’s love for each of us, it would be that God’s love for each of us is far greater than just ourselves. (Ibid., page 234)
Yes, we are blessed and chosen in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-4) We are destined for adoption through Christ. (Ephesians 1:5) In Christ we have obtained an inheritance, (Ephesians 1:11) and our hope is set on Christ. (Ephesians 1:12)
The gift of joy that is ours is not an individual blessing but always for the community of Christ – for those who gather in his name. God has accomplished this on our behalf through Christ so we might live, with joy, as God’s own children.
A few days ago I saw how the love of a father and mother can bring joy to the life of a child. It has helped me to appreciate in a new way how the love of God can also bring joy to our lives as children of God.