Thanksgiving Day, Yr C Nov 28, 2019
Today’s Thanksgiving Day traditions seem a far cry from their historic origins. Yes, In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
Now days it seems it’s the gateway holiday into the winter shopping season. Even before black Friday we have the black Friday sales. But this is also a holiday around food as well- what to cook and how to cook it , what to eat and how to eat it, and how much exercise you’ll need to work it off when it's all over.
And now that our minds are focused on food, what we might soon be cooking, or which dish we most look forward to, the gospel appointed for Thanksgiving Day is an interesting choice. John’s gospel says: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal… Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”
It should be obvious to most that our civic and religious Thanksgiving holiday is not about food. Even the non-religious among us admit that Thanksgiving is at the very least a day in which we acknowledge what we have and what is important in our lives.
For Christians, Thanksgiving Day is about giving thanks to God, the creator of all. The fact is, however, that when we give thanks to God for all we have, we are most often thankful for the “food that perishes,” as Jesus puts it. We might be thankful for our new car, for our home, for food, for clothing, for our job, and for money to pay our bills, things that are important, but they are all things that perish.
There is certainly nothing wrong with giving thanks for the perishables in our lives, but that’s not the question Jesus is prompting. Jesus is asking where we place our faith. The gospel lesson doesn’t ask us to list the things for which we are thankful, the gospel lesson asks us to reflect on our faith and to receive the true bread, which gives life to world.
We can certainly be thankful for our material wealth, for our homes, for our jobs, and for the food on our tables this Thanksgiving, we should not mistake thankfulness for faith.
It IS a common practice at Thanksgiving for congregations and other community groups to gather food for food pantries, or assist at soup kitchens, perhaps offering Thanksgiving dinner to those who are hungry or alone at this special time. For some, unfortunately, this is motivated by a sense of guilt, that we have so much and are feasting so excessively- maybe if we remember those who have less than us, it will ease our consciences.
Being thankful for turkey and stuffing won’t feed the hungry. Thankfulness for a closet full of clothing won’t clothe the naked. Thankfulness for a good home and a good job won’t house the houseless or right the economic injustice in our society.
Being thankful is important, but it is an outcome of our faith.
And we are gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day in our faith to give thanks, seeking not the bread that perishes, but the bread of life who gives life to the world.
In the gospel, after the feeding of the multitudes with the loaves and fishes and all the baskets full of leftovers, Jesus has gone away from the crowds. He says those who sought him out: you come looking for me not because of the miracle, but because of the free food. Do not seek the bread that perishes but for the bread that endures eternally.
Jesus brings up something different- He is talking about bread from heaven but not the same bread that fed the Hebrews in the wilderness. The bread he speaks of endures, it never gives out, never turns stale, it is food for a new and different life.
The Spirit moves us to participate in the generous life of Emmanuel: God-with-us, constantly practicing thanks-giving. Our faith in Jesus and our participation in God’s mission will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and set things to right in the world.
Jesus is announcing a New Feast and were that not enough, he identifies it with himself. I am the Bread of life, he calls out and every time we gather welcomes us to his table. In this Eucharistic Feast. There is bread enough for everyone. I'm here from heaven, Jesus says, I come straight from the Father's throne, not to take, but to give. Giving life to us and life to the world.
Thanks be to God.
Feast of the Holy Sovereigns/Christ the King Yr C Nov 2019
In the calendar of the Episcopal Church, there are various days appointed that recognize events in the life of the Jesus and the Gospels such as Christmas and Easter; as well as days that recognize Christians whose life and work have modeled themselves after the life of Jesus and the values like love, care, forgiveness, and service to others that he taught and embodied. These days whether honoring events or people are called feast days.
This week in the church calendar is the feast day of our founding Kamehameha IV and Emma. The Feast of the Holy Sovereigns. That's what we call it. In the life of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii, this is the Sunday, where we recognize our founding patrons. Today is about remembering that we have a royal heritage that is unique and special.
