Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sunday, March 25, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Almost a month has passed since the shooting and it was only within the last week that announcements were made that both State and Federal investigations are underway.
On Friday Army Staff Sargeant Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, more than half of them children, during a shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan on March 11, 2012. In addition he has also been charged with six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault in the pre-dawn massacre in two southern Afghan villages near his base. All of those who were killed or injured were Afghan civilians.
Both incidents underscore the tragedies we face as human beings. It is easy to give up on human goodness when we look at the world around us.
But our readings this morning from The Book of Jeremiah and from The Gospel According to John remind us of the power of God’s grace. It has been said that God transforms reality, even the dark recesses of the human heart and in that transformation there is hope that we can bring healing and wholeness to our world.
The prophet Jeremiah lived in the seventh century BCE. He had the dubious distinction of being nicknamed Hagor Mishabebh – which meant “death and destruction.” It was Jeremiah who was called to warn the people that they would be defeated in war and exiled from their homelands.
He was hardly the harbinger of good news. He repeatedly warned the leaders not to resist the more powerful nation of Babylon and called on the people to submit to the Babylonians and live. (Jeremiah 27:12-15)
Jeremiah was given over to execution more than once having being accused of treason. Each time he somehow managed to be spared. As painful as it was for Jeremiah to deliver his message of doom, the greater pain was watching God’s will unfold as the warnings were ignored by the people.
In the end, Jeremiah despaired not over the people’s failure to heed his warning, but over the corrupt nature of the human heart. How was it that the people could be so persistent in their defiance and unable to see what they could have achieved together by giving heed to his words?
Jeremiah’s words are full of hope but they are words of hope that rest on deep sorrow. The people are not capable of holding fast to the covenant given to them as they were brought out of the land of Egypt.
The old covenant is pau – done. A new covenant is offered. The image of the old covenant was cut into stone; the new covenant must be etched into the human heart.
On Wednesday of last week a bipartisan group of 34 U.S. senators introduced a resolution condemning Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. He has been accused by the International Criminal Court of rape, mutilation and murder as well as the forcible recruitment of child soldiers.
Over nearly three decades 66,000 children in Uganda alone have been kidnapped. During the last four years, it is estimated that the group has killed more than 2,400 people and abducted more than 3,400.
The resolution backs the effort of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan to stop Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. It is hoped that by holding Kony and his commanders accountable for their war crimes stability will come to the region.
There is some controversy brewing about whether or not Kony is even in Uganda. Whatever the charges may be against Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army what makes his actions heinous, reprehensible is that Kony asserts his intention is to replace the current government with a regime based on the Ten Commandments.
Jeremiah reminds us that we are no longer capable as human beings to align ourselves with the law of God that was given at Mt. Sinai. In that sense Kony is incapable, as were the people in Jeremiah’s day, of understanding the nature and character of God’s law.
The law of compassion, the law of love, the law of aloha is what will be written on the human heart. We may find such compassion wanting in a warlord in Uganda, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, and an Army sergeant now confined to a U.S. military prison in Kansas.
But as we move through this season of Lent we are mindful that God can transform reality, even the dark recesses of the human heart.
In his last public dialogue that comes to us in our reading from The Gospel According to John, Jesus speaks of his imminent death. By doing so he points us to the inevitable reality of our own death. But we know this is not the end but a beginning.
A grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies will bear fruit. In time we will discover that Jesus’ own death will yield new life for all.
A good and dear friend of our church died last summer. The
law of compassion, the law of love, the law of aloha was written on his
In August family and friends gathered in Carlsbad, California to bid aloha to a man who was remembered as a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and friend. He was born on November 11, 1929 in Glendale, California. He died on July 21, 2011 in Oceanside, California.
On March 16, 2012 a portion of his ashes was scattered in the bay fronting the church. His wife and daughter brought him “home” to Maui.
We all had a chance to sit down and visit with each in preparation for the scattering of his ashes. At one point we talked about the plumeria plant that is in their back yard.
“You remember the yellow plumeria plant?” she asked reminding me that we used a stem of the plumeria blossoms for his memorial service in August.
“Well,” she said, “in the weeks prior to what would have been his 82nd birthday, it bloomed. But,” she said with great excitement, “the blossoms were not yellow but fuschia in color.”
Recalling the difficult moments that followed her husband’s death, she
said she found great comfort in the unusual bloom. “What happened?” I
asked and then attempted to explain,
“The plant was probably grafted with another plumeria plant.”
“Kahu,” she said in a definitive voice, “I have had that plant in my back yard for 15 years and it’s the first time it bloomed that color.” She was certain that it was a sign from her husband letting her know that he was fine.
I noticed as she spoke that I was experiencing a moment of God’s grace – a moment when God transformed the sadness of the death of a loved one into a moment of joy – and both our hearts were touched. Mahalo ke Akua.