Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Fourth Sunday of Lent
One Great Hour of Sharing Special Offering
Sunday, March 18, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Our readings from The Book of Numbers and The Gospel According to John this morning trouble me. Yes, the former reading from Numbers informs the latter reading from John and we are left with the observation made by Craig Kocher, the Associate Dean of the Chapel and Director of Religious Life at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina: “As (the reading from The Book of Numbers) is read in the context of Christian worship, the story of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness foreshadows Good Friday and Easter morning.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, page 100)
In our reading from The Gospel According to John, we are told that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must Jesus be lifted up. Kocher points out: “Seen through the eyes of the church, the image of death lifted high on a pole is not that of a serpent, but that of God in Christ lifted high on the cross.” (Op. cit.)
That essentially is the lesson that comes from both readings – that God brings hope and healing to us in the midst of our sorrow and pain. But a closer look at both reveal details that are the source of my annoyance. In our reading from The Book of Numbers we learn of how the people became impatient as they continued their journey through the wilderness.
They speak against God and against Moses. After being led out of slavery in Egypt, the people grow weary. They become impatient and grumble.
To borrow a phrase coined by former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm during the 2008 election, the people had become a nation of whiners. As a nation we were fortunate. Unlike the Israelites we were spared from certain death.
As for the Israelites many died as a result of the poisonous serpents that God sent their way. How do we proclaim a God of love when we are faced with a God whose impatience has worn thin and resulted in the unnecessary death of so many? How do we reconcile a God who violently condemned idolatry with a God who now directs the building of what appears to be an idol – a serpent atop a pole?
We know that God responds to Moses’ prayer and instructs him to make a bronze
serpent and set it on a pole. Those who have been bitten are told to look at
the serpent “and live.” The end result is the health of the people is restored.
Still it is troubling that we find ourselves facing a God who seems as impatient
as the people themselves.
Our reading from The Gospel According to John contains a particular verse of Scripture that has become a cliché: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
It is a bit of a challenge to know what to say to bring new life to a verse
that is so familiar. But Paul Shupe, the pastor of Lake Edge United Church
of Christ in Madison, Wisconsin reminds us that were we to read the whole of
Scripture from beginning to end, we would discover the story of God’s love
for the world. (Ibid., pg. 118) It was God’s love that brought the people out
of slavery and it was love that offered them the guidance of the law and the
security of the promised land.
It was God’s love that raised up prophets who declared God’s desire for compassion for all whether they were kamaʻāina or malihini. It was God’s love that sustained the people during their time of exile. It was God’s love that was celebrated in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
It was God’s love that sent Jesus into the world where he taught that love is not merely for those who look and think and believe like us, but even for our enemies and those who persecute us. It was God’s love that stirred the first century church to open communion to Jews and Gentiles. (Op cit.)
These stories come to us from Scripture and the cumulative effect is clear: God so loved the world. We have our own stories to tell.
We understand God’s love for the world through the wisdom of our kūpuna or ancestors here in Hawaiʻi. It was only the other weekend that we celebrated our 21st annual lūʻau.
The theme for the lūʻau was “Aloha ʻĀina – Our Love for the Land.” That love includes the earth, the sky, the sea and all of creation.
A Hawaiian-language newspaper that began publishing in 1893 at the time American business interests were fomenting the overthrow of the Hawaiian nation was called Aloha ʻĀina and it became the voice of those whose allegiance was to Hawaiʻi and not the U.S.
Some say the phrase “Aloha ʻĀina” is a very old concept and that it predates the naming of the newspaper. But of all the well-known phrases from our history, “Aloha ʻĀina” is a core value that has always been with us and our expressions of it have evolved over the centuries: from pre-contact times when the lifestyle and everyday actions of our ancestors embodied this concept to the time when our kūpuna began using this phrase to articulate their position in the political struggles of the late 19th century, and on into the 20th century struggles of our mākua or parents who fought for the protection of certain ʻāina themselves.
Throughout these various struggles kānaka risked and even lost their lives, some not far from our shores here in Mākena, to maintain “Aloha ʻĀina.” The struggle was to protect not only the land, but all which nourishes our bodies, minds, and spirits.
Although we may find our understanding of “Aloha ʻĀina” changing over time, it will never go away. Although more than a century has passed and we have seen enormous changes sweep over our islands, we must make certain that future generations will never forgot the bond we share in our love for the world in which we live.
It is a world that God loved so much that he gave his only son that we may
be saved and the world will be saved. Thanks be to God.