Sunday, February 28, 2016
Third Sunday in Lent
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Almost two centuries ago, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent the first mission company, in 1819, from the port of Boston, Massachusetts, to Hawaiʻi. Among those on board the ship Thaddeus were two ministers, two teachers, a doctor, a printer, a farmer and their wives plus five children and four young Hawaiian men.
Elisha Loomis was the printer. He remembered the day they arrived and recorded his observations in a journal.
Soon after making landfall they learned that the kapu system, which had governed all aspects of life for our Hawaiian kūpuna or ancestors, had been overturned. Loomis and the others American missionaries concluded that God had opened the way for their mission.
Still it quickly became apparent that except for the four Hawaiian men, Loomis and the others all struggled to overcome their own prejudices. Loomis wrote of their second day as they were greeted by Hawaiians who had paddled out to their ship, the following: “Their manoeuvres in their canoes, some being propelled by short paddles, and some by small sails, attracted the attention of our little group, and for a moment, gratified curiosity; but the appearance of destitution, degradation, and barbarism among the chattering and almost naked savages, whose heads and feet and much of their sunburnt swarthy skins were bare, was appalling. Some of our number with gushing tears, turned away from the spectacle, but were ready to exclaim, ‘Can these be human beings! How dark and comfortless their state of mind and heart! How imminent the danger to the immortal soul, shrouded in this deep pagan gloom! Can these beings be civilized?’” (The Providential Life & Heritage of Henry Obookiah, Christopher L. Cook, Paʻa Studios, Waimea, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi, 2015, pages 128-129)
Loomis went on to describe the first hours on shore by the Rev. Hiram Bingham, one of two ordained ministers in the mission company. Bingham was led by chief Kalanimoku on a tour of the now abandoned heiau or temple Puʻukoholā at Kawaihae.
Loomis wrote in his journal of Bingham’s tour of the heiau: “This monument of idolatry, I surveyed with mingled emotion of grief, horror, pity, regret, gratitude and hope; - of grief and horror at the enormities which men and devils had perpetrated there before high heaven; - of pity and regret that the victims and many of the builders and worshippers, had gone to their account without the knowledge of the Gospel, which ought to have been conveyed to them; of gratitude, that this strong-hold of Satan had been demolished and the spell around it broken; and of hope, that soon temples to the Living God would take the place of these altars of heathen abomination.” (Op. cit., page 130)
That was then.
This is now.
Emily Heath, the senior pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire recently wrote: “We do not talk about idolatry much anymore, despite the caution against it in everything from the Ten Commandments to the New Testament epistles. This is ironic,” she points out, “because idolatry flourishes in our culture.” (Living the Word, Christian Century, February 17, 2016, page 18)
We have not started building golden calves, she adds, but we have all spent plenty of time worshipping at other altars that are perhaps even more dangerous than that at Sinai or for that matter I would add at Puʻukoholā. Today, we worship at the altar of other powerful gods –“ money, success, popularity, greatness, security.” (Ibid.) What a difference two hundred years can make.
Darryl Trimiew, a professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies points out, “In [our] modern world, even on Sunday, even in Lent, [we] crave satisfaction.” We work. We struggle. We compromise. We seek approval “earning our paychecks from a world of competition.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 74)
Some of you are retired and others, like myself, are nearing our own retirements. It may not seem that we are all hell-bent on making more and more money. But we long to feel secure.
In this political season, we are told that we are all worrying about the economy and about our security. We are told that the global market is not doing well and that our fear of being killed is being fueled by terrorists who will stop at nothing to kill us.
Our aspiring politicians tell us if we vote them into office, they will make life better for all of us. In the meantime, we continue to chase the “American dream” lamenting that it is no longer a dream but a nightmare.
What Isaiah asked the people then and what he asks us now is this: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:2)
In the midst of our own drive for economic security and to feel secure from those who threatened our way of life, Isaiah reminds those who were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon to “seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)
In our reading from The Gospel According to Luke, Jesus tells a crowd of thousands (Luke 12:1) to repent that they may live. There is urgency in the call to repentance. Both Isaiah and Jesus make that very, very clear.
“This urgency does not come from a fear that God will smite us” or “that God wants to destroy us” the way the landowner wanted to destroy the fig tree. (Living the Word, Christian Century, February 17, 2016, page 18) Instead, it is because both Isaiah and Jesus know how quickly we may destroy ourselves.
Jesus told the people then and he tells us now: “ ... unless, you repent, you will all perish just as [the Galileans] did.” (Luke 13:5) Repentance, then, is a turning away from the idols of our day – “money, success, popularity, greatness, security” - and a turning to God. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 74)
“We may not be aware of how we have wandered away from God – how life has lost its meaning in pursuit of a promotion or raise, how we have gotten buried under the demands of economic and social status. Isaiah’ words help us to hear the truth so that we can recommit ourselves to God’s offer of steadfast love and [a] relationship as the true way for our lives.” (Op. cit., page 78)
His proclamation is clear as he points to the exiles in Babylon: “Let them return to the Lord that [the Lord] may have mercy on them,” and let them return “to our God, for [God] will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7) By doing so, Isaiah declared to the people then and he declares to us now God’s invitation: “E hāliu mai i ko ʻoukou pepeiao, a e hele mai iaʻu, a hoʻolohe mai, a e ola nō kou ʻoukou ʻuhane. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:3a)
May it be so. Amen.