Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Sunday, June 3, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I thought it was funny. It was a one-panel cartoon that featured
a wife and husband greeting a pastor at the end of a church service.
The wife is seen shaking the hand of the pastor with her husband by her side. She seeks to reassure the pastor that he need not worry about her or her husband, “We don’t sin much,” she said, “but we love to hear about it.”
I thought it was funny. It may me laugh the first time I came across the cartoon. Her response was a great source of comfort to me.
The pastor may have preached a “hell, fire, and brimstone” sermon that morning and thought that the woman, her husband and others in the congregation were in need of being saved from their sins. Remarkably she seems unfazed by what may have been a sermon about God’s judgment and condemnation.
For me there is no hint of arrogance in her voice. Rather than arrogance, I sense her humility. I hear in her voice a broader statement, “We don’t sin much. ‘But we do sin from time to time.’ We love to hear about it. ‘Because we know how important it is to be reminded about we may be susceptible to sinning ourselves’.”
In one breath she manages to acknowledge the pastor’s sermon about sin and on the other she manages to let him know that she is unwilling to embrace an exclusive message of judgment and condemnation. Instead she seems to remind the pastor that the message of sin and salvation is about God’s love – about God’s grace and mercy.
Our reading from The Book of Isaiah contains the description of a vision in which Isaiah sees God sitting on a throne. In humility Isaiah confesses, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)
Several six-winged seraphs or angels appear in his vision. One brings a live, burning coal from an altar and touches his mouth with it saying, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” (Isaiah 6:7)
Isaiah hears the voice of God saying, “Whom I shall I send and who will go for us; who will go to share the news of grace and mercy?” Isaiah responds, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
Isaiah offers his confession. The woman greeting the pastor offers her confession. I would like to believe that the woman left the pastor that day prepared to do the same – to share the good news of God’s grace and mercy. She may not have had the benefit of a vision like Isaiah but I imagine if the pastor preached from our second reading this morning from The Gospel According to John, she understood God sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him – that it was and is an act of God’s grace and mercy. (John 3:17)
When a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader and learned man, approached Jesus in the darkness of night and questioned him about the things he was able to do, Jesus answered him, “I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)
Nicodemus was unable to comprehend what Jesus said and wondered how it was that anyone could be born again after having grown old. Jesus responded by saying, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3: 5)
We know enough from biology class to know about our physical births. You will recall last Sunday I shared with you that my mother was always quick to say whenever a question was raised about my birth in the early morning hours of June 13, 1949 that I was “one big baby.”
What is born of flesh is flesh. I suspect my mother may have worried about my own spiritual birth. If weighing in at 10 pounds at the time of my physical birth was cause enough for her to say I was “one big baby”, I imagine she would have said of my spiritual birth that it took a long time and the labor was very difficult because I was someone who was “hard-headed and stubborn.”
Like Nicodemus it may be difficult for us to understand what it means to be born of the Spirit. The writer of The Gospel According to John provides us with his own vision of rebirth by noting that all who believe in Jesus as the Son of Humankind may have eternal life. It is in believing that we are born again.
In believing we become aware as Isaiah became aware - of the holiness of God. In believing we become aware of the holiness of God made manifest in Jesus – that in him light has come into the world and that that light is the light of God’s grace and mercy. (John 3:19)
As we come this day to share in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, we do so giving thanks for the light that is ours in God the Creator, Jesus our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit our Sustainer. This is good news indeed.
May each of us, like Isaiah, respond to God’s call to share this good news and say: “Here am I, send me.”
Mahalo ke Akua!