Sunday, August 11, 2019
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
"Be Prepared! Do Not Be Afraid!"
On April 1, 1946, a series of waves, known as tsunami, were spawned by a huge earthquake off the coast of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska., Tsunami is a Japanese word meaning “great harbor waves”. Tsunami is now the official scientific term for tidal waves.
It was estimated that the highest, locally generated wave from the 46 tsunami was equivalent to a thirteen story building. The earthquake also generated underwater surges that raced across the Pacific Ocean causing millions of dollars worth of damage throughout California, South America, and the Hawaiian Islands.
It was a devastating natural event. Huge waves formed by these surges traveled thousands of miles of open ocean, reaching the shallow shorelines of our islands. Even as these surges raced towards the Hawaiian Island chain, they would have been unnoticeable on the surface of the open ocean. As these waves rose from the floor of the ocean, and collide with land masses, the devastation was overwhelming.
The first wave surges hit the coastline of Hilo, Hawaii, on April 1st, 1946, five hours after the earthquake rocked the Aleutian Island chain. In Haena, on the island of Kauai, the surge produced waves that reached more than 45 feet at landfall. The tsunami took the lives of more than 159 people in Hawaii.
As you might imagine, the 1946 tsunami had an overwhelming effect on the north shore Kauai communities - from Haena to the Kalihiwai sea coast. Though sparsely populated, they were a very close knit community. This tsunami in particular left an indelible print on the north shore communities. Every time there was a tsunami alert, people on the Northshore of Kauai prepared for an immediate evacuation, seeking higher ground to escape the reaches of the tsunami. When an alert sounded, there was no hesitation, even after dealing with several false alarms over the years. Thankfully, science has improved, and now the Pacific Tsunami Warning system is one the world’s leading tsunami warning systems.
In parallel events to these tsunamis, the 50’s and 60s ushered in the Cold War with Russia, and the further development of atomic bombs. I witnessed the hydrogen bomb testing in the South Pacific and witnessed the blinding orange flash of light in our Hawaiian skies. I had difficulty sleeping for several nights after that test. I would close my eyes to sleep, but instead my memory would replay the scene of that bright orange flash. I was attending the University of Hawaii at that time. I had to take two years of cadet military training as a prerequisite. In the process, I was told in our classes that Hawaii was a primary target because of Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Base. This test was for a hydrogen bomb that was two hundred times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on these two Japanese cities. I wondered how we would survive such an attack on Hawaii. I took an almost fatalistic attitude to surviving a hydrogen bomb attack. The devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima was etched in my mind from the many pictures of the devastation from that atomic bomb.
Since those early days, I have encountered my share of life’s challenges and disasters, as have all of you. But those early experiences taught me the value of preparation - not just in terms of weathering the physical storms, but of mentally, emotionally and psychologically preparing for those storms. It is the nature of life. We live in an unpredictable world. God understands how the storms of life impact us emotionally and psychologically and he gives us clear direction about the value of turning to him, to seek stability in the storm.
I have come to learn the value of “listening to that still small voice that is there in the eye of the storm.” I have learned the value of listening and responding to what the moment brings. This morning’s reading has an important lesson for everyone of us. Stay alert. Be prepared. Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” He goes on to say, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” Blessed are those slaves who the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt, have them sit down to eat, and he will come to serve them.” This does not just speak to the future, it speaks to his presence and willingness to meet our needs now, when we maintain our focus on his presence and his peace.
One of the first thing I learned is that my faith was the promise that God is there to sustain me through life ups and downs. This saying of Jesus is one that is repeated in the book of Luke several times. In the Old Testament, in this mornings reading in the Book of Genesis 15:1, God tells Abraham; ”Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your great reward.” This was and is a constant promise that by being prepared, by keeping our focus on him, he is there to take care of us. Learning and studying more about the promises he gives us in the bible, has offered great stability and peace in my life.
But one other very important lesson is imbedded in these scriptures. He says be ready at any moment. Not every moment involves a storm. He is inviting us to be in relationship with him in the calm, not just running to him when the storm arrives. It is in establishing our relationship with him in day-to-day moments of peace, that we are far more aware of his presence and his guidance when the tsunamis of life arise.
This relationship is strengthened even more when we are in community with our brothers and sisters of faith. I have been involved in two churches on a Maui. The Wailuku Baptist Church for over thirty years and Keawalai for over twenty years. The church has been a spiritual foundation for my life and that of my family. It is in that community that God’s presence is also felt. We come to this place to experience God’s peace, to grow in spiritual knowledge, to pray together, and to be a part of a community that upholds each other in times of difficulty and trouble. God’s love and peace is known through each of you and in your relationship with God and with each other. It is what makes Keawala’i the place of refuge that so many seek.
God presents us with a wonderful promise. He instructs us, “Do not be afraid.” He promises us that if we are “stay alert” and maintain our relationships with him, because he is there to serve us and to care for us, and to be an ever present help in times of calm as well as times of trouble. There is also a shared anticipation and expectation about the future as well, because he promises to be there when all else fails around us. His promise is all about relationships - with him and with each other. This is the essence of our faith pilgrimage.
It is God’s intention and his plan to take care of us, but our emotional and spiritual stability are premised on our willingness to maintain a constant practice of our faith everyday of our lives. It is our faith that allows us to be generous. It is our faith that takes away the anxieties of life and allow us to look ahead to a wonderful future without worries. It is our faith that provides a sense of peace and direction in our lives.
We were always ready for a tsunami as a young person on the Northshore of Kauai. There wasn’t any hesitation about what we needed to do when there was an alert. Even to this day, I think of people who disregard the tsunami alerts and how foolish it is that they do not pay attention to the warnings to seek higher ground. They are like the foolish slaves in this morning’s scriptures who are not prepared for the return of their master.
Have we prepared? Do we maintain an awareness of God’s presence with us so that we can hear that small voice of direction when the storms come? Our lives today are being bombarded with so many things that clamor for our attention, so it is easy to lose our focus. In the scripture this morning, Jesus is calling us to prioritize our activities so that we center our lives in God. Such is the challenge to be prepared. May today’s scripture help us to seek out his presence so that we too are prepared and he is allowed to be of service to us in our lives.
So, be prepared! Do not be afraid! Amen!