Heidi J. Kim: November 26, 2023

Good morning. My name is Heidi Kim, and I am a parishioner here at St. John the Evangelist. I jokingly asked Father Jered one time if he knew why I came to SJE, and he responded with something humorous and snarky, so I then said “it’s because you’re so close to the Yarnery.” In truth, I became a member of this parish because of Father Jered and Father Craig, because of the monthly racial reconciliation Eucharist, and because of the seriousness with which we say the confession. There are three things I want to focus on today; first, the power of confession to free our souls, second, the gift of absolution as a reminder that God’s unceasing love for us provides both forgiveness and redemption, and third the understanding that absolution is not and end, but a beginning – an opportunity to repent or turn to a new way, and to be bound together in love. As my friend the Rt. Reverend Jeff Lee likes to say, “God loves you just the way you are, and loves you far too much to let you stay that way.”

I truly appreciated Deacon Chelsea’s sermon from last Sunday in which she broke open today’s gospel. I am no theologian or biblical scholar, so her sermon really helped me. I am a sociologist, however, and in popular culture, we talk about the Matthew effect in the simplified language of “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.” But let’s take a moment to imagine ourselves as those to whom much has been given, whether that is in the context of championing democracy in the U.S. and beyond, or in the narrative that The Episcopal Church is somehow progressive and inclusive.

As an immigrant to the United States, I have strong feelings of gratitude for the political and economic freedoms in this country as compared to the cultures of colonialism and war under which my parents grew up. I also love many things about The Episcopal Church – our missional priorities, our liturgy, our charism, and we can indeed be a welcoming and inclusive institution when we remember who we are and Whose we are. So yes, as an Episcopalian citizen of the United States, much HAS been given to me, including the gifts of confession, absolution, and repentance.

Today we celebrate the feast of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma of Hawai’i. I feel a strong affinity for the stories of these two faithful Anglicans, because of their great works of faith, and because my youngest daughter lives in Hawai’i and is currently an elementary special education teacher on Oahu. She attended the University of Hawai’i, where all students are required to take Hawai’ian studies courses to learn about the history, culture, and language native to these islands. My daughter took this very seriously and continues to learn more about Hawai’ian culture and history for, from, and with her students. King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma are incredibly important historical figures. If you have visited Hawai’i, you have probably seen monuments and dedications to them – they are often held up as heroes of the Hawai’ian story.

One of the times I visited Honolulu, Canon Sandy Graham of the Diocese of Hawai’i took me through the Cathedral and told me a bit of the history of the founding of the Cathedral and its patrons, King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. The truly interesting story for me was why the King and Queen felt much more drawn to the Church of England than the Episcopal Church in the United States. As a young man, the King had visited England and France, where he was received with great respect and treated like the royalty that he was. However, when he came to visit the United States shortly thereafter, he had quite a different experience. Because of his darker skin, he was mistaken for an enslaved person and was physically and forcefully removed from his train car by a white man. As he wrote in his journal,

I found he was the conductor, and took me for somebody’s servant just because I had a darker skin than he had. Confounded fool; the first time that I have ever received such treatment, not in England or France or anywhere else……..In England an African can pay his fare and sit alongside Queen Victoria. The Americans talk and think a great deal about their liberty, and strangers often find that too many liberties are taken of their comfort just because his hosts are a free people.

For this and for other reasons, King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma were inclined to favor diplomatic and trade relations with Europe over the United States, and they identified more with the Church of England than The Episcopal Church. But many of the Christian missionaries in Hawai’i were from the mainland United States and pushed for things to move in a very different direction. While we honor the faithful leadership of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma and the work they did to establish St. Andrew’s Cathedral as well as Anglican and now Episcopal schools on Oahu, it is important to remember that they did so in spite of how they were treated by leaders within both the United States and The Episcopal Church, not because of it.  

As residents of Minnesota, I think many of us feel a certain kind of way about Hawai’i starting about now until the end of March.  We want to go where it is warm and sunny, and we want to experience Hawai’ian culture, food, and customs. We watch episodes of every generation of Hawaii 5-0 and dance to that theme song to get ourselves ready, and we buy floral clothing because we think that will help us fit in. We tend to think of Hawai’ian culture as an exotic commodity for our personal consumption and comfort, rather than an Indigenous culture that is consistently being appropriated and sold in order to bolster the tourist economy of the islands.

