Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, September 13, 2015
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Abraham Fornander was born in Oland, Sweden in 1812. His education was under the tutelage of his father, a local clergyman. In later years, he would become a student at the University of Uppsala and the University of Lund where he studied theology.
In 1841 he joined a whaleship on a five-year campaign in the Pacific. Three years later, in 1844 he left the ship he was on board in Honolulu harbor and spent the rest of his life in Hawaiʻi. On January 19, 1847 he became a citizen of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and took an oath of allegiance to Kauikeauoli, Kamehameha III. He married the chiefess Pinao Alanakapu of Molokaʻi.
Fornander went on to become a journalist, judge and ethnologist of the kingdom under Lot Kapuāiwa, Kamehameha IV. He took a keen interest in education and in the scientific, literary and theological questions of his day.
It was out of his interest in education that Fornander published a series of books on An Account of the Polynesian Race, its Origin and Migrations, and the Ancient History of the Hawaiian People to the Times of Kamehameha I. In volume 6 of his Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and Folk-Lore (Vol. VI, Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1916-1917, pages 278-281) Fornander recounts the story of the discovery and settlement of Hawaiʻi by Hawaiʻi Loa, from whom it is said the Hawaiian people descended.
Today scholars question the authenticity of the Hawaiʻi Loa tradition. Fornander drew upon the work of Hawaiian historians Kamakau and Kepelino and because both were Christian converts, some believe that Fornander’s account is a summary of many other Hawaiian legends and genealogies.
What makes the story of Hawaiʻi Loa important to me is that like many, many other stories it attempts to give an account of the origins of a people. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to verify all of the stories. But the genealogy of Hawaiʻi Loa that was meticulously recorded through oral tradition would be difficult to dispute.
The story of Hawaiʻi Loa one story about the origins of the Hawaiian people. There are others.
I have a framed print of a poster of a Hawaiian man in a taro field on the wall of my home. Below the print are the words: “Moʻohāloa moʻokanaka a mau: From the genealogy of Hāloa comes forth all Hawaiians forever.”
The kalo or taro plant is said to be “linked to one of many mythological versions on (the) creation of Hawaiian ancestry.” (Root of Life (Taro) Native Hawaiian Creation Story, Anna Leychenko, 2012-2015). The legend tells of how Papahānaumoku (Earth Mother) and Wakea (Sky Father) created the islands of Hawaiʻi.
In the legend it is said that Hoʻohōkūokalani (The Heavenly One Who Made the Stars) was the offspring of Papa and Wakea. It was through her and Wakea that Hāloa (The Long Breath or Eternal Life) came into the world stillborn and ʻaluʻalu – deformed.
The baby was buried and after Hoʻohōkūokalani grieved over her son with many, many tears, it is said that out of the loʻi (taro pond) sprang a fragile, strong and healthy plant. “The stems were slender and when the wind blew they swayed and bent as though paying homage, their heart-shaped leaves shivering gracefully as in hula. And in the center of each leaf water gathered, like a mother’s tears” (Op. cit.).
Later a second child was born and he was also named Hāloa, after his older brother. The younger Hāloa, the first born man, was to respect and look after his older brother, the taro plant, forever. In return, the older Hāloa would always sustain and nourish him and his descendants. So it was that the taro plant became the sacred crop of the Hawaiian people and the principal food for generations past, present and future.
For me, there is a profound lesson in the story of Hāloa that I want to share with you but not quite yet. I realize some of you may be wondering what the creation stories of Hawaiʻi Loa and Hāloa have to do with our time of worship this morning.
Creation stories appear in most, if not all, cultures around the world. They convey a religious or spiritual tradition and understanding about where we came from as human beings, what our purpose is here on earth, and where we go after our life comes to an end.
Our reading this morning from The Book of Genesis is no different. The account focuses on the creation of humankind and describes the responsibilities of human beings within creation itself.
Theodore Hiebert is a Professor of Old Testament at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. He writes: “Few Biblical texts have had more influence on how we understand ourselves in relation to God, to other humans, and to the world around us than these verses from the creation account in Genesis 1” (“Rethinking Dominion Theology,” Direction: A Mennonite Brethren Forum, Fall 1996, Vol. 25, No. 2, pages 16-25).
Hiebert reminds us that there are two creation stories in The Book of Genesis. This morning’s account is recorded in chapter 1. There is a second account recorded in chapter 2.
He makes a substantial case for distinguishing the intent of both accounts that is much too lengthy to repeat here. But I hope my summation of his manaʻo or thoughts does not betray the critical thinking we must consider when we look at our reading from Genesis.
At the outset he makes a distinction between both accounts by asking the question: “Which theology of creation serves us best (today)? The theology of dominion (Genesis 1) or the theology of dependence (Genesis 2)?” It is a question well worth asking as we face the environmental and ecological questions of our day.
