Sunday, October 27, 2019
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
To be ha‘aha‘a, the Hawaiians would say, is “to be humble.” I thought about someone I met several years who epitomized that level of humility.
Eddie Kamae was born in Honolulu on August 8, 1927. He died on January 7, 2017. He was one of ten children born and raised in downtown Honolulu. In the summer he would accompany his mother to Maui to visit his grandmother in Lāhainā. He was always remembered that his tūtū danced in the court of King David Kalākaua.
Very early on in his life, he was known for his mastery of the ‘ukulele. He became a key figure in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance and was a co-founder, in 1960, of the band that became known as The Sons of Hawai‘i (National Endowment for the Arts, 2007). It is said that his older brother, a bus driver, brought him an ‘ukulele that someone had left behind on the back of the bus that he had driven one day.
Uncle Eddie was also a singer, arranger, composer and film producer and was recognized as one of the most influential Hawaiian musicians of the second half of the 20th century. Over the course of his lifetime, he was the recipient of nearly fifty awards not only for his music but for his ten documentary films, among them films on Hawaiian history, the cultural legacy of three Hawaiian women, the Hawaiian forest, and the Hawaiian way of what we call kī hōalu or slack key music.
Uncle Eddie received the 1979 Living Treasure of Hawai‘i Award from the Honpa Hongwanji Mission Award of Hawai‘i; the 1996 he received the Artists’ Lifetime Achievement Award, Bishop Museum’s Charles Reed Bishop Medal. In 2000 he was awarded a Lifetime of Achievement Award from the Commission on Culture and the Arts for the City and County of Honolulu and in 2007 he received the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. In that same year, he was inducted in the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.
I met him one day here at the church when he arrived to share his music for a couple who was getting married. I noticed him as soon as he walked through the makai door of our church. He was dressed in his signature blue-and-white palaka shirt; his hair a frosty white under his signature beret. I knew of his legendary music with The Sons of Hawai‘i, having produced 14 albums and I wondered if I was going to be any good in managing not to get tongue-tied.
“Aloha,” I said, “I am Rev. Alika. I wanted to go over the music with you for the wedding ceremony.”
He smiled and listened. He nodded politely and gently when I indicated to him that there would be four opportunities for him to sing.
“Not to worry,” he said reassuringly. “Whatever you say!”
With all the accolades he had received throughout his lifetime, I also wondered how they affected his interaction with others. I was a bit terrified and petrified to be in the presence of someone of such stature.
But he was far from overbearing. He was ʻoluʻolu – very gentle, very warm. From the moment he spoke, it became unmistakably clear that he was a man of great humility. “He was ha‘aha‘a,” the Hawaiians would say. “He was a very, very humble man.”
Colleen Uechi, a staff writer, for The Maui News wrote in the days following his death. “Those who knew him well said . . . that he captivated and inspired others with his simple style of play, his passion for keeping the stories and songs of past generations alive, and his humble, gentle manner (“Fellow musicians pay tribute to ‘talented, humble mentor,” Colleen Uechi, The Maui News, January 9, 2017).
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector that comes to us in our reading from The Gospel According to Luke is about such humility and more. Luke offers a sharp contrast between the Pharisee and the tax collector as a way of illustrating one of his favorite themes – divine reversal – or how God reverses the role of the humble and the proud in unexpected ways (Preaching through the Christian Year, Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page 456).
Biblical scholars remind us that: “The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector conveys in story form the doctrine of God’s justification of sinners and judgment on the efforts of those who try to establish their own righteousness. The parable makes its point by means of the reversal of stations so familiar in Luke when dealing with the self-righteous and the humble, the strong and the weak, the haves and the have-nots (Luke 1:51; 6:20-26; 16:19-31).
It is a point that we do well to apply to our own personal lives and to our national life as a people, as a nation. It would be futile for any of us to imagine we could improve upon the clear statement Luke is making. It is addressed “to those who trust in themselves, thinking they are righteous, and who despise others” (Op. cit.).
“Jesus could not have created a starker contrast in this parable. The Pharisee asks for nothing but God’s appreciative attention. And for what? For his flawless faithfulness, on parade every day.
The tax collector begs God for a scrap of mercy. For what? For being flawed in his being, to his core, from his conception.” (“Reflections on the lectionary,” JoAnn Post, “Christian Century, October 9, 2019, page 19).
Having said this, it would be a mistake for us to merely conclude that the Pharisee is a villain and the tax collector is a hero or to conclude that each gets what he deserves (Op. cit.). Luke’s message is the opposite. The Pharisee is not a villain. Instead, he represents a complete dedication of someone who observes the law of Moses.
The tax collector is not a hero. Instead, he is working for Rome, collecting taxes from his own people.
The point of the parable is the Pharisee trusted in himself; and the tax collector, though he was not hero, trusted in God: that is the difference.
Eddie Kamae loved Hawaiʻi – her people and history; music and dance; values and traditions. As members of this community of faith, we know that we are to love God and to love others as ourselves. That is the way of aloha and in that way and many other ways, Uncle Eddie lived aloha because he was haʻahaʻa.