Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
Thirty-third Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, November 18, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I managed to irritate someone a few weeks ago from this pulpit when I shared with you the remarkable story of Ruth and Naomi. You will recall I mentioned that it was Ruth, a Moabite widow, who saved the family line of David.
In her marriage to Boaz, she gave birth to a son named Obed. Obed became the father of Jesse and Jesse became the father of David and in time his descendant, Jesus, was born to Mary and Joseph. You will also recall that I made the assertion that Jesus was the offspring of a mixed-race family because of Ruth.
At the close of the service I was greeted by someone who said, “So you are telling me there was no virgin birth?” It was a rhetorical
But I responded anyway as she quickly walked away, “That’s not what I said.”
What I did not have a chance to say was that for me it has always been clear that the genealogy of Jesus takes into account his divine and human nature. On the one hand, the writer of The Gospel According to Luke (Luke 3:23-38), traces Jesus’ genealogy back through the Old Testament to Adam. Luke links Jesus’ line with God’s original creation. This was his spiritual or heavenly family.
On the other hand, the writer of The Gospel According to Matthew (Matthew 1:1-17) emphasizes Jesus’ Jewish lineage that is traced back through 42 generations and includes mention of Ruth. (Mattthew1:3-6) This was his biological or earthly family.
To speak of his earthly family is not the same as saying, “There was no virgin birth.” If in fact as someone pointed out, Mary was a virgin at the time she conceived Jesus in her womb, then there was a virgin birth.
But again my response was simply, “That is not what I said.” I did not have an opportunity to say much more than that. Whatever I may have said about Ruth was a source of great irritation.
The Greek word eis paroxysmon is translated in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as “to provoke.” It is said that the Greek word can have the negative connotation of irritation, sharp disagreement or incitement. But it can also have the positive meaning of encouragement or stimulation. My hope is that whatever I may have said about Ruth was provocative; that it was both irritating and stimulating; that it did cause some to wrestle with the truth that God chose someone like Ruth despite or because of her race, gender, marital status and religion to help change the course of human history.
In our reading from The Book of Hebrews, the writer calls upon believers to consider “how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24) It is strong language to be sure and one that may well incite and confuse some but one that can also be a source of encouragement and strength for others.
For the writer of Hebrews it would appear that agitation is one of the functions of our lives as communities of faith. Jane E. Fahey, a Presbyterian pastor, says it best, “We are to stir up – if necessary – irritate – each other . . .” if we are to live a life of faith that is rooted in the singular sacrifice made by Jesus through his death on the cross. (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 304)
The Holy Spirit seeks to remind us that God in Jesus Christ has declared: “I will remember their sins . . . no more. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds.” (Hebrews 10:16-17)
Through him, “our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22) Whatever our struggles may be; whatever regret or guilt we may hold from the past that have caused others hurt and pain, forgiveness is ours through Jesus Christ.
Such forgiveness does not absolve us of the responsibility we bear for any and all of the consequences of what we may have said or done in the past. Forgiveness is about “balancing freedom from the guilt of sin with responsibility to others who have suffered in the wake of our wrongdoings.” (Op. cit., page 305)
Such freedom and responsibility gives us cause to live a life of confidence before God. It is a confidence that is ours through our baptism. We need not live lives crippled by guilt or fear.
We live a life of hope. It is hope that is rooted not in our own human effort, but in the faithfulness of God – in the one who has promised to be faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)
We live a life that is shared within the community of the church where we are adelphoi – the Greek word for friends. (Hebrews 10:25) Fahey reminds us, “The church is not a place where everyone ‘plays nice and gets along,’ but a place where our duties to each other include difficult, perhaps contentious wrestling, but always together,” with “love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24). (Op. cit., pages 304 & 306)
As we look at the world about us, we hear of many wars and rumors of war. It is easy to become alarmed and wonder if we are on the brink of another catastrophic global war.
Earthquakes seem to occur with greater frequency. Droughts and famines have claimed the lives of 5 million children each year in recent years. In 2011 alone over 29,000 children under the age of 5 died in Somalia over a three month period because of a drought and the famine.
In our reading from The Gospel According to Mark, Jesus warned the disciples not to be worried about by wars, rumors of wars, earthquake or famine but instead to live their lives free of fear and anxiety. Like Fahey, Rodger Yoshioka is also a Presbyterian minister. He is also a colleague whose work among youth is something I have been become familiar with over the years.
Yoshioka raises the question of how we are to live in the midst of voices claiming that the end of the age is near. He offers his own response: “Our focus must not be on the signs themselves, but rather on the one who is to come – the one who enables us to look up after such devastation and claim the certainty of blessing. Things may seem to have fallen apart. It may appear that anarchy has been loosed on the world. Nevertheless, the center will hold and much to our amazement, we will discover that we have much faithful work do.” (Op. cit., page 312)
“We are not mere spectators of God’s work or simple recipients of God’s grace: we are active participants in the saving work of God in the world, as we follow Christ’s ultimate example of sacrificial giving, serving and loving until the very end.” (Op. cit., page 307) Or as the writer of Hebrews concludes: “ . . . let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another . . . ” (Op. cit., page 303)
The story of Ruth and Naomi is a provocative story because it compels us to see God’s presence in the world in one whom we least expect. It is a story of giving, serving and loving that points the way to the birth of the One whose life we will soon celebrate once more.
Mahalo ke Akua. Thanks be to God. Amen.