Sunday, November 3, 2019
Twentieth-first Sunday After Pentecost
The greatest commandment in the Bible is written in the Gospel According to Luke in the following way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke10:27-28; Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-34). In the Gospel According to Matthew and in the Gospel According to Mark, both writers make the distinction of emphasizing the first commandment and that is to love God and the second is like the first, to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 10:33; Matthew 22:38-39). Matthew and Mark make that distinction and while they may qualify their understanding by saying the second is like the first, Luke makes no distinction.
For Luke loving God, loving others and loving ourselves are inseparable. They are not one or two or three commandments – they are just one!
The writer of the First Letter of John reminds of that truth when he writes: “Beloved let us love another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8-9). He goes on to say: “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20-21). Those are strong words of condemnation.
In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul as well as Silas and Timothy address their letter to the early church in Thessalonica. It is a letter filled with admiration for the steadfastness and faith of those who are a part of the church. The church was established by Paul with the help of Silas and Timothy during his mission in the Aegean area. The church, with a predominantly Gentile congregation, was born and flourished in a hostile setting (Preaching through the Christian Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 458). In his first letter, Paul acknowledges that those who received the word did so with “great suffering” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). “They knew the pressure of religious persecution firsthand. But they had demonstrated remarkable patience and steadfastness in the face of open resistance” (Op. cit.).
In their letter, Paul, Timothy and Silas write: “We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:4) – the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.
That portion of the letter is what caught my attention. Whether we find ourselves experiencing moments of joy or sorrow, pain or healing, we are to love one another. “One of the most important and well known ‘ōlelo no‘eau or Hawaiian proverbs is: “Aloha kekahi i kekahi” (“Aloha kekahi i kekahi, Kaiama Naihe-Cho, Contributing Writer, Ka Leo, July 17, 2014). “Kekahi i kekahi, simply means ‘to each other,’ or ‘to one another.’” This saying is used to describe the relationship not only between people but between people and the ‘āina or land (Op. cit.).
Our Hawaiian kūpuna or ancestors did not look at the ‘āina or land as something to walk on, but rather as a person, someone to work together with by building relationships with all forms of life, big and small, scary and beautiful, because they believe[d] we all came from the same source” (Op. cit.). It seems to me that there is great value in loving not only God, one another and ourselves but in loving the ‘āina as well.
Now I realize having just said that, that some may want to insist the Bible doesn’t teach us to personify our love for the land as equal to loving God, others or ourselves. As for me, I find great comfort in the story of Hāloa.
The myths, the stories of our Hawaiian ancestors, may not be literally true in the same way that the parables of Jesus are not literally true, all myths and all parables teach a truth. Hāloa is the story of O Wakea ke kane, a man, and o Ho’ohokukalan,i ka wahine, a woman.
They were expecting their first child but the baby was born too soon and did not survive. The child was buried on the east side of their hale or house where the sun rises in the morning. Still mourning the loss of her child, Ho’ohokukalani cried over the grave each day. Tears from her eyes soaked the earth below, and before long, a plant started to grow from that spot.
Up from the ground grew a plant with a long green stock with a heart-shaped leaf. They called the plant Hāloanakalaukapalili after the way its unique-shaped leaf fluttered in the breeze. This was the first kalo or taro plant.
Before long, Ho’ohokukalani was pregnant again. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy and the parents named the child Hāloa, after his older brother.
It became Hāloa’s kuleana to care of his older brother who had become the kalo plant. It became his responsbillity to mālama, to care for the plant and perhaps more importantly and more significantly to love the ‘āina. In the same that Hāloa was to mālama the ʻāina so are we to do the same.
Some may want to insist that land or ‘āina is not a person. Ironically, in 2010 the United States Supreme Court allowed unlimited corporate and union spending on political issues. For those who claim that we are a Christian nation, the Supreme Court essentially granted personhood to corporations (“Corporations are People, and they have more rights than you,” Adam Winkler, Contributor, Huffpost, August 30, 2014). Citizens United and Hobby Lobby would be hard-pressed to insist that the ‘aina is not a person while at the same time insist that corporations are people.
Dr. Genevive Julien was born here on Maui and she attributes corporate personhood as the focus and core of her work as a psychologist on experiences growing up here on this island. She writes: “One of Hawai‘i’s core spiritual values is its powerful connection to community and the land (‘āina).” The Hawaiian proverb or wisdom saying conveys that core value. (“How to practice aloha kekahi i kekahi,” Genevive Juilen, Thyme and Presence, July 10, 2018)
For Julien, “Aloha kekahi i kekahi” translates as care, concern and love for one another” (Op. cit.). But she adds, “The cultural responsibility [or kuleana] to the land is manifested through the care and love of one’s surroundings. Reverence of the ‘āina is referenced in songs, dances and chants, signifying its importance amongst the people” (Op. cit.).
We are to love God, others and ourselves and we are to love the land that gives life and sustains life. Is it any wonder that our kūpuna would say of the Lord’s Supper that it is the ʻAha ʻĀina Pelena - ʻAha meaning to gather; ʻāina meaning the land from which the wheat is made into pelena or bread to become the body of Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.