Preacher: Akesa Fakava
Message: "What is New That Awaits"
Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11
In these challenging times, there is a lot of apprehension, worry and uncertainty that we are having to navigate and that is in addition to trying to stay safe from attracting COVID-19.
In these new days we are having to cope with losing control of what was our daily routine; we are making new routines or changing the ones we had. For some, it is the helplessness of the situation that is overwhelming, the isolation of being at home all the time or being at home by ourselves and feeling alone and stuck. For many, it is the domino effect that is impacting their household’s financial stability. Truly, these are anxious times and even as our cities are starting to open up, and news reports that the freeways are beginning to see more traffic, we are still uncertain of what is ahead.
I am reminded of the Exodus story of the Israelites. As they left Egypt after more than 400 years of oppression in slavery, I imagine there was a lot excitement of the new life ahead, yet there had to be a lot of anxiety and uncertainty.
They could only take what they could carry. They got to the seashore and I imagine the growing uneasiness when there didn’t seem to be a way forward. They got across the sea and they know they are free as no one can come behind them. Were they satisfied in knowing that their God, the same God for you and me today, brought them safely after all the plagues and deaths?
I imagine, no I know from the Exodus story that the majority wanted to turn back to what they left behind because what they knew was comfortable and familiar. They had adopted to their lifestyles in Egypt even if it was under oppression. They had built a life that was familiar. But through Moses and Aaron, they were challenged to keep pressing forward; they were reminded of what God had in store for them of a new land filled with many promises.
This tension of the familiarity of the past and anxiety of what’s to come or when that will happen reminds me of a story of a migrant family where the grandmother and her granddaughter left their family to travel to the U.S. in 1971 to seek a new life for the rest of this family. This grandmother named Nana and her granddaughter Kay came and lived in a studio, where neither knew the English language nor the land. It was little Kay who picked up English quickly and would translate for them. They had to figure out the bus system to travel for necessities and eventually babysitting jobs.
Kay recalls the nights when she cried alongside Nana after their evening prayers before bed or after their morning prayers when they got up as was their daily routine. Kay cried along, not because she knew why her Nana was crying, but because she felt her Nana’s pain of isolation and loneliness.
Years later as a grown up, Kay reflected on how she understood that in those tears, her Nana was yearning for her family. For what was familiar, for the life she left behind, her own mother and siblings. Not knowing how long this liminal space of waiting, praying, sowing would take to bring forth something new for her family. Kay recalls how there had to be moments in those lonely days when Nana was away from her husband and family that she had to have been afraid or questioning their decision for her and this little girl to be the initial seekers.
In Genesis 12:11 we learn that God gave Moses and Aaron instructions on how the Israelites were to dress while eating their Passover meal as part of their preparation for leaving Egypt. They were to eat with their cloaks tucked into their belts, sandals on their feet and staff in hand. They were not yet free and yet they were to prepare themselves as if they were. God said He would lead them out of Egypt. Their preparation was an act of faith.
They would need this faith when they were in that liminal space of leaving Egypt and the growing of their faith and courage before getting to the freedom they were seeking in the promised land that was before them. They, like me, when I was considering all the things that cause anxiety must have felt overwhelmed at the many uncertainties, restrictions, and helplessness that are key stressors.
Today’s scripture from 1 Peter 4:12 reminds us that we should not be surprised at the ordeal that is taking place among us to test us, as though something strange is happening to us. That we need not fear being uncomfortable or when sharing in suffering like Christ did. But we do not suffer for doing wrong, but sometimes for doing what is right.
1 Peter 5:7 tells us that we are to cast all our anxiety on God who cares for us. Jesus’ suffering reminds us that to live the gospel is threatening. The threat to the empire, or the power structure of the early church was not that this group of Christians believed Jesus was the son of God or that he rose from the dead. The threat was that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord.
Contrary to the early church who faced hostility, today we are free in the U.S. to practice and live out our faith. But can it be that today’s churches have become irrelevant because the gospel message of liberation has been traded for conformity and involvement with or support of the empire, or the structures of power and privilege? That maybe more focus should be on correct action and less on correct doctrine to bring about justice?
This morning’s scripture calls us to be alert and resist giving into our anxieties, the challenges that may seem overwhelming, but be firm and unwavering in our faith as we are not alone in this struggle; we all struggle together. The Christian faith is not individualistic; no, we are invited to become part of the one body of Christ, which is larger than the troubles, successes, and frustrations of any one person. 1 Peter 5:9 reminds us that as Christians we are part of the whole. This understanding of being part of a larger whole allows us to empathize and achieve solidarity.
