Walking with the Saints
The Commemoration of Ini Kopuria
Most people (myself included) probably couldn’t find Melanesia on a map. And it probably wouldn’t help much to say that it is tucked in between Micronesia to the north and Polynesia to the south and east. But a quick geography lesson tells us that Melanesia is a vast area of the western Pacific Ocean, just south of the equator, comprising over 2000 islands and almost 400,000 square miles of ocean north and east of Australia.
It is on one of those 2000 islands – the island of Guadalcanal – that Ini Kopuria was born in the early years of the 20th century. Educated in an Anglican school on nearby Norfolk Island, whose purpose was to train young men to teach their own people, it was assumed that Kopuria would return to Guadalcanal as a teacher. Instead, he chose another path, and became a police officer, working on various islands throughout the region.
Some years into his career on the police force, Kopuria became quite ill, and during his recovery came to understand that God was calling him in a new direction. He founded a religious order called the Melanesian Brotherhood, and became a missionary, reaching out to the same people he had served as a police officer. These were people he knew – and who knew him – and he was able to draw on those relationships to invite people into a new and deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
The gospel lesson appointed for the commemoration of Ini Kopuria comes from the 8th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, telling a story of Jesus’ encounter with a Roman centurion, who had sought out Jesus to heal his sick servant. The centurion – a military man much like Ini Kopuria – didn’t even ask for Jesus to come to his home… believing that Jesus could simply say the word, and the servant would be healed. The centurion understands Jesus’ authority from God because, as the centurion tells Jesus, “For I also am a man under authority.”
Ini Kopuria – a man under authority as a police officer – also understood that there was an even higher authority beckoning him into a different kind of service. We all – each in our own way – are people under authority as well. We are all accountable to a whole host of “someones”… be they our bosses, or our spouses and families, or our government, or our own internal set of values. But how (if at all) do we come to understand our own accountability to God? And how do we live our lives, or make our decisions, when we find that different sources of accountability sometimes come into conflict with one another?
These aren’t just theoretical questions. They are real-life issues which we have to come to terms with every day. Whether we are in the produce department at the grocery store, or the showroom of the car dealership, or the emergency room at the hospital, or the voting booth… we are called to make choices about whose authority we will heed in making decisions. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always clear-cut. Even the ubiquitous question, “What Would Jesus Do?” is often just an attempt to oversimplify sometimes much more complicated issues.
But the place to start is by asking the question – “What is God inviting/expecting/calling me to do?” – and then taking the time to listen for an answer. More than just when we show up at the pearly gates, we are all accountable every day, every moment, to God. So ask the questions. And listen for the responses. For, as the slogan of the United Church of Christ tells us, “God is still speaking.” Are we prepared to listen – and then respond – when that message is directed to us?