We might want to glamorize or glorify the legacy of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, even as their descendants live with the consequences of a racist form of capitalist exploitation of the natural resources that were a sacred source of life for the original inhabitants of that land. How can we hold all these stories on this feast day, appreciating how Kamehameha and Emma lived, ruled, and worshipped, while also acknowledging the cultural genocide that has impacted their people? What is it that we on the mainland need to confess? How might we find absolution and forgiveness? How and when will we turn to a new way?

Let me be clear – I LOVE visiting Hawai’i. As a majority non-white state where more people look like me than most of the folks in this sanctuary, there is a way that I can just relax and breathe when I’m in Hawai’i. If I need to make a reservation or tell someone my last name, I don’t get told “no, I asked you for your LAST name” and I don’t have to spell it because Kims and lots of other Koreans are everywhere there. I know the best places to get a wide variety of fresh kimchi and also where to go for the best Spam Musubi. (Another MN connection – Spam is everywhere, and oh so delicious.) So as an Asian American from the mainland who has mostly lived in majority white communities, it just feels lovely. At the same time I am definitely an outsider – a mainlander who probably doesn’t get it. I saw this very starkly the last time I was there in March of 2020, just as the world was shutting down. My daughter and I were in a hotel in Waikiki and could lean out of our balcony to see Native Hawai’ian protesters with signs shouting, honking car horns, and yelling at all of us tourists to go home and take our diseases with us. While many of the tourists from Asia were already masking, many of the white folks from the mainland were yelling at and swearing at the protesters telling THEM to go home and shut up. In that moment, I felt tremendous guilt at being one of those tourists from the mainland who might very well have brought disease with me to a tiny island with a limited number of hospital beds. So there I was, needing to confess, praying for absolution, and curious about how I could repent and move into a new way.

I started talking with my daughter, and really allowing some of what I was learning about Hawai’i to sink in. It was no accident that the protests were being led by Native Hawai’ians. They are particularly at risk for homelessness in a state that already has high levels of homelessness because of the disparity between wages and the cost of housing. The story is very familiar – Hawai’i was an autonomous kingdom before statehood, and it was Christian missionaries who forbade the Indigenous population from speaking their language, retaining their cultural practices, or embodying the cultural values that they relied upon. Not to mention the land grabs. Sound familiar Minnesota? We begin our racial reconciliation Eucharists with a land acknowledgement. I would imagine that most mainlanders who vacation in the islands do not think to say a similar acknowledgement when they land at the airport and receive a lei.

I believe that as Episcopalians, the feast day of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma is an opportunity for us to find renewal in the confession that we say together. When it comes to racial healing, every one of us sins in some way every single day. Some days we are like the young Kamehameha being mistreated and pushed to the margins. On other days, we are the conductor on that train. The beauty of confession is that it encompasses both of those experiences and allows us to start naming those things that we have done and left undone. When the priest says the absolution it does not mean that we have a clean slate. It means that despite our sinfulness, despite our human propensity to fail to see the full humanity of the person right in front of us, God’s love is expansive enough to grant us forgiveness and the opportunity to do better next time. But here’s the thing – we then need to do better next time. Confession and absolution are the first step in acknowledging our belovedness, the understanding that WE are those to whom much has been given, and much is now expected.

Much was given to King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, and yet much was also taken away. These things fueled their faith, rather than diminishing it. They helped to found Episcopal institutions that may or may not have always served their descendants in the way that they intended. But they had faith and engaged their good works without an expectation of a particular type of reward. They believed in a God of love even as the institutions and people that claimed to worship that same God were creating a society in which their descendants would struggle with poverty, drug addiction, poor health outcomes, and homelessness. Theirs was not a transactional faith, but one in which confession, absolution, and repentance might lead to hope, generosity, and being bound together by a God of love. They were given much, and they gave much. May we all seek to do likewise.


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