Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, September 6, 2015
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“The Body of Christ”
The drive out to Kaupō last Saturday took us across the southeast flank of Haleakalā. We traveled through Ulupalakua to Kanaio to Kahikinui and finally to Kaupō to join over 200 others at the rededication service of Huialoha Congregational Church on the Mokulau Peninsula.
Over the last five years volunteers have restored the floors, walls and roof of the church. Residents of Kaupō, members of the church, friends and neighbors met under clear skies on the windswept peninsula.
If you have ever driven out in that direction, you know that the landscape is nothing short of spectacular. Someone else was in the driver’s seat so I had the benefit of being able to look across the terrain from mauka to makai – from the upper reaches of Haleakalā down to the rugged coastline.
Someone noticed the ʻaʻaliʻi in full bloom following the rains that blanketed the area in the aftermath of the three hurricanes that passed to the south and north of our islands not too long ago. The yellow, red and brown clusters of the ʻaʻaliʻi that are used for lei making were visible from the narrow highway.
Someone else noticed the wiliwili trees as we crossed over the lava flows of what was essentially the dryland forest of Nuʻu. The seeds of the tree are also used for lei making and long ago the wood was used for making surfboards and the ama or outrigger float of canoes.
A wasp from Africa appeared in the summer of 2005 and devastated all of the trees throughout Hawaiʻi. The plight of the trees began to improve after a predator of the wasp was introduced. The green leaves we saw sprouting on the branches were hopeful signs that the trees were recovering. About midway through the hour-long drive, I noticed a pueo or Hawaiian owl cross the highway in front of us, carried by the trade winds.
Aside from the flourishing ʻaʻaliʻi and wiliwili and the appearance of the pueo, I noticed how green the slope of Haleakalā had become as a result of the recent rains. Green dominated the landscape. It was as though Ke Akua – God – took an enormous paint brush and painted every puʻu or hill, every gully and ridge, a bright green to contrast with the deep blue color of the sky above us and the ocean along the coast.
As our keiki or children return to the start of our Sunday School program today, they will find themselves learning about God’s creation – about the earth and the sky; about the oceans and rivers; about the plants and animals and the birds and the fish of the sea. The drive out to Kaupō reminded me that beyond what we may read in the Bible, we see the reality of God’s creation all around us here on Maui every day.
The drive also reminded me that it is our kuleana, our responsibility, to take care of all God has entrusted into our keeping. That kuleana includes creation itself and places like Kaupō.
It is said that the moku or district of Kaupō is a wahi pana – a special place, a storied place, a sacred place. It is believed the area was settled by the first human migration from the Marquesas Islands over seven centuries before the church was built in 1859.
Hawaiian scholars Kamakau and Kepelino attribute the discovery of Hawaiʻi to a fisherman named Hawaiʻiloa who was on a very, very, very long fishing trip when he came upon the our islands. He returned home and brought his wife and children back to Hawaiʻi. It is said that it was from Hawaiʻiloa that the Hawaiian people all descended.
In time Kaupō became the center of an important religious and cultural complex. At least 30 heiau or temples, if not more, were built.
Kekaulike, the ruling aliʻi ai moku or king of Maui lived in Kaupō and was responsible for the construction of Loaloa Heiau in 1730. Loaloa was a luakini heiau or temple where human or animal sacrifices were received.
Around the same time, Kekaulike also built Popoiwi, a heiau that served as a puʻuhonua or place of refuge. All of this is to say that the wahi pana or sacred and storied places of Kaupō includes Loaloa and Popoiwi as well as Huialoha Congregational Church.
When I think about the luakini heiau that Kekaulike built at Loaloa, I am aware that there are those today who insist that we ought to be relieved that the ancient kapu system was overturned because it brought human sacrifices to an end. The great irony of our Christian faith is that the birth of the church required the sacrifice of a human life. It was after all at the luakini we call Golgotha that Jesus was crucified.
The good news of Jesus Christ is that his death on the cross put an end to all human sacrifices. His death was not to appease any deity but to provide us with the hope and promise that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).
If our kuleana or responsibility is to take care of all God has entrusted into our keeping, that kuleana includes not only creation itself and the wahi pana of Kaupō and Huialoha Congregational Church, it also includes the wahi pana of this place and this church. We are to take care of one another.
Two years ago, the members of our Board of Mission & Outreach took upon themselves the responsibility to do just that. Judy Fox, Matti Christensen and Dian Gruber persevered in providing the encouragement and leadership that gave birth to Hui Mālama O Keawalaʻi, the care-giving program of the church designed to provide short-term assistance to those in need.
Cindy Mead serves as the Chairperson for the Steering Committee for the program. Other Steering Committee members include Tom Nelson and Bob Nelson. Edie Kapiko and Anne Rowehl serve as the Intake Coordinators who will match over a dozen volunteers with those in need of transportation and meals and those in need of running errands and doing hospital or home visitations.
Today, we recognize and affirm those who will be serving as volunteers, including the members of the Steering Committee and our Intake Coordinators. Our reading from The Letter to the Ephesians underscores the importance of recognizing and affirming each person who has accepted the invitation to be a part of the care-giving program.
Here in this wahi pana, here in this sacred place, we understand that the church of Jesus Christ is not simply a building. Here in this wahi pana, we understand that the church of Jesus Christ – whether here in Mākena, Kaupō or elsewhere – is not a merely physical structure but the relationships we share with one another.
As the church – as the Body of Christ – it is our kuleana to promote the growth of the body through our love and care for one another and to lead a life worthy of our calling – with all humility (haʻahaʻa), gentleness (akahai), patience (ahonui) and love (aloha) (Ephesians 4:2). May it be so. Amen.