Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
“Putting Love First”
My sister Jill called me last month and asked if I would be interested in going to the Elton John concert that was held at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center last Thursday and Friday. At the time that she called tickets were to go on sale for one night only – Friday. A second concert was added when tickets for the first concert were sold out in two days.
Jill was aware that I am a member of the center and with it comes some privileges – among them was the opportunity to purchase a maximum of six tickets. “Four of my friends want to go too,” she said. Like her, at least three of them were elementary school teachers.
I remember seeing Elton John in Honolulu over thirty years ago at the start of his career. In the years that followed he managed to garner the attention of many for his flamboyance on stage. In many ways he made Liberace look like Mr. Rogers.
Yet despite all of the outrageous sunglasses, hats, platform shoes and sequined outfits, it was his music that drew people time and time again. “In the past 40 years – with 35 studio albums and countless singles, collaborations and hit packages – Elton John has sold more than 250 million albums, placing him squarely among the top 10 best-selling artists in history.” (Rolling Stone, New York, New York, February 17, 2011, page 38)
He has been demonized by some because of his 17 year commitment to his partner, David Furnish. Even with the newest addition to their household last December – their son Zachary Jackson Leon Furnish-John - there are those who will dismiss his amazing musical genius and his aloha.
In a recent interview he was asked about why he played more than 100 shows a year. He answered, “ . . . since I got sober (in 1990), each show is a completely joyous occasion for me. Not that it wasn’t joyous in the past, but I can come offstage to my wonderful life, with David in my life (and now their son Zachary), and balance.” (Ibid.)
When my sister asked, “You want to go and see Elton John?” Even before I could answer her question, other questions raced through my own mind, “What would others think? Kahu went to a rock concert?”
Just as quickly as the questions entered my mind, they disappeared into thin air.
I said, “Sure!” and in that moment I realized I would be the one standing in line for our tickets. My sister was not going to be able to leave her second-grade class.
I arrived at the center an hour after the tickets went on sale. It seemed like there were very few people lined up in front of the box office. But as I made my way to the back of the line I discovered that in fact there were hundreds of others in a line that went back towards the Castle Theater and snaked its way across the front of the pavilion.
It took almost six hours for me to get to the ticket window. And while waiting I saw Leanne Stodd far up ahead in line. About three hours later Dr. Russell Stodd came to take her place in line and in that moment I felt comforted in knowing that I would be in good company.
My sister Jill called me a few days before the concert and outlined what she had read in the paper about the parking situations, when the gates would be open for the food vendors and when the gates to the seating area would be open.
I initially suggested that I would pick her up at 4:00 p.m. She was worried because the parking lots were going to be open at 3:00 p.m. Even though we had already gotten a parking ticket, she worried about the traffic and crowds.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll pick you up at 3:30 p.m.” Needless to say it made for a shorter day of work at the office.
We arrived in time to sit down to our dinner and over the course of the next hour I would see the Mayor, the Chancellor, numerous business people, teachers, lawyers, doctors, musicians, entertainers, and many of our own church members. Even with 5,000 concertgoers, the venue allowed for an unexpected intimacy.
It was an evening of music “that fused classical, jazz, gospel, blues and rock elements.” (“Elton John on Maui – That’s why they call him an icon,” Jon Woodhouse, The Maui News, Saturday, February 26, 2011, Front page) I felt at home. When he took to the stage I felt like I was seeing an old friend.
Throughout the evening I worried about whether or not I would have time enough to finish up a week of work and prepare for our time together this morning. Throughout the evening of the concert I felt guilty about enjoying myself too much.
Then it occurred to me that I enjoy his music not only because the sound and rhythm is infused with energy and life but because the lyrics of his songs become expressions of poetry that can touch and transform a person in an instant. From his tribute to Princess Diana with “Candle in the Wind” to “Gone to Shiloh” - a lament of the American Civil War that is on his most recent album called The Union with Leon Russell, there is no mistaking the power of his writing. (The Maui News, Saturday, February 26, 2011, Front page) So it was that I decided that Elton John said far more in several phrases in two of his songs about our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew than the books and commentaries I read during the week.
Theologians want us to understand that Matthew offers a word of caution about the focus of our trust and love. Verse 24 begins with Jesus’ teaching that no one can serve two sources of authority equally. (Seasons of the Spirit/Congregational Life – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Woodlake Publishing, Inc., Kelowna, BC, Canada, 2009, page 134) Those who follow Christ, including those in Matthew’s community, must make a choice between the vision of God’s reign on earth and the lure of wealth.
When our pursuit of material things becomes the focus of our trust and love, we can become easily distracted from knowing and serving God. God’s presence in the lives of the early disciples and in our own lives empowers us to “put love first.”
In verse 25 and then again in verse 34 Jesus teaches the disciples not to worry. Jesus does not deny that securing what is essential to one’s physical well being is critical. Instead, he is speaking about not allowing worry or anxiety to become the primary source of our energy and focus.
He asks rhetorically, “Can any (of us) . . . by worrying add a single hour to (our) span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)
By living in God’s way of love and by trusting in God’s providence we will be able to put love first in our relationships with neighbors near and far. But that is more easily said than done.
I thought about that during the week. Then it happened.
From the stage Elton John introduced the song, “When Love Is Dying.” I caught bits and pieces of the lyrics to the song and in the refrain the following words echoed across the evening sky: “When love is dying . . . it gets cold out . . . we stop trying.”
It gets cold outside when we worry and grow fearful of the world in which we live. Fear seems to rule the day. We worry about money to pay for gas that some say will soon rise to $5.00 a gallon.
We worry about “losing our homes, losing our jobs, not having enough for retirement, caring for our children until they reach adulthood; avoiding danger and terror attacks.” Those who have little, worry about having adequate shelter, food and water; finding a decent job; taking care of their families, having enough money to survive. (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 408)
All of us worry even though we know such actions do not change the realities of what we face. Jesus does not deny that these realities exist. But still he commands the disciples and others: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” (Matthew 6: 25)
By trusting in God’s providence and putting love first, all that we need will be provided. Somehow it all began to make sense to me. “We must not let love die because of our fears, because of worries, because of our anxieties.”
As for putting love first, Elton John offered a gentle reminder: (We are) “never too old to hold somebody.” The phrase was repeated several times and the point was clear to me. We demonstrate God’s love to the world through simple acts of grace and mercy.
We may not be able to affect the increase in oil prices, but we can “hold somebody.” We may not have enough to eat and drink and wear, but we can “hold somebody.”
We are never too old to hold somebody.
We are never too old to love.
May it be so.
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