The term “dominion” comes from the Hebrew verb radah, a word that “grants humans the right and responsibility to rule, to govern the rest of creation. It establishes,” what Hiebert refers to as “a hierarchy of power and authority in which the human race is positioned above the rest of the natural world.” (Op. cit.)
There is no mistaking the conclusion that one must come to in light of the use of radah elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is employed for the rule of the head of the house over household servants (Leviticus 25:43) and of Solomon’s officers over his conscripted labor force (1 Kings 5:16) (Op. cit.).
It is used for the rule of Israel’s kings over their enemies (1 Kings 4:24), or for the tule of Israel’s enemies over Israel itself (Leviticus 26:17). In all of the texts, it is clear that the verb radah signifies the power, control an authority of one individual or group over another. (Op. cit.)
It would appear that in the instance of household servants, they are not to be “ruled” harshly (Leviticus 25:43, 46, 53) so there is an implication that to have dominion over another, one may be kind and humane. But it would also appear in the instance of military conquest, where it is paired with “destroy” (Numbers 24:19) and “strike down” (Leviticus 26:17; Isaiah 14:6) that it is far, far less humane.
Hiebert asserts that a similar conclusion may be drawn from the phrase “subdue the earth” in verse 28. The Hebrew verb for subdue is kavash and is even more forceful than radah. It connotes actual subjugation, of forcing another into a subordinate position.
All of this is to say that the terms radah and kavash places human beings above the rest of nature and having the authority and control over it. Human beings have the power and authority to dominate and subdue all of creation.
The irony is that within the context of the ancient Biblical world when the creation stories were written, human beings had very little power. For the ancients the concept of dominion did not rise out of human power but human powerlessness.
The world in which they lived was without modern machinery, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The countryside was rocky and arid. Rainfall was infrequent. It is not difficult to understand that the writers of Genesis 1 would view their world as inhospitable.
Having dominion, having the ability to subdue the earth made sense to the writers of Genesis 1. They could not have envisioned the kind of control (and destruction) now possible in our day as a result of the industrial and technological revolutions we have witnessed in our lifetime. We seem hell-bent on destroying what God has created through deforestation, strip-mining, off-shore drilling, overfishing, fracking, damming rivers and carbon emissions.
The creation story in Genesis 2 (Genesis 2: 4-25) provides us with an alternative understanding of the place of humankind in creation. In this story, human beings are not created in the image of God but out of the arable land that was cultivated by the farmers (Genesis 2:7).
As a consequence, human beings do not hold a distinctive position among living beings, since plants and animals were also produced from the same arable soil (Genesis 2:9, 19). The role assigned to human beings is not to have dominion – radah – or to subdue – kavash – but to serve – avad (Genesis 2:15; 3:23).
Properly translated, avad means to “till” and refers to the cultivation of the land. But avad is also the first Hebrew verb “serve” that is used of slaves serving masters and of humans serving God (Genesis 12:16; Exodus 4:23).
In our own day and time it would be helpful for us to realize that: “Humans are not created with special privilege and power. The first human is made of the same stuff, the arable soil of the biblical hill country, as are all of the other forms of life; and the divine breath blown into (that person’s) nostrils is the same breath with which all the animals live and breathe (Genesis 2:7; 7:22). The language with which the role of the human in the earth is described is not the language of lordship but of servanthood” (Op. cit.)
This understanding of what it means to “serve” is at the heart of our reading from The Gospel According to Mark. Jesus addressed the preoccupation of James and John over who among the disciples had the greatest power and authority by pointing out that the greatest are those who are servants to all (Mark 10:44). Servanthood, not lordship.
The Maui News featured a story about the airing of a recent documentary on public television about the life of Kelson “Mac” Poepoe of Molokaʻi, a pioneer of community-based subsistence fishing in Hawaiʻi. The half-hour film (worldchannel.org/programs/episode/fishing-pono/) focuses on his commitment to “bring back the fisheries...” through the “...use of traditional practices.”
In 2013 he received a lifetime achievement award as the Native Hawaiian Advocate of the Year from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. His work through Hui Mālama O Moʻomomi is “to protect and help educate local residents and visitors about Molokaʻi waters and resources.” Because of his work, residents of Kauaʻi have sought his kōkua.
We hear, in his voice as he speaks about the fish of the sea, the words of a prophet: “It’s something we’re caring for. If everybody can do that, there would be no problems, but people don’t want to take care of their place. They destroy and destroy to a point where it’s gone and then go a neighbor’s place and destroy their place.”
“I’m gonna be fishing and taking care no matter what,” he said. “I worry about the next generation. That’s really what it’s all about” (“Molokaiʻs Poepoe helps Kauaʻi fish pono,” The Maui News, Sunday, September 6, 2015, Front page & page A6). Servanthood, not lordship.
The lesson of Hāloa is that our survival on the earth depends on our ability to recognize “our responsibility as one of service within the world of God’s creation” (Op. cit.). Jesus invites us, as he did the early disciples, to a life of service in our care not only of one another but of the world that God created and loved so much that a child was born in Bethlehem to show us the way.