Keawala„i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Sunday, November 13, 2011
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
It was about 1:00 p.m. yesterday following the wedding of a couple from Dubai here at the church that Lei Reichel, our Administrative Assistant, reminded me in what was both a statement and a question: “Kahu, you going baby’s lūʻau tonight, heh?!?
“Oh, yeah, know!” I replied. I informed Lei that I had told Ann Kenolio last month that I was planning to attend her grandson Makoa’s first birthday. I let out a sigh aware that I had about ten minutes to eat my lunch before another couple from California was due for their wedding at 2:00 p.m.
“You should show face!” she said in an encouraging voice.
“I know,” I said aware that I was feeling overwhelmed after spending the earlier part of the week worrying about my dog Hanu. He fell ill on Monday - vomiting, pooping badly then not pooping at all.
I took him to the vet on Wednesday and while there he bit me as I tried to muzzle him in preparation for his exam. We left the vet after our hour long visit with medication to ward off any intestinal infections and to control his vomiting.
I had planned to leave work early following the second wedding to check on Hanu. After that I thought I would begin to prepare the message I wanted to share with you.
But I also knew it was important for me to take the time to make the drive to Haʻikū for Makoa and for his ‘ohana or family. I arrived at the community center with time enough to have some pūpū (appetizers) that included pipikaula (beef jerky), edamame (soy beans),and hāpuʻu-tomato salad (fern-tomato) with dried ʻōpae (shrimp). My mother would have been disappointed with me for having passed on the raw ʻopihi (limpets)and the fried kole (surgeon fish).
I paused to visit with Makoa’s mom and dad – Nohelani and Chad. I had a chance to see his maternal grandparents – Paul and Ann Kenolio, and his maternal great-grandparents and his maternal great-great grandma. It is not often that one finds five generations of family together in one room at one time.
I was honored to offer the blessing for Makoa and for the dinner of lūau food that followed. It was a joy to share with everyone present that Makoa carries the bloodlines of his many ancestors – including Hawaiian, Pilipino, Korean, Marshallese, English, French and Celtic.
What was to be a brief visit turned into a two hour evening of eating and visiting with family and friends. As I was leaving more than a few of the folks asked, “So what, Kahu, you get your sermon ready?”
“ʻAʻole. No,” I replied. “I never even start yet and besides I have been thinking about the title ‘Abundant Possibilities’ all week and right now, no make sense.” Then I thought, “How about ‘Baby’s First Lūʻau’?
As I was passing through Pāʻia town it dawned on me that it took Makoa’s baby lūʻau for me to appreciate, in a new way, the significance of the parable of the Talents that comes to us in our reading this morning from The Gospel According to Matthew. Given the way of the world these days it would be easy look upon the parable as an economic lesson on financial investments.
In Jesus’ own day, owners of large family businesses would often travel in order to protect their business interests and increase their wealth. Trusted servants were given the responsibility of managing their affairs in their absence.
It is to such servants that the master in the parable entrusts what is essentially a tremendous sum of money. That Matthew would utilize the metaphor of money to describe what it would take for God’s reign in the world to come to fruition must have troubled and perplexed many.
Everyone knew that one talent represented a unit of money approximating fifteen years of earnings for a day laborer. So each gift was enormous. To be entrusted with five talents was to be entrusted with more than a lifetime’s worth of average wages. It would amount to an equivalent of seventy-five years of earnings. Others compared a talent to an equivalent of 3,000 shekels or 75 pounds of gold or silver, enough to employ a crew of 200 rowers in ancient Greece for a month.
Some may quibble about the comparisons of value and worth but what is basically true is that a talent was a lot of money. It makes sense then that the master would be anxious about turning over so much to his servants. The master apparently determined that his servants had various skills (Matthew 25:13) and so he chose to entrust one servant with five talents, another with two, and a third with one.
When the master returns he is pleased with the two who doubled the value of their talents. To say he was dismayed with the third servant who buried the one talent he was given would be an understatement. The master is extremely harsh in his condemnation.
At first glance it would seem that the parable is about doubling the amount of money one invests in order to increase one’s wealth. But Matthew’s writing was being directed to those in the first-century church in Antioch who were struggling to bring together members who were both Jews and Gentiles, not to those who were the bankers of his day.
The parable is about investing and taking risks but not in terms of an investment of finances but an investment of faith. “It is,” as someone has pointed out, “about Jesus himself and what he has done and what is about to happen to him.”
“Mostly it is about what he hopes and expects of (his followers) once he is gone. It is about being a follower of Jesus and what it means to be faithful to him, and so, finally, it is about you and me.” (Feasting on the Word, John Buchannan, Year A, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2011, page 310)
In the same way that the master is hopeful of what his servants were able to do when he returns and finds them, so it is that Jesus is hopeful of what we were able to do when he returns to find us. By entrusting his property to his servants, the master sees himself making a tremendous sacrifice.
What Jesus has entrusted to us is not money, that is not what he sacrificed. What Jesus entrusted to us was the hope and promise of God’s reign in our lives and in the world for which he died – a reign of mercy and grace, compassion and justice, hope and love.
The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu served as the Archbishop of Cape Town and the Bishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa for many, many years. He celebrated his 80th birthday in early October with the publication of a new biography, Tutu: Authorized.
Some of you have heard me say that I met Bishop Tutu in a Baptist church in Newark, New Jersey during the years when the struggle against apartheid in Southern Africa was devastating the lives of so many. He spoke with great eloquence. There was no anger or hostility in his voice. But there was strength – the strength of conviction that racism has no place in the kingdom of God.
Physically, he is a very short man and I say that because I am a short man and I was taller than him, but in terms of stature he is quite an amazing man. He has an infectious smile. By the close of the evening I concluded that he is a follower of Jesus Christ who I admire very, very much.
Bishop Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and has been the recipient of numerous other awards. He has been active in the defense of human rights and has fought for those who are oppressed in many countries around the world. He has been at the forefront of the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis, homophobia, poverty and racism – all at great risk to his own life.
When Tutu was asked recently what he would say gives meaning and direction to his life, he responded by saying, “Everyone is precious; everyone matters.” (Vanity Fair, Proubst Questionnaire, November 2011, page 232) Everyone.
So the time we invest in one another’s lives and the lives of those around us in our families, in our churches, in our communities, in the world – matters. That is what I came to appreciate about Makoa’s baby lūʻau last night – about the investment we make in one another’s lives – of time and resources; of love and joy. Makoa is precious. Makoa matters.
Where is the risk in that you may ask? When I arrived with about ten minutes to spare before the dinner began, Makoa’s grandmother came to me and said, “You know you have to say the blessing before we eat.”
In that moment I felt a deep sigh within. “Good thing I came.”
I noticed the smile on Makoa’s grandmother’s face. And though she did not say anything, I imagined she must have been thinking, “Cause if you never show up, you would have been in big, big trouble.” I smiled.
Happy Birthday, Makoa! Happy Birthday, Bishop Tutu!
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