Saturday, August 12, 2023

For Maui, 14A, 2023, written while the fires still burn

A sermon written for love of this fragile earth, our island home. August 13th, 2023 

Thousands of miles away, at Trinity by the Sea in Kihei, on Maui, a friend is proclaiming the same Gospel we heard proclaimed at St. Clement’s today--the small boat, the rough sea, the fear...and I can only began to grasp the challenge of preaching on this text in his context, an island on fire, a people devastated. My island, my people. 


Even so, I am not on Maui, and the experience of devastation and trauma is not mine to share—there is enough of in the news for you to know as much as I could tell you. The fires have devastated the people of Maui, and the aftermath has every potential for further devastation. I cannot speak to that from here. What I can share is what this is to me, as I stand here, with all of you... 

The first time I heard Eucharistic Prayer C ,from the Book of Common Prayer, I thought the phrase, “this fragile earth, our island home,” was referencing my own, island, home. The island of Maui, born and raised, a keiki o ka ‘aina, a child of the land.  

From the koa paneled, upper room, of Cooper House--the place that housed the fledgling St. Paul’s Episcopal Mission--you could look mauka, towards the mountain, and makai, towards the ocean. The prayer seemed intimate and exact. Was this not my island home? I could see, from church, where the land ended, and the ocean began—that place where my own, known, world ended.  

I could look towards the ocean, but not beyond. For from my vantage point, the world beyond the horizon was a veritable “none shall pass”. In my experience, of saying goodbye, those who left did not return. Or if they did, they were changed, no longer part but apart. No longer home, but yearning for what was. What was, once upon a time: before that subdivision; before direct flights to Maui; before cruise ships docked in tiny, Kahului harbor and flooded the city with thousands;  before the highway; before the acres of pineapple and sugar cane were sold; before the Dairy closed; before books, marketed to tourists from “the mainland”, that would expose the private and fragile places of our island home to outsiders who would exploit the land and trample the sacred. And now? There is a new “before”...

Before the fire.  

Which exposes in stark relief the fragility of this fragile earth, our island home. All too swift to change, unbidden and unseen, until a return demonstrates what has been lost. The before of my memory, that for which I yearn, is gone.  

The song, Wanting Memories, sung by Keali’i Reichel presses upon me--its sentimental yearning speaks to those of us who long for the cradle of creation to be as it was made to be and for whom a return, to what was and who we were then, is impossible.  

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me, 
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes. 

You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms, 
You said you'd hold me till the pains of life were gone. 
You said you'd comfort me in times like these
and now I need you, 

Now I need you, and you are gone. 


Who among us does not long to be rocked, to be held and soothed, amid this reality? Who among us does not feel, like Elijah, abandoned and alone? Who among us does not feel, like the disciples, afraid? Who among us does not need, like Peter, the outstretched hand of a Savior? 

We look up to heaven, we long for the dead—and in that moment of looking and longing, we feel so, so alone. And yet, we live. And yet, we strive. And yet, we cannot utter a word from our lips before you O god know it altogether...for the Word is near us, on our lips and in our hearts.  

I weave in the scripture, not as proof text but as the text of my heart when my own words fail. I look to the anguish of our ancestors for proof that God remains even amid suffering. I find comfort knowing that they too struggled to understand the “why” of their own tragedies. And, looking for grace, I find it. 

With the eyes of my heart, I can see the grace in the outpouring of Aloha

Aloha, love and so much more than love... 

And, I am beyond grateful for the Aloha towards those of us, however far away, who have watched our island burn.   

I typed and deleted the word “our” a half dozen times in the writing of this sermon. Is it mine? Is it ours? Do I dare call this island home, my home? What is the world to the expatriate of the cradle of creation? What right do I have to mourn a tree and its story? What right, when so many are dead...and I live?  

I chose to leave, and Minnesota is my home now. I have made it such and the comforts of my life and the possibilities for my children are greater for it. But, in doing so, I have made the wilderness a home. A comfortable home, with gardens and clovers, soft beneath my bare feet. For, undeniably, I am still the child who ran barefoot amongst the jacaranda blooms; still the child who went to sleep, adrift still, upon the waves. A child, who yearns to be rocked until the pains of life are gone.  

I am hesitant to share these words, my story, I am not the center of this, and this tragedy is not mine to be exploited. But, I have chosen these words, this message, because I suspect that many of us share this yearning. A yearning to be held in times like these--times when this fragile earth, our island home, is exposed in its fragility.  


It is all too much, isn’t it? Too much for any one of us to dwell in the wilderness alone. Too much for any one of us to step into the waves regardless of where our feet fall. But that is exactly it. It is too much for any one of us. We were not made to save the entire world on our own.  

However, I do believe that we were made for THIS--for this time, for this body, for this purpose, for this life. It is not ours to save the world apart from God, it is ours to be a part of this world which God has made. And, in being a part instead of apart, we cannot help but be humble. We cannot exist without each other. We cannot exist without the land. We cannot exist apart from this fragile earth, our island home.   

So, reach out your hands and entrust yourself to Christ. Christ made manifest in one another. Christ, reaching out to the frightened and broken hearted. Christ, upon the waves. Christ before, behind, within and without. Hand extended, breathing deep, and trusting in the Word made flesh.  

Christ within us, Christ beneath us, Christ beside us.

No one is alone.  

We are not alone.  

They are not alone. 

You are not alone.  

And this wilderness? It becomes our home. The wind-swept sea? Our cradle. The arms of God? To hold us. To hold the weary and comfort the broken hearted. Now I need you...

And you, O God, are here.  

The first time I heard Hawai’i’s state motto it was sung, Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono, o Hawai’i, the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono--this is a Christian kind of hope. A hope that the righteousness of a people, united in Christ, reaching out AS CHRIST, will save this fragile earth, our island home.  


Top photo: A childhood photo of my Mom, me and my sister, beneath the banyan tree.

Bottom photo: A depiction of Maui, showing where the fires are, the red circle is roughly Makawao/Pukalani--where I grew up. That area is not on fire.