Sunday, October 11, 2020

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

"We’re living in huliau time"

Kahu Bob Nelson

Exodus 32:1-14

"Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." (Philippians 4: 6-7)

It doesn't matter what your age is, you and I have experienced a whole lot of change in our lives.

I'm really old . . . no, no, not just old . . . I'm even older than that . . . and you don't want me to get started on all of the changes I've seen—and all the changes I have gone through myself.

Like, when I was this skinny, little kid with a flat top and wore Harry Potter glasses . . . or, when I had a ponytail, bell bottoms and smoked pakalolo once in a while. But I could go on and on.

My point is . . . and I DO have a point this morning: Change is happening all the time . . . you and I are always changing . . . and our world, our nation, our island home, our families and relationships, and, obviously, our church here in Makena . . . they're always changing . . . and are going to continue to change.

And sometimes we LIKE things to change . . . and sometimes we DON'T. Remember how you felt when you went on your first date? (Oh, you don't want to remember that?!?) . . . Or when you got your first job? (Not that either, huh?)

Most of the changes we experience take place over a long time and we only see their effect after-the-fact . . . like moving from childhood to adulthood.

And others seem to hit us right between the eyes . . . but affect us over a long period of time . . . like, remember where you were and how you felt when you first received news on 9/11? . . . Or when the 2008 Recession really hit home? Or when the impact of this pandemic began to sink in?

They're powerful and defining moments between what has been and what hasn't yet been able to be formed (na huliau = the times of change, when we look back and can't yet see ahead) . . . and they're hard.

One of those moments for me was when I was 19 years old and I was standing on top of this shear 500 foot cliff on the Jungfrau in Austria that I'd summited.

I felt so thrilled and proud of myself . . . I mean, just like a 19 year old! . . . and then, after enjoying my accomplishment and the incredible mountain top vista for a long time . . . I looked down and tried to not to panic as I had to force myself to take the first step off that totally vertical mountain cliff.

I'll tell you: It was life-changing!

In our scripture this morning we find the people of God at a point of having to deal with one of those moments . . . and what do they do?

Right before this scripture passage, we hear how Moses had gone up on this mountain and spoken with God and was given two stone tablets that God had written on.

So, while he's up there dealing with important stuff, the people wait and wait . . . and then, wait some more . . . and they get frustrated and scared, seeing the flashes of lightning and hearing thunder on the mountain . . . the God's presence covering it like a consuming fire.

You see, they were at this standstill waiting there on the desert floor . . . and were worrying and fretting and at a loss without their leader.

They'd promised that they'd do whatever he commanded them to do and whatever he'd end up learning from talking with God up on the mountain . . . but he'd been gone now for over a month and they had no idea when, or really, if, he'd come back down.

They'd escaped from what WAS . . . bondage in Egypt, that was also a kind of stability . . . but IT WAS STILL A LONG WAY THROUGH THE DESERT before they'd get to the land they'd been promised.

They were at one of those powerful, defining moments . . . na huliau . . . and they were at a loss . . . they couldn't go back and couldn't really move on.

And their ancient internet comes alive with scary scenarios and all kinds of conspiracy theories . . . basically, that Moses isn't coming back.

Even Aaron . . . who was left in charge . . . bought into one of those . . . and suggests that they needed to construct a gold statue to represent God . . . the image of a calf . . . something that would appear strong and yet still growing . . . but even more, something they could construct together out of all their hard-earned gold jewelry . . . something they could see and touch . . . and then, they'd feel safe and comforted.

And everyone thought this is a great idea: "Let's do it!" So, they did!

Of course, the PROBLEM with conspiracy theories . . . and golden calves . . . is that EVIDENCE AGAINST as well as AN ABSENCE of evidence FOR is often considered to be evidence that they're TRUE . . . they make those who BELIEVE them . . . especially, those who ACT on them . . . live a lie.

There isn't any substitute for God . . . maybe you can't see or touch God, but God is unique and irreplaceable.

That golden calf may calm them down but that won't last . . . there's no quick fix that's going to bring them peace or help them get a grip.

And anyway, as hard as it can be . . . and it can be really, really hard . . . there are times . . . na huliau . . . when we need to relax and just let go and spend some time in the UNEASE we're experiencing.

For seven months, you and I've lived in one of the most powerful and defining moments in our lives and our nation's history.

It's like we're in this wilderness . . . walking through unknown territory with a whole lot of unease . . . it's often unpredictable and confusing.

We're cut off from loved ones and friends, from our church `ohana and our worship together . . . and looking to the day when we can be back together again, worshipping, hugging, laughing, eating and sharing.

