Sunday, September 1, 2019

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

"An Open Table"

Rev. Kealahou Alika

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 & Luke 14:7-14

Perhaps we have made of her an idol notwithstanding the poem by Emma Lazarus. She stands 305 feet and 6 inches tall. The copper sheets used to shape her figure are only as thick as a penny and a half or an equivalent of almost 9 million pennies. But beyond whatever monetary value we may place on her stature and worth, she has come to symbolize the aspirations we value as a nation and a people.

In 1883, Emma Lazarus was asked to write a poem “as part of a fundraiser put on by newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer to raise money for the construction of the base of the Statue of Liberty [in New York harbor]. Lazarus had come from a well-to-do family, but she turned to immigrant advocacy after witnessing the mistreatment of thousands of newly arrived Eastern European Jews in the early 1880s. She discovered them living in squalor in overcrowded facilities that were overflowing with garbage, with little access to clean water, education or job training” “(The Morning Mix,” Megan Flynn, The Washington Post, August 14, 2019).

It was from out of that experience she composed the stanzas that appear on the base of the statute that we know well: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Emma Lazarus)

But it seems that there are those these days who have decided that we can no longer bear the burden of poor immigrants. “Give me your tired and your poor,” someone recently said, “who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge” (“Trump official: Statute of Liberty’s poem is about Europeans,” Zeke Miller & Ashley Thomas, Associated Press, August 14, 2019).

I am certain there are those who will be very quick to say, “Oh, Kahu, you make too much of what was said. Why should we let immigrants have access to benefits such as food stamps, housing subsidies, social security or Medicaid? We should deny green cards to those who use taxpayer-funded benefits or even [those] who are likely to use them in the future” (“Morning Mix,” Meagan Flynn, The Washington Post, August 14, 2019).

Some of us may be prone to dismissing the intent of Lazarus’ words, especially if we feel her words have no direct impact on our own lives. But consider this re-write of what comes to us from our reading that comes to us from The Book of Hebrews (13:2-3): “Do not neglect to show hostility to strangers, for by doing that some have come face to face with the devil without knowing it. Pay no mind to those who are in prison or who are being tortured. They deserve their punishment.”

Yet we know that is not what is written. The writer of Hebrews is clear: “Do not neglect to show hospitality [not hostility] to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:2-3).

And for those who insist we must take into account whether an immigrant is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” (Yahoo News, August 30, 2019), comes the admonition to the Hebrews and all people of faith: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices [and yes they are sacrifices] are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).

“When Jesus declares, in continuity with the Hebrew Bible, that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’ (Luke 14:11), he is reminding [the] disciples [and all of us] that vanity and bombast lead to devastation, and that humble service [our care for others] leads to the only glory that matters: being good and worthy in the eyes of God and our fellow human beings” (“Reflections on the Lectionary,” Rabbi Shai Held, Hadar Institute, New York, The Christian Century, August 14, 2019, page 19).

Our Hawaiian ancestors and elders say we are not to be hōʻoio but haʻahaʻa. Jesus makes the point in the telling of a parable: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14) (Op. cit.).

This is not to say that we are to deny our welcome of those closest to us but to say we must extend our welcome to those whom others tend to forget or ignore. By inviting the stranger – the poor [who cannot stand on their own two feet]. the crippled, the lame, and the sick, the refugee and immigrant, we will come to realize that instead of being preoccupied with what is ours and what belongs to us, we will find ourselves asking how we can serve and what we can give.

Maimonides lived in the Middle Ages (476-1492 AD). He was a Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential scholars of Torah or the five books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. He was also a preeminent astronomer and physician.

He offered an impassioned guidance to those who seek to celebrate a festival: “When a person eats and drinks in celebration of a holiday, he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and wife, is [not indulging in ] rejoicing associated with God’s command, but rather rejoicing in his own belly.”

Early Friday, Koa and I stopped by a hardware store in Kahului to run an errand. I adopted Koa from the Hawai‘i Animal Rescue Foundation in late July. He is now 9 months, so he is still a puppy – and a big puppy at that. He is rambunctious and both he and I are in need of going to dog obedience classes.

He has decided that the command “Come” means “Run” and the command “Stay” means “Run.” Except for “Noho” [in Hawaiian] which means “Sit” he hears every other command as “Run.” I have a feeling he doesn’t understand English.

In any case, as we were checking out at the register he started getting a little rambunctious – wanting to paw and lick the store clerk. I could see that she was definitely feeling uncomfortable. But thankfully as I said “Noho,” Koa settled down. In the brief time that we were at the register, the store clerk disclosed how she is always anxious around dogs because she was once bitten by a dog. I confided in her that until ten years ago, I was also afraid of dogs having been bitten when I was a child. “My parents had a dog,” she said. “But he was okay. They brought him with them from the Philippines.”

She went on to explain that her parents moved to Maui many years ago. Over time, other family members were able to move from the Philippines to join them. Today, she added, it is no longer possible for other extended family members to immigrate to the U.S. As she said that I could see the sadness in her eyes and hear the sadness in her voice. It seems the light of Lady Liberty has dimmed for family, friends and neighbors we may know.

It is custom and tradition for us to celebrate The Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month here at Keawalaʻi. This table is open to all – the tired and the wretched; the poor, the crippled, the lame, the sick and the blind; the orphans and the widows. While the light of Lady Liberty may have dimmed, here at this table which is open to all, we lift the light of Christ to the world. Amen.

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