Sunday, January 07, 2007

Moki's Sermon at the 8:00 Liturgy

Following is the text of the sermon delivered by the Rev. Moki Hino at the 8:00 liturgy on Sunday, January 7, 2007 at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Westwood for the occasion of my first celebration of the Eucharist.

I lost my father quite suddenly in a boating accident thirteen years ago, December the 28th, right between Christmas and New Year’s. It was a sad time. And about ten days later, around the time of what would have been the Feast of the Epiphany, I got a sympathy card from a cousin that I tucked it away and saved, for it had some of the most beautiful words I have ever read, words by Sarah Williams:

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

And I have love the stars fondly - the stars that represent hope, the stars that represent dreams, and the stars that represent possibilities that are larger, that are grander, that are more vast than our world, that are larger, that are grander, that are more vast than ourselves, that are larger, that are grander, that are more vast than our fears.

The world of Joseph and Mary two thousand years ago is a time of darkness to many – it is a time of political tyranny, oppression, fear. And in the midst of this world, a child is born, a star rises in the night, and wise men feel compelled to follow the star across the desert and to the child, and when they find him, they are filled with joy. And after offering their gifts, the frankincense, gold, and myrrh that are the tools of their trade, they leave for their own country by another road, hopefully filled hope, dreams, and a sense that things that seem unattainable are now attainable. Christ is in their midst.

In the 1890s my great-grandparents in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, Japan lived in a time of darkness – it was a time of political tyranny, oppression, and fear – all in the wake of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, where Admiral Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay and forced the Emperor to open Japan’s doors. Japan, a country that had been closed off and isolated for over three hundred years became open, and dreams and hopes of places beyond its shores became possible – places like the Hawaiian Islands. My great-grandparents followed a star to the sugar plantations of Hawai`i.

In the darkness of their night – their poverty and their desperation – in the darkness of their night an Epiphany star, a glimmer of hope shone in the hearts, minds, and aspirations of my great-grandparents and, like the wise men, they set out on a journey across a vast, deep, and blue ocean desert in search of a dream. They followed a star. And yes, there was hardship. Seasickness, harsh work in the hot sun of the Hawaiian sugar fields, fear of the overseer’s leather whip as he rode by on his horse. But my romantic side wants to think of my great-grandparents under the Hawaiian skies, with no ambient light, looking at the stars and shooting meteors the way I do in my home in Hawai`i today, the way I do when I need that God-shot telling me that there is hope and that what may seem unattainable might actually be attainable. After all, my great-grandparents – plantation workers from Japan - lived to see their children and grandchildren become educated enough to work as teachers, accountants, Army Majors, Air Force Colonels, attorneys, insurance executives, judges, diplomats, biologists, engineers, systems analysts, bank managers, pilots, and the list goes on to include great-grandchildren who became architects, actresses, and even priests. My great-grandparents left their country by another road and they, too, loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

It is said that the wise men not only offered gifts, but also sacrificed and shed the tools of their trade as astrologers and magicians when they followed the star and presented the Christ child with their frankincense, their gold, and their myrrh. Not long ago, your new priest did much the same, shedding a healthy pay check, a comfortable home, an honorable job, presenting the Christ child with the frankincense, gold, and myrrh of his trade so that he could follow a star, saying yes to God’s call, busting through the fear of the night that swirled around him saying, “You’re not ready, you don’t have what it takes, this must be some kind of mistake,” and setting off on a journey – a journey to seminary – not in warm and sunny California, but in cold and windy Chicago, and then coming back to his own country by another road – a road that was paved by worship in the Seabury chapel, academic formation in classrooms, a summer in a hospital ministering to the sick, to the dying, and to their loved ones, developing relationships with people who have become lifelong friends, and then finally, yesterday, saying, “I will,” so that your bishop could lay hands on his head, confirming what God had already decided, and making Michael a priest. Michael followed a star and came back to his country by another road. He, too, loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Two thousand years ago, wise men in the desert followed a star. A hundred and twenty years ago, my great-grandparents followed a star. A few years ago Michael followed a star, a journey that culminated yesterday in his ordination to the priesthood. They followed a star.

But the Epiphany story isn’t just the wise men’s story. It isn’t just my great-grandparents’ story. It isn’t just Michael’s story. It’s your story. It’s my story. It’s a story that belongs to all humankind.

The darkness of the night is an inevitable part of the human experience – where we experience fear - fear in the form of jealousy, resentment, self-doubt, anger, self-righteousness, complacency. And yet in spite of all of it, the Christ child at the end of the star redeems us. He redeems us at Christmas, he redeems us at Epiphany, he redeems us at Easter. The Christ child at the end of the star redeems us at our baptism and every time we renew our Baptismal Covenant saying, “I will, with God’s help.” He redeems us when we come to this table, this table at which, in a moment, your new priest will preside for the first time. This table of spiritual nourishment, this table of spiritual renewal. This table where we say, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” It’s one moment in our lives where we, too, can say, “I love the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

And we know that there’s more to the story. In our Baptismal Covenant we made some very serious promises. My prayer for you, for me, for all of us this morning is that we will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. That we will continue to persevere in resisting evil, and that when we fall into sin, we will repent and return to the Lord. That we will continue to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. That we will continue to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. That we will continue to strive for justice and peace among all people, and that we will continue to respect the dignity of every human being.

We’re called to follow the star. We’re called to follow the star and go beyond the four walls of this church building and into the world with love, serving those who have yet to come through our doors, whether it’s our students across the street at UCLA, our hungry people who need a meal this morning, our sisters and brothers living with chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS, or those in our midst, who like us, need the help of others, the help of others to see the star – the star of peace, the star of hope, the star of love.

The wise men in the desert followed a star. My great-grandparents followed a star. Michael followed a star. You can follow the star. I can follow the star. We can all follow the star – and so can our sisters and brothers out there – with your help, with my help, and with God’s help.

And may the words of Sarah Williams hold true for all of us today:

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

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