December 5, 2021
Rev. Scott Landis
Mary Kawena Pukui is widely known for her exhaustive knowledge of Hawaiian wisdom as handed down through oral tradition. In much the same way the Bible was recorded, Kumu Pukui has translated and codified many of these old “sayings” which continue to enlighten us not unlike a Zen koan. As is often the case, the meaning sometimes gets lost in the translation, but I’d like to begin with one that summarizes my thoughts on this day. The words in Hawaiian are,`A`ohe pueo ke`u,
`A`ohe `alae kani,
`A`ohe `ūlili holoholo kahakai.
The translation: No owl hoots, no mudhen cries, no `ūlili runs on the beach. There is perfect peace.
If that imagery may not work for you – perhaps your understanding of perfect peace is when all the dishes are done, the kids are down for the night, and you’re in your easy chair with a fire going while enjoying a glass of wine. Or maybe after a long go around with your younger dogs – and they finally lie down for some much-needed rest. And you do as well. There is perfect peace.
You can likely come up with your own definition but, I think, you get the idea. We are affected – each day – by a plethora of forces that whirl around us. Sometimes disturbing or relentless, these are forces over which we often have very little control. Forces that may not only affect us during the day but may keep us awake at night as well. Forces that can quite easily get us off kilter. In times like this our bodies, our hearts, AND our souls long for relief. They long for maluhia – peace. [Pause]
The gospel reading for today doesn’t immediately strike one as communicating a message of peace – especially not after hearing John’s ranting in the wilderness. But the sentiment is there. We may just need to listen a little more attentively.
There is an inherent tension in this passage – often overlooked – to which I want to draw your attention. Luke begins his text by going to great lengths to explain the historical context of his writing. Initially referring to the seat of power – both secular and religious – he tells of the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor, and Herod was the ruler of Galilee. This was also the time when Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests.
But notice – God did not reveal God’s message through them. Instead, God chooses the most unlikely character in the strangest of places.
Instead of one clothed in dyed-purple or long flowing robes – God chose John – wearing a tunic of camel hair and eating locusts and wild honey. The nobility and high priests were in Jerusalem. John was out in the wilderness. And it was there that the “Word of the Lord” came through the prophet proclaiming a new message – and indeed it was one of peace – “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
What follows sounds a whole lot like marching orders for the Judean Department of Transportation as he calls for hills to be brought low, and crooked ways made straight, and rough places plane. But if we stay with the literal meaning we miss the point. Here’s where we need to take a page from Mary Kawena Pukui’s playbook to grasp the “hidden or deeper meaning.”
As we will read next week, John is calling upon those who have ears to hear, to wake up, to pay attention, to listen, the word of the Lord is being revealed and it can be received only by those who have receptive hearts – hearts of peace.
For that to occur, we need to pay attention to the areas of our lives that need an element of change. Repentance – John calls it. But that’s a word that often makes modern believers a little nervous. [Pause]
I’ve been a congregational minister long enough to know that not a few of my parishioners often get very anxious whenever I suggest we offer a prayer of confession — as an act of repentance — in our liturgy. In fact, in my last setting we didn’t call it that at all – we instead relabeled it - opting for a what We referred to as a “Prayer of Honesty.” I kind of liked that. “Repentance” and “Confession” often reminded many of my parishioners of very uncomfortable experiences in former religious practices. They left all that for the more accepting and affirming message and theology they found in our churches. I fully understand and support that.
But a “Prayer of Honesty” reminds us that we are all fully human. Even the scriptures remind us, “All sin and fall short of the glory of God.” In other words, we all screw up from time to time. We all make mistakes. Oh, I hope my husband is not listening. I think I’ve got him convinced I am practically perfect in every way. But God reminds us otherwise. That when we are honest with “ourselves” we have to admit – we’ve got some work to do.
We need fill up OUR valleys of emptiness and level off OUR mountains of haughtiness. To straighten out OUR crooked ways of deceit, and pettiness, judgment, and selfish behaviors. And to smooth out OUR self-righteous and harsh speech and inconsiderate actions.
Repentance reminds us of our need to “turn around” (which is it’s literal meaning) and helps to get us ready to see the salvation of God. Through repentance we initiate a life-long process of purifying our hearts and that is the only way we ever realize maluhia, — peace—“inner peace.” [Pause]
But let’s not forget the context of this passage. Remember these words were not revealed where we might expect – among the powerful and the learned. No! The “Word of the Lord” came to John “In the wilderness.” It didn’t come into the halls of power – nor did it arrive in the beautiful temple with its massive stone walls and glorious dome and lovely choirs singing God’s praise. NO! It came to a wild prophet in the middle of nowhere. Hummmm.
Think about that for a moment. Take a good look around - our setting. I know there is encroachment here in Mākena which concerns many of us greatly. And I know things are not what they used to be --what they were 10, 15, 20 years ago. But we are still a relatively isolated spot, on a small island, in the middle of the Pacific - the “Peaceful” Ocean – farther from any landmass than any other place on our planet. You might say we’re in the wilderness.
And in the middle of this “Peaceful” Sea we are “Keawala`i” which some have translated, “peaceful haven.” Imagine that? This little place we call “our church” a place where we feel deep peace whenever we walk upon its grounds. Just imagine what might emerge from here if we “repent” just a little. [Pause]
What valleys need to be filled here? What crooked places need some straightening? What rough places need smoothing? How might we better prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord – this year — as a congregation — as well as individuals?
Our Advent journey invites us further along today in hope (mana`olana) and in peace (maluhia) as we prepare for the coming of the Word of the Lord – in the form of the infant Christ.
Let us all be mindful of the blessing we have here – in our peaceful haven – and let us cultivate an atmosphere of peace in all that we do so that all who come here might sense God’s peaceful presence abounding in our lives. That begins with prayer.
Kahu Wendell Kalanaika-puae-nui Silva has written a beautiful “pule maluhia” – a prayer for inner peace with which I’d like to close. As you hear his words, may they begin a time of honest reflection – repentance – as YOU prepare to receive the Prince of Peace.
E pule kākou, let us pray:E ka `Uhane Hemolele,
E ho`oka`awale `Oe i ko`u mau mana`o
Mai nā pōpilikia nui a me nā hopohopo.
E hā`awi mai ia`u i ka wiwo`ole
E holopapa i nā mea e hiki ana ia`u
A me ka na`auao e ho`oholo
I nā koho pololei
E hō mai nei ia`u i ka maluhia.
O Holy Spirit,
Free my thoughts
From life’s everyday cares and woes.
Give me the courage
To successfully overcome life’s challenges
And the wisdom
To make the right choices.
Bless me now with peace of mind.
Amen and `Āmene