Sunday, December 15, 2019

Third Sunday of Advent

"Lohe a i ‘ike iho nei : See and hear"

Rev. Kealahou Alika

James 5:7-10 & Matthew 11:2-11

The song appears in the second act of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Broadway musical South Pacific, a song I’ve referenced in a previous sermon. Lieutenant Joe Cable sings, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” a song that caused a stir because of its lyrics when the musical opened on in New York City on April 7, 1949.

Of the play itself, Andrea Most, a Professor of English, American Literature and Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto said, “ . . . South Pacific has been acclaimed for its sensitive and courageous treatment of the subject of racial prejudice at the height of the post-World War II Red Scare” (Theatre Journal, Johns Hopkins University Press, Volume 52, Number 3, October 2000, pages 307-337). The song was subject to widespread criticism and the storyline of children born out of an interracial marriage too controversial for audiences almost a decade and a half before the start of the Civil Rights Movement in U.S. in 1955.

In 1958, Twentieth Century-Fox produced the screen version of the play that we all know was filmed in Hanalei on the island of Kaua‘i. Sung by Lieutenant Cable, the song is preceded by a line saying racism is “not born in you! It happens after you are born . . . ” Like the play, the film included the stunning lyrics to the song.

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

The late Mary Kawena Pukui was a noted Hawaiian scholar and linguist. In her assessment of how Hawaiian children learn, she points to the ‘ōlelo no’eau or wisdom saying: “Nānā ka maka. Ho‘olohe. Pa‘a ka waha. Ho‘opili.” “Observe. Listen. Keep the mouth shut. Imitate.” Only then does one nīnau – ask a question.

She points out that this was the “teaching tenet” of our Hawaiian ancestors. The elders knew that: “I ka nānā no a ‘ike, by observing, one learns. I ka ho‘olohe no a ho‘omaopopo, by listening, one commits to memory. I ka hana no a ‘ike, by practice one masters the skill” (Nānā I Ke Kumu: Look to the Source, Pukui, Haertig & Lee, Hui Hānai, Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 1972, page 48).

She goes on to add, “In the Hawaiian ‘ohana, the extended family of the past, the young child began to watch, listen, and therefore, learn, long before parents or grandparents began any planned instruction. All young children learn from observation and imitation” (Ibid., page 49). I believe that among the things most of us were able to learn as keiki and ‘ōpio was not to hate and fear others, but to have aloha for others with different shaped eyes and different skin color.

Our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew this morning is about “seeing and hearing” – it is about ‘ikena; it is about lohe ‘ana. We are told in a somewhat casual way and without explanation that John the Baptist is in prison at the time that he sends his disciples to Jesus to nīnau, to ask Jesus a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3)

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see - lohe a i ‘ike iho nei. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). As disciples of Jesus Christ, we too, are to go and tell others what we have heard and seen.

In his second letter to Timothy, his fellow worker, the Apostle Paul writes: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We hear and we see through the mo‘ōlelo or stories that come to us from scripture and the lessons we have been carefully taught by our nā kupuna or elders.

As we continue through this season of Advent, we recall that the birth of Jesus as “an event of the end times, of the culmination of God’s will for the world and human history” (Preaching Through the Christian Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, PA, 1992, page 17).

There was no hate or fear in what Jesus said and did. There was aloha and compassion. Let us pray: “Holy one, your prophets have long spoken of the One who would come to bring healing to the world. Your promise has been fulfilled; your kingdom has come near. Therefore, send us as messengers of your way, to go and tell all the world of the wonders we have seen and the good news we have heard; through Jesus Christ, our brother and friend, our Lord and Savior.” Amen.

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