While the Israelites’ previous life was under captivity and oppression and their faith prepared them to walk forward, still they struggled even when God provided food daily and for all their needs. I am certain they cast their anxieties in prayers to God and yet they struggled with the waiting and uncertainties. They wanted change immediately. Sound familiar?
In these unprecedented times of great uncertainty and challenges, how are we dealing with anxiety? How are we making room for what is new that is yet to come? Perhaps a return to the basics of the beauty that has always been around us like the beautiful images from your homes that we have enjoyed over the last 10 weeks in our worship services while we are sheltering in place?
Or can it be that the something new is beyond what is comfortable?
What will become of your anxieties?
With God’s leading, my time with you, my dear Epworth family, and my time at the Claremont School of Theology has propelled no equipped me to evaluate how I use my voice, time, and resources.
I feel a burning in my spirit to evaluate my own privilege and comfort in how I serve. Like you, my husband Tame and I support feeding ministries, health and mental support ministries, those that may not have a home, but just within the comforts of our personal boundaries. But because of you, Epworth, and what I have learned from you, I am challenged to lean into my personal anxieties on social issues of racism that is easy to gloss over like the senseless killing of Ahmaud Arbury, a 25 year-old young African American man jogging on his daily run in his Georgia neighborhood in February which took months to get the attention needed to seek justice.
Or the recent CNN report that while most of us are staying home, trying to figure out how to work remotely or worrying about paying bills, “Asian Americans are doing all of that while also fearing for their safety. The FBI reported that Chinese and Asian Americans are now experiencing increased hate crimes due to the coronavirus global outbreak.”
How am I redirecting my anxieties to speak up and stand up with these brothers and sisters of mine? How am I intentionally challenging myself to move from the comforts of my predominately inward facing focus to truly an outward facing focus as Jesus has modeled for us all?
Remember the story of Nana and Kay? That is my story with my beloved Grandmother when she and I first came to the U.S. and landed in Hawaii where her brother was to help with our immigration papers. I was brought with her because I was not yet in school and she was my babysitter and I would keep her company. That was courage to me to bring a small child to a new land! What I learned at her knee was the reminder that with God all things are possible; not easy, but possible. That she and my Papa left a home where they were comfortable and would have had their needs met.
However, she willingly chose to lean into her anxieties because she and my Papa imagined opportunities for us that can only be characterized as visions from a dream. She reminded me that I stand on shoulders who sacrificed greatly, that what little I have, I am to share with those behind me, and leading meant serving others in love to honor God. In her quiet yet determined way, she, like you, taught me the importance of seeking justice in forgiving and non-violent ways.
Even though I had to translate for them both, when they became U.S. citizens, voting was a privilege they never missed an opportunity to exercise. That period before my Papa and the rest of our family moved to the U.S., my Nana endured a lot anxiety but she chose to trust God and look beyond the uncertainty and her own limits to prepare for what is new that awaits ahead.
Today, my Papa & Nana’s legacy is over 100 people in number with grands, great-grands, and great-great grandchildren. While they both have been called home to glory, their remaining children and us, their grandchildren, share with our kids their stories of faith, courage, that “no quit” spirit and determination in the face of anxiety, scarcity and uncertainties to remind them of who they are and where they come from.
In that spirit of gratitude, I thank you, Epworth, for making space in your hearts for me since I came to you last year. Thank you for teaching me each time I was with you in person, by email, text, phone, or by Zoom to prepare me for what is new that awaits me.
Where I have fallen short, I ask you to please forgive me as I forgive you. Please know that I love you one and all as I prepare to say good bye at the end of this month. It has truly been a great blessing for me to be one of your pastoral interns. My sincere gratitude to Pastor Kristin and Pastor Brian for sharing of their care, leadership, and wisdom.
Today, I leave you asking that in spite of the varying range of feelings we experience during these unprecedented times while sheltering in place, please let us not waste these anxieties but make room for what is new that awaits us. Let us be reminded that with God all things are possible; be tenacious to hold on for the prophecy that is ours liberated and led by the Holy Spirit.
God bless and keep you my dearest Epworth family. Amen.
Special thanks to... Preacher: Akesa Fakava
Contributors: Rev. Kristin Stoneking, Rev. Brian Adkins, Rev. Carletta Aston, Kim Hraca, Susan Jardin, Andy Schoenwetter
Special Music: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Erin Adachi-Kriege, Judy Kriege, Travis Pratt, Charles Lynch, Chris Poston, Brandon Williamscraig
Video producer: Anjuli Arreola-Burl, Tai Jokela
Podcast producer: Ethan Lindsey
Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt
All those who participate by watching from home!