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Unity and self-affirmation anchored Hawaii's new status


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POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Editor's note: The following is the text of the late Rev. Abraham Akaka's sermon on Hawaii statehood delivered 50 years ago, on March 13, 1959. It is available online at akakafoundation.org

“;One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”; — these words have a fuller meaning for us this morning in Hawaii. And we have gathered here at Kawaiahao Church to give thanks to God, and to pray for his guidance and protection in the years ahead.

Our newspapers lately have been full of much valuable historical data concerning Hawaii's development, growth and aspirations. I will keep these stories as long as I live, for my children and their children, for they call to mind the long train of those whose sacrifices were accepted, whose prayers and hopes through the years were fulfilled yesterday. There yet remains the formal expression of our people for statehood, and the entrance of our Islands into the Union as a full-fledged member.

I would like today to speak the message of self-affirmation: that we take courage to be what we truly are, the Aloha State.

On April 25, 1820, 139 years ago, the first Christian service conducted in Honolulu was held on this very ground. Like our Pilgrim Fathers who arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620, so did the fathers of a new era in Hawaii kneel in prayer after a long and trying voyage to give thanks to God who had seen them safely on their way.

Gathered around the Reverend Hiram Bingham on that day were a few of our “;kupunas”; who had come out of curiosity. The text of the sermon that day, though it was April and near Easter time, was from the Christmas Story. And there our people heard words for the first time: “;Mai maka'u 'oukou, no ka mea, eia ho'i, ke ha'i aku nei au ia 'oukou i ka mea maika'i, e 'oli'oli nui ai e lilo ana no na kanaka apau. No ka mea, i keia la i hanau ai, ma ke kulanakauhale o Davida, he ola no 'oukou, aia ka Mesia ka Haku”; —— “;Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.”;

Although our grandfathers did not realize it fully then, the hopes and fears of all their years through the next century and more were to be met in the meaning and power of those words, for, from that beginning, a new Hawaii was born. For through those words, our missionaries and people following them under God became the greatest single influence in Hawaii's whole development — politically, economically, educationally, socially, religiously. Hawaii's real preparation for statehood can be said to have truly begun on that day and on this spot 139 years ago.

Yesterday, when the first sound of firecrackers and sirens reached my ears, I was with the members of our Territorial Senate in the middle of the morning prayer for the day's session. How strange it was, and yet how fitting, that the news should burst forth while we were in prayer together. Things had moved so fast. Our mayor, a few minutes before, had asked if the church could be kept open, because he and others wanted to walk across the street for prayer when the news came. By the time I got back from the Senate, this sanctuary was well filled with people who happened to be around, people from our government buildings nearby. And as we sang the great hymns of Hawaii and our nation, it seemed that the very walls of this church spoke of God's dealing with Hawaii in the past, of great events both spontaneous and planned.

There are some of us to whom statehood brings great hopes, and there are some to whom statehood brings silent fears. One might say that the hopes and fears of Hawaii are met in statehood today. There are fears that Hawaii as a state will be motivated by economic greed; that statehood will turn Hawaii (as someone has said) into a great big spiritual junkyard filled with smashed dreams, worn-out illusions; that will make the Hawaiian people lonely, confused, insecure, empty, anxious, restless, disillusioned — a wistful people.

There is an old “;mele”; that reminds me of such fears as these, and of the way God leads us out of our fears. “;Haku'i i ka uahi o ka Lua, pa i ka lani, ha'aha'a Hawai'i moku o Keawe i hanau'ia ... po Puna, po Hilo, po i ka uahi o ku'u 'aina ... ola ia kini, ke'a mai la ke ahi”; — There is a fire underground, but the firepit gives forth only smoke, smoke that bursts upward, touching the skies, and Hawaii is humbled beneath its darkness — it is night over Hawaii, night from the smoke of my land — but there is salvation for the people, for now the land is being lit by a great flame.”;

We need to see statehood as the lifting of the clouds of smoke, as an opportunity to affirm positively the basic Gospel of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. We need to see that Hawaii has potential moral and spiritual contributions to make our nation and to our world. The fears Hawaii may have are to be met by men and women who are living witnesses of what we really are in Hawaii, of the spirit of Aloha, men and women who can help unlock the doors to the future by the guidance and grace of God.

This kind of self-affirmation is the need of the hour. And we can affirm our being, as the Aloha State, by full participation in our nation and in our world. For any collective anxiety, the answer is collective courage. And the ground of that courage is God.

We do not understand the meaning of Aloha until we realize its foundation in the power of God at work in the world. Since the coming of our missionaries in 1820, the name for God to our people has been Aloha. One of the first sentences I learned from my mother in my childhood was this from Holy Scripture: “;Aloha ke Akua”; — in other words, “;God is Aloha.”; Aloha is the power of God seeking to unite what is separated in the world — the power that unites heart with heart, soul with soul, life with life, culture with culture, race with race, nation with nation. Aloha is the power that can reunite when a quarrel has brought separation; aloha is the power that reunites a man with himself when he has become separated from the image of God within.

Thus, when a person or a people live in the spirit of Aloha they live in the spirit of God. And among such a people, whose lives so affirm their inner being, we see the working of the Scripture: “;All things work together for good to them who love God ... from the Aloha of God came his Son that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly.”;

Aloha consists of this new attitude of heart, above negativism, above legalism. It is the unconditional desire to promote the true good of other people in a friendly spirit, out of a sense of kinship. Aloha seeks to do good, with no conditions attached. We do not do good only to those who do good to us. One of the sweetest things about the love of God, about Aloha, is that it welcomes the stranger and seeks his good. A person who has the spirit of Aloha loves even when the love is not returned. And such is the love of God.

This is the meaning of Aloha. I feel especially grateful that the discovery and development of our Islands long ago was not couched in the context of an imperialistic and exploitive national power, but in this context of Aloha. There is a correlation between the charter under which the missionaries came — namely, “;To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to cover these islands with productive green fields, and to lift the people to a high state of civilization”; — a correlation between this and the fact that Hawaii is not one of the trouble spots in the world today but one of the spots of great hope. Aloha does not exploit a people or keep them in ignorance and subservience. Rather, it shares the sorrows and joys of people; it seeks to promote the true good of others.

Today, one of the deepest needs of mankind is the need to feel a sense of kinship one with another. Truly all mankind belongs together; from the beginning all mankind has been called into being, nourished, watched over by the love of God. So that the real Golden Rule is Aloha. This is the way of life we shall affirm.

Let us affirm ever what we really are — for Aloha is the spirit of God at work in you and in me and in the world, uniting what is separated, overcoming darkness and death, bringing new light and life to all who sit in the darkness of fear, guiding the feet of mankind into the way of peace.

Thus may our becoming a state mean to our nation and the world, and may it reaffirm that which was planted in us 139 years ago: “;Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”;