Genesis 8: 1,8,9; John 3: 8; Acts: 2:1,2
A tale of islands
I saw a brief cartoon of about a lonely volcanic island recently. The visuals were great, the camera approaches the island from the sky as in a helicopter, but the island had a mouth and eyes. He roars for companionship. Underneath the sea a female volcano hears his roar and wants to join him. She is struggling to become an island at the surface. Just as she emerges, the old island is about to fade away. It was strange: islands with human features.
English poet John Donne wrote the famous lines: “No man is an island, Entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” These are interesting lines to have been written by an Englishman, for the English have always been happy to live on an island, close by and at once separated from those Europeans. He was of course right. Human beings are social beings. Only very few of us want absolutely nothing to do with other human beings. But I also want to say the opposite today, that you and I are all to a certain degree islands. There are always parts of us that no one can access, that no one can reach.
I saw a documentary about a man traveling to St. Helena, not the St. Helena in the Napa Valley, but the Santa Helena that lies in the middle of the South Atlantic. Soon there will be an airport there, but as the program was being made the only way to get there was on ship operated by Britain’s Royal Mail which takes five days from Cape Town, South Africa. This is the island where Napoleon lived out the last six years of his life, after he had lost the great battle of Waterloo in Belgium to Wellington. Napoleon has been exiled in before, on the Mediterranean island of Elba, but had escaped. This time this was not going to be possible. The island just has a population of several thousand who are a truly multicultural mix. The town only has one street. Napoleon was taken to the top of the island where it is always foggy and windy. There he lived, in a house surrounded below by British troops, lonely and despondent, remembering his great battles and exploits as Emperor. A remote island with a mighty ruler who slowly turned into a remote island himself, disconnected from his subjects. Because the place has changed so little in the 200 years since he was exiled, it is very easy to picture him there, mulling over the maps of Europe.
So friends, you are not an island, for you are human. Yet, you are an island still, because you are human. Although these statements seem to contradict each other, they are really a paradox. Both have truth in them. But the question is, what kind of island are you? Let’s look at the Hawaiian islands, which were not discovered by Europeans until two year after the declaration of independence, just before the time of Napoleon, almost three hundred years after Columbus. Are you like Oahu, a gathering place that pulls people in, always active and full of energy, the center of everything, but sometimes overwhelmed and stressed? Are you like Molokai, overlooked and relatively unchanged, with a forbidding, turbulent, inaccessible topside and a low, calm accessible side, if one knows how to find it. Are you like Lanai, overshot by many of the clouds that turn one side of the islands green? Are you like Kauai, off on one side, out there in the breezes, but exotic and welcoming. Are you like Maui, so touched by the outside influences in your life that you almost forget who you are? Are you like the Big Island, with a distinct rainy, gloomy side and sun bleached arid side and still unexplored corners? Are you like an island in the Bahamas, dazzling on the fringes, but with very little appeal beyond the edges? Are you like Catalina island, you welcome visitors, but close off when the sun goes down? You can almost take so much. Are you like Coronado island, by yourself, but close to the land, so that your never far from life by ferry or bridge or like Alameda, almost indistinguishable from the land around it. I could go on, but I don’t think you want me to. You can do the rest.
Friends, as we have determined, the Bible doesn’t do much with islands. The Bible knows the land. Even the word for island in translations seems interchangeable for coastland. The closest we come to an island is perhaps in the story of Noah on his ark. He is inspired to create a refuge from the storm for animals. He sends out birds to look for land, but they keep coming back and he pulls them back into his wooden island. The disciples who have to find a way to become apostles are huddled in a building not knowing what to do without Jesus. They are like a tiny island for believers in a great big world. There are many persecuted groups of Christians like that around the world; islands of shaking faith. Then the wind comes, the wind of the Holy Spirit, and everything changes. Friends, when we feel most like island, perhaps we often feel that God is far from us, unreachable, with so much in between. But let us be heartened by the image of the breeze and by the wind. It comes to us in many forms and with many names: tradewind or Passat, Zephyr or Mistral or Delta breeze. The wind of God’s Spirit will always be able to reach any island. Thanks be to God.