We're CAUGHT in the middle . . . between the first steps we took seven months ago . . . and worrying about how and when this part of our journey will be over . . . worrying about the virus . . . at risk of depression and despair . . . of falling victim of conspiracy theories . . . and putting our faith in faithless idols or persons in the hopes of calming our fears.

This hard, but defining, transitional time for us . . . this huliau . . . has taken away many of the things that define our days and our lives, the things that give a sense of well-being.

AND YET . . . it also give us a possibility to take a FIRST STEP . . . to imagine NEW ways of living, to try on new, creative routines and practices and projects . . . for some, maybe, even new kinds of work . . . to take new and different paths in our wilderness experience.

This can be a time of letting go of unhelpful or imagined thinking . . . and to allow for healing . . . perhaps, a time of insight and creativity and thinking outside the box.

Quite honestly, I am thankful to all of you for returning week after week to this site in worship and those joining together in worship on our Aloha Hour on Zoom . . . Kahu Scott, Randy, Ellen, Tom and the whole team here have helped us to see and experience the life of our `ohana "outside the box" . . . in the midst of this Covid crisis . . . and also the transition we're involved in to eventually choose a new kahu for Keawala'i.

Living in this huliau time gives each of us the opportunity to reconsider HOW we worship, HOW we connect with God and with one another . . . to look at what's really important in life and what isn't . . . to find new ways to meet OUR needs and the needs of others. Living in huliau offers us an opportunity to grow and be transformed.

You know, those of us who consider ourselves in the Protestant tradition . . . especially in this modern, fast-moving and unrelenting culture . . . aren't much acquainted with the side of Christianity that focuses on simply being STILL in the present moment, most of all during hard times.

But we see it over and over in the life of Jesus: going out into the desert wilderness, going apart from the disciples and the crowds to pray, and in his primary message to us that "the kingdom, realm or dominion of God is present (right here and now)".

There is great spiritual treasure to be found LIVING IN THE DESERT . . . in the PRESENT . . . living into the WAITING, seeking the friendship of patience and nurturing it.

It's the treasure of the 23rd Psalm, you know: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways . . . ."

Or as a Japanese version that I like so much goes: "The Lord is my pacesetter: I shall not rush. He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals. He provides me with images of stillness that restores my serenity. He leads me in the way of efficiency, through calmness of mind. And His guidance is peace. Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret. For His presence is here. His timelessness, His all-importance will keep me in balance. My cup of joyous energy overflows. Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruit of my hours. For I shall walk in the pace of my Lord, and dwell in His house this day and always."

Living in the present raises FAITH to a PROFOUND TRUST that God's working and moving EVEN when things seem to be going nowhere . . . and that God’s good time is the RIGHT time. You know, I am one of the last people on earth to live this way . . . but then, I have to remind myself that impatience and worry can get me going on a downward spiral . . . can affect my health and my relation-ships . . . and feeling out of control can lead me to look for things that I can have control over and CAN, maybe, trust: like, heroes, rescuers . . . even idols.

We live between brokenness and wholeness, between focusing on ourselves and focusing on God and others . . . between what has been and what hasn't yet become, na huliau, times of change.

And we can become impatient and frustrated, disappointed, or frightened.

So, it's times like this we need to hear the words of St. Paul, when he says, "Don't fret or worry . . . pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns."

God is ALWAYS tuned in . . . ALWAYS intimately concerned about what's going on in your life and mine.

God saw His People oppressed in Egypt and enlisted a very, very reluctant Moses to lead them to freedom . . .

Of course, NOW, seeing what they're doing there in the middle of the desert at the bottom of that mountain . . . in a very human way . . . God gets down-right angry at them for completely forgetting all he'd done for them and breaking the commitments they'd made.

But Moses, on the TOP of mountain, suddenly does what's for him a truly remarkable thing: He STANDS UP to God and says "Hold it! You promised Abraham that these were Your people!" Did you ever talk to God that way? . . . try it, you might like it.

You see, God's anger TRANSFORMED into understanding and caring . . . encouraging His people and leading them on towards the Promised Land.

And like with Moses, God's open to hearing the cries . . . even the frustrations and anger . . . of YOUR heart and MINE . . . wants to hear what's going on in our lives, in our hearts . . . honestly and truly.

God's seeking to have a relationship with us and to help us find ways to live right now here in the present . . . as well as to lead us to find ways of moving on.

It's my hope and prayer that you and I can remember that even in the midst of this Covid crisis, caught in this huliau time and space, God is with us . . . God is here in the present moment, and in all the changes and all the twists and turns of our lives . . . even when we wander off to false gods and worship idols.

Emmanuel, God with us, patiently offers forgiveness, comfort, and the peace that is beyond all understanding – the peace that guards our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Christ Jesus.

And yes, I thank God! . . . I did make it down that shear, vertical cliff!

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