People ask me often what it was like growing up in Hawaii. Kids have asked me if I rode a dolphin to school, if I had to buy normal clothes to visit other states (assuming all I owned was grass skirts and coconut tops). I’ve been asked if Hawaii has zip codes or area codes, if we have electricity, if I lived in a hut on the beach, or if I was a hula dancer or surfer. I’ve been asked what we eat, what we do, if I ever got tired of the sunsets or the ocean. People think this is what Hawaii is like because this is the Hawaii they know from afar, the one they see in cartoons and ads. And yet, while I can answer their questions, all that answers do is to dispel the myths. If someone asks me all those things and my answer is, we wear normal clothes, don’t live in huts, I don’t surf very often or ride sea creatures to school. The landscape is nice, we eat lots of different things. All I’ve done is to take away their understanding, doing nothing to actually give them a better picture of where I’m from.
So, if you ask what we eat, we eat things like ulu and lilikoi fruit, with lomi and mahi mahi, poi, and haupia, and spam musubi. Yet most of you won’t know what any of those things are. So, I could describe them to you one by one – That spam musubi is exactly the kind of canned spam you’re thinking of, but thinly sliced and fried in soy sauce and brown sugar, then assembled into a rectangle with a fat cake of sticky white rice, and wrapped in dried seaweed like massive spam sushi, which admittedly sounds horrible. But even me who has been a vegetarian for over half my life can attest to how delicious they are, and how much kids and grown-ups absolutely love them. I can tell you about other things we eat like ulu, which is a giant fruit that grows on trees and is the size of a cantaloupe but looks like a jackfruit. When it is raw it’s slimy and smells like feet, but if you bake it and eat it with butter, it has the flavor and texture of moist warm bread. And then you might have an idea of what an ulu is, or what a musubi is. But the far better way is for me to make it for you. Instead of offering answers, to say “Taste and see.” “Smell and see.” how spam sushi is mouthwatering and soul warming, and how slimy gym sock fruit becomes just like home baked bread and butter if it is cooked right. Taste and see. Smell and see.
When people ask me what the landscape is like, I can ask if they’ve seen Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lost, Hawaii Five O, From Here to Eternity, or dozens of other movies or shows that will give them an idea. I can try to describe the sharp green cliffs and valleys, the personality of the waves on different beaches, the smell of the tropical forests, and how one valley smells like ginger while the next smells like plumeria and the next hibiscus. I can try to describe the feel of treading through wet, rotting branches, or describe how sore your calves get from running on sand. I can explain the nuances of how being barreled in an ocean wave feels different than swimming under a pounding waterfall. But you won’t really know what those things are like – the smells of hiking through plants and flowers you’ve never been near, the personalities of different valleys and trails and beaches, the thrill and fear of tumbling underwater in the ocean, the softness of the water itself under a waterfall. I could answer your questions about what the landscape is like, but the best thing I could possibly do for you is to say – come and experience it. Smell the flowers, tread through the trails and beaches, swim in the waters.
When people ask me what the language is like, I could explain how there are only 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet, how vowels are heavily used, how beautiful Hawaiian music is with ukuleles and slack key guitars. But you won’t fully understand that unless I speak it for you, unless you hear the old men from down the street singing and playing together in lawn chairs on the beach, you won’t be moved by it until you see their wives stand up, bashful yet proud, to dance hula and tell the story of the words the men are singing with their dancing. I can try to tell you what it sounds like, what it feels like, but you won’t be moved by it unless you come and hear. Come and see. Come and experience it for yourself, because no matter how well I try to answer your questions, to tell you about it, to witness to it all, I can’t put the fullness of it all into words. You have to come and experience it for yourself to know the beauty, the grace, the extraordinary manifestation of God’s creation and God’s people that have emerged there in the middle of the pacific.
Our gospel text this week, very early in Jesus ministry, is about invitation. It’s about misconceptions about people and places – Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Come and see. It’s about limited understandings of who Jesus was. It’s about Nathaniel declaring “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” for Jesus to respond, “You will see greater things than these.” It’s about surpassing expectations, about the glorious future still to come, about the anticipation, the expectation, the obliteration of everything they thought they knew about the Messiah because experiencing Christ is so much more than words or legends or prophecies can describe.
This is a central theme in John’s Gospel – the invitation to come and see. John as a gospel writer leaves questions unanswered but doors open. He takes Jesus words “Follow me” and extends them to each and every one of us, because Christ can’t just be heard about, or talked about, he must be followed into new and better relationship with God and our neighbor. The depth and richness of that relationship needs to be experienced, not just talked about.
So, you want to know Jesus? Come and see him in the face of the woman with the cardboard sharpied sign on the side of the road, see him in every neighbor you encounter whose in need, see him in every neighbor with a yard sign for the candidate you didn’t vote for, see him in every act of kindness and love you receive yourself. Come and hear him in the voices of people calling for justice, fairness, equality, support for those who most need it, for those who are most vulnerable. Hear him in every lonely or homebound friend or family member you call just to say hi. Hear him in the gospel, and in worship music, and in birds chirping and rain pounding and in every other way God speaks to you. Come and taste and smell Christ’s body and blood through the bread and wine we share in the eucharist. Come and feel Christ in every way you can, through relationship with your neighbors, through solidarity with the poor and the hungry, through the beauty of oceans and waterfalls and mountains, or of pastures and longhorns, tall trees, and country roads. Come and experience Christ in every part of your life you possibly can. This is Christ’s invitation to us. To come and see and follow him to new places God might be calling you, to know him in ways that will surprise you, but will far exceed your expectations.