United Church of Christ (USA)
Sunday, December 4, 2011
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Those of you who are familiar with the history of Hawaiʻi know that much may be said about what transpired during the years when Liliʻuokalani was serving as our Moʻi Wahine or Queen. Over the course of her lifetime, from 1838 until her death in 1917, Liliʻuokalani saw tremendous social, political, economic and religious changes sweep over the Hawaiian nation that she knew and loved.
The details and facts surrounding her forced abdication by American businessmen in collusion with armed troops from the USS Boston are clearly documented in numerous historical accounts of that period. (see Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen, Liliʻuokalani, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Ryutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan, First Edition 1898, First Tuttle Edition, 1964 & The Betrayal of Liliʻuokalani: Last Queen of Hawaiʻi 1838-1917, Helena G. Allen, Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, 1982) Then and now our aloha for Liliʻuokalani remains strong in our hearts because of her aloha for the people and for the nation that was once known as Hawaiʻi.
When she was released in 1896 from house-arrest at her residence at Washington Place, she made “a final decision to leave her childhood church, Kawaiahaʻo, and become a communicant of the Episcopal Church.” (The Betrayal of Liliʻuokalani: Last Queen of Hawaiʻi 1838-1917, page 350) Kawaiahaʻo is often referred to as the Westminster of the Pacific. There are those who consider Kawaiahaʻo the “mother church” to all of our congregational churches located throughout Hawaiʻi because it became the church for the aliʻi or ruling chiefs.
During the years of turmoil and upheaval, the Queen distanced
from the church. The Rev. Serano Bishop, the spokesperson for the annexation party chose to excoriate the Queen from the pulpit of Kawaiahaʻo.
It was Bishop along with a Dr. Hyde who sent messages to the United States declaring the Queen as someone who was – “savage”, “immoral”, heathenish”, “incapable of ruling a civilized – or any – nation,” “foul-mouthed”, “dangerous”, “a dirty squaw”, and “bloodthirsty”. (Ibid., page 303) He said this of a Queen who taught Sunday School at the church, sang in the choir, and played the organ at the church. One can well imagine how difficult it was for her one evening in 1893 when she was warned that there were men stationed on the roof of the church with guns pointed at her residence.
But whether or not we think of the Queen as an Anglican or Congregationalist, what is evident is that she held fast to her in faith God. In her own account of her life as Queen she made an appeal to the United States towards the end of her life.
She wrote: “Oh, honest Americans, as Christians hear me for my down-trodden people! Their form of government is as dear to them as yours is precious to you. Quite as warmly as you love your country, so they love theirs. With all your goodly possessions covering a territory so immense that there yet remain parts unexplored, possessing islands that, although near at hand, had to be neutral ground in time of war, do not covet the little vineyard of Naboth’s, so far from your shores, lest the punishment of Ahab fall upon you, if not in your day, in that of your children, for ‘be not deceived, God is not mocked.’”
“The people whom your fathers told of the living God, and taught to call ‘Father,’ and whom the sons (sic) now seek to despoil and destroy, are crying aloud to him in their time of trouble; and he will keep his promise, and will listen to the voices of his children lamenting for their homes.” (Ibid., page 374)
We may look upon the words of the Queen and conclude that that was then and this now. Over a century has passed. It is time to move on.
But her words and the history of our islands provide us with ways of appreciating more deeply and profoundly the words of comfort spoken by the prophet Isaiah centuries earlier to the people of Judah. Judah was conquered by Babylon in 586 BCE and the people were taken into exile.
It would not be until the passing of a generation that the people of Judah would return to Jerusalem and it would not be until 515 BCE that they would begin to rebuild the temple and their lives. The exile or displacement was a source of great sorrow for the nation.
And it is Isaiah who writes: “Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God. (Isaiah 40:1) “It is an invitation, spoken tenderly, from the God of the universe into a new, gentle, comforting relationship in which God acts like a shepherd overseeing sheep.” (Seasons of the Spirit, SeasonsFUSION, Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, 2011-2012, Wood Lake Publishing, Kelowna, BC, Canada, 2011, page 46) It is an invitation in which God offers words of comfort to a people torn from their homeland.
“Leaving Babylon to return to a destroyed Jerusalem was not a simple act. The return would be through the wilderness between Babylon and Jerusalem. The journey would evoke memories of the exodus stories told about their ancestors’ travel after their liberation from Egypt.” (Op. cit.)
It is true that those who were citizens of the nation of Hawaiʻi were not sent into exile to a distant land as were the people of Judah. But it is also true that many Hawaiians felt they were exiles in their own land.
If there is any consolation or comfort in the words of Isaiah and Liliʻuokalani, it comes to us from the words of the psalmist. In the midst of a nation torn apart, God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace remain. And through Isaiah and Liliʻuokalani we are reminded of the ways in which God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace abounds within the chaos of our own lives as individuals.
God’s word of comfort is that we will all be comforted in the midst of our sorrow or despair; anger or resentment; hurt or pain. As we enter the second week of Advent, Isaiah invites us to “Cry out!” that we may be comforted.
What then will we cry out? For it will be out of our crying that God’s words of comfort and reassurance shall come to us once more – with might and in gentleness.
The people are crying out aloud to God in their time of trouble, the Queen wrote, and God will keep God’s promise and will listen to the voices of Hawaiian children lamenting for their homes. God will feed the people like a shepherd feeds sheep. God will gather the lambs and carry them and gently lead the mother sheep.
So we lift up our voices with strength. We lift up our voices and do not fear. We say to the cities of Judah and to the many other cities from which we have come, “Here is your God!”
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