Feast of the Holy Sovereigns/Christ the King Yr C Nov 2019
In the calendar of the Episcopal Church, there are various days appointed that recognize events in the life of the Jesus and the Gospels such as Christmas and Easter; as well as days that recognize Christians whose life and work have modeled themselves after the life of Jesus and the values like love, care, forgiveness, and service to others that he taught and embodied. These days whether honoring events or people are called feast days.
This week in the church calendar is the feast day of our founding Kamehameha IV and Emma. The Feast of the Holy Sovereigns. That's what we call it. In the life of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii, this is the Sunday, where we recognize our founding patrons. Today is about remembering that we have a royal heritage that is unique and special.
Last week, right before we went on Thanksgiving holiday, our school newspaper, the Imua, talked about race. And in Kamehameha IV’s own story, race and racism, played a significant role in his life.
Before he was King Kamehameha IV, he was Crown Prince, Alexander Liholiho ʻIolani. Educated by the Protestant Missionaries at the Royal School, he was very smart and articulate, speaking not just his native language of Hawaiian, but also both French and English. When he was 15 he served as an ambassador of Hawaii on a trip to Europe, where this young man, though a curiosity among the royal circles of England and France because of his place of origin, he was accorded the respect and dignity of an ambassador of a foreign country and a prince of Hawaii. It was on this trip that Prince Liholiho learned how to fence and came in contact with the Church of England. He was impressed with its order, liturgy, and relationship to the crown and promised that when he became King, he would invite the Church of England to the Hawaiian Islands. While on his way back, needing to cross the United States, he was nearly thrown off the train by a conductor who thought, because of the color of the Prince's skin he was a servant and did not belong in the compartment he was in. This added to Prince Liholiho's animosity toward the United States would remain and play itself out once he ascended the throne.
In 1855, at the age of 20, that day came. His uncle, Kamehameha III, dies leaving him to now become King. Though busy with the affairs of State, he managed to find the time to marry his childhood sweetheart Emma Naea Rooke, together they would rule the Hawaiian Kingdom took on Faith, Education, and Health Care among their principal concerns, they wrote to Queen Victoria asking her to send Missionaries to establish an outpost of the Anglican Church in Hawaii. And in 1862 the Anglican Church in Hawaii was formed. The King himself even translated the Book of Common Prayer into Hawaiian language.
They founded what is now the Queen’s Medical Center, and they would call upon the Church they supported to establish schools like St. Alban’s College, now our school ‘Iolani as well as St Andrews Priory.
That’s the brief history lesson. But that is also the Mo’olelo- the story. It is the not only the story of their lives, but the story of the beginnings of the Episcopal Church here in Hawai‘i.
Most importantly though is the mo’olelo contains in it values to be honored and uplifted.
On this Feast of the Holy Sovereigns we remember that we have a royal heritage. We owe much to the Holy Sovereigns and their values. Values like passion (mana), integrity (pono) and a deep love for God and their people (aloha).
Mana- often translated as “power,” the essence of mana comes from within. For the King and Queen, their mana, their life’s force was poured into their work as ali’i. They saw their kuleana (responsibility) to care for all their people, native and immigrant, alike. They did so with the desire to make things right, pono, for the people of Hawai’i by seeing to their health, their education, and their spiritual nurture. This was done out from the foundation of aloha- for God and the people.
The gospel story contains the mo’olelo of Jesus on the Cross. Where this King, who was given a royal welcome with Palm branches in and shouts of Hosanna as he entered the city of Jerusalem, is now publicly being humiliated. Crucifixion is not just a form of Roman execution. It is a very public one- the parade of the condemned through the streets, the crowd gathered, the crucifixion itself lifted high for the crowd to witness.
The sign above him now reads, Here is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. This is supposed to be ironic of course. A sign of mockery. After all, if THIS is YOUR King, look at what’s happened to him.
Christ the King invites us to consider this king we worship and the kingdom to whom we belong. You hear me often speak of two kingdoms: the kingdom of the this world where rules of power and prestige; the value of earthly comforts and the have and have nots reign; then there is the kingdom of God ruled by the power of love and grace; where all are valued as children; where justice and mercy regin.
Kamehameha IV and Emma understood what it meant to belong to two different kingdoms. They were among the Kings and Queens of this world, where, by virtue of their high rank as ali’i, the had political power and ownership of crown lands. They were accorded special rights and privileges. And yet they also knew what it meant to belong to that other kingdom ruled by the values of their faith in God. In doing so they proclaimed by their words and deeds the values of that very Kingdom. In their kingdom they saw the role the Christian faith had to offer; they saw the sickness around them, they saw that the children of these islands needed education; they saw the things that their people/ their kingdom needed, and brought about the changes needed.
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for many things and be reminded of God’s love, and of that kingdom where we are called to care for one another. This is not just some moral idealism, it is foundational to who we are as a faith community. It is certainly foundational to the very essence of who we are as people of God.
The presence of the Episcopal Church in Hawaii is unique in the history of Christianity in Hawaii. And yes, parts of our service today are in Hawaiian. It is not a language St. Tim’s is used to- we don’t have a Hawaiian language service like the Cathedral or St. John’s Kahalu’u. But we have it today to remind and re-connect us to our cultural roots. To remember that the Book of Common Prayer was- before Hawaiian language was forbidden in schools by law from 1896-1919, it was the language of the prayers of our predecessors. What can the language and culture teach us about how we are called to live and who we are called to be? If nothing else, We must be anything but ordinary. We all must continue to root ourselves in the values the Holy Sovereigns knew and understood so well. The same values found in the teachings of Jesus.
Let us be reminded and to also teach our children and grandchildren to look around and to see the problems of this world in order that we might use our gifts and all that we have learned - to address them. Poverty, homelessness, indigenous rights, the dignity of LGBT persons, partisan entrenchement; the fight against racism and civil rights did not end with Martin Luther King, Jr and the Civil Rights Act.
What kind of King do we see in Jesus? In reflecting on that question we are challenged by another: What kind of Church are we called to be? What do YOU see around you that could use your gifts. I’ve been watching the impeachment hearings with some interest and Friday’s testimony of Dr Fiona Hill struck not just me, but many people as poignant when she spoke against hatred and division; about the need for civility and dignity. For some time now we have witnessed things happening in the larger culture like racism, ageism, and classism that is prevalent in our society even in idillic Hawaii where such racial tension lie below the surface.
Such ‘isms’ and all the isms of our time are rooted in an understanding of the values of the world. But that is not who we truly are. Our task is to strengthen and build a community of relationships based on the understanding that we are created and loved by God.
We can only predict what the future of this congregation will be like- how you and I must embrace our kuleana as members of this church and continue to make this place of But we cannot lose sight of the Hawaiian values on which our mission of faith is founded. Values that are upheld our Episcopal heritage and its commitment to ushering in the Kingdom of God. Our kuleana is to follow in the footsteps of our King. Yes we ought to fill our minds with, knowledge and wisdom; we fill our heart and soul with word and sacrament, but how much richer is the world when we take what we have learned and embody it so that we can grow young women and men of character. That too is our kuleana. Our mana, that is, all that makes us who we are, is directed toward preparing our hearts and minds to take our place in the world. Our kuleana is to to know and understand the value of pono to do and make this world right. That is, as individuals and as a community, each of us is called to live the right way in right relationships; to live with integrity and a sense of connectedness. And yes, we must also learn and live with aloha; to be compassionate, loving.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.