Last week, right before we went on Thanksgiving holiday, our school newspaper, the Imua, talked about race. And in Kamehameha IV’s own story, race and racism, played a significant role in his life.
Before he was King Kamehameha IV, he was Crown Prince, Alexander Liholiho ʻIolani. Educated by the Protestant Missionaries at the Royal School, he was very smart and articulate, speaking not just his native language of Hawaiian, but also both French and English. When he was 15 he served as an ambassador of Hawaii on a trip to Europe, where this young man, though a curiosity among the royal circles of England and France because of his place of origin, he was accorded the respect and dignity of an ambassador of a foreign country and a prince of Hawaii. It was on this trip that Prince Liholiho learned how to fence and came in contact with the Church of England. He was impressed with its order, liturgy, and relationship to the crown and promised that when he became King, he would invite the Church of England to the Hawaiian Islands. While on his way back, needing to cross the United States, he was nearly thrown off the train by a conductor who thought, because of the color of the Prince's skin he was a servant and did not belong in the compartment he was in. This added to Prince Liholiho's animosity toward the United States would remain and play itself out once he ascended the throne.
In 1855, at the age of 20, that day came. His uncle, Kamehameha III, dies leaving him to now become King. Though busy with the affairs of State, he managed to find the time to marry his childhood sweetheart Emma Naea Rooke, together they would rule the Hawaiian Kingdom took on Faith, Education, and Health Care among their principal concerns, they wrote to Queen Victoria asking her to send Missionaries to establish an outpost of the Anglican Church in Hawaii. And in 1862 the Anglican Church in Hawaii was formed. The King himself even translated the Book of Common Prayer into Hawaiian language.
They founded what is now the Queen’s Medical Center, and they would call upon the Church they supported to establish schools like St. Alban’s College, now our school ‘Iolani as well as St Andrews Priory.
That’s the brief history lesson. But that is also the Mo’olelo- the story. It is the not only the story of their lives, but the story of the beginnings of the Episcopal Church here in Hawai‘i.
Most importantly though is the mo’olelo contains in it values to be honored and uplifted.
On this Feast of the Holy Sovereigns we remember that we have a royal heritage. We owe much to the Holy Sovereigns and their values. Values like passion (mana), integrity (pono) and a deep love for God and their people (aloha).
Mana- often translated as “power,” the essence of mana comes from within. For the King and Queen, their mana, their life’s force was poured into their work as ali’i. They saw their kuleana (responsibility) to care for all their people, native and immigrant, alike. They did so with the desire to make things right, pono, for the people of Hawai’i by seeing to their health, their education, and their spiritual nurture. This was done out from the foundation of aloha- for God and the people.
The gospel story contains the mo’olelo of Jesus on the Cross. Where this King, who was given a royal welcome with Palm branches in and shouts of Hosanna as he entered the city of Jerusalem, is now publicly being humiliated. Crucifixion is not just a form of Roman execution. It is a very public one- the parade of the condemned through the streets, the crowd gathered, the crucifixion itself lifted high for the crowd to witness.
The sign above him now reads, Here is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. This is supposed to be ironic of course. A sign of mockery. After all, if THIS is YOUR King, look at what’s happened to him.
Christ the King invites us to consider this king we worship and the kingdom to whom we belong. You hear me often speak of two kingdoms: the kingdom of the this world where rules of power and prestige; the value of earthly comforts and the have and have nots reign; then there is the kingdom of God ruled by the power of love and grace; where all are valued as children; where justice and mercy regin.
Kamehameha IV and Emma understood what it meant to belong to two different kingdoms. They were among the Kings and Queens of this world, where, by virtue of their high rank as ali’i, the had political power and ownership of crown lands. They were accorded special rights and privileges. And yet they also knew what it meant to belong to that other kingdom ruled by the values of their faith in God. In doing so they proclaimed by their words and deeds the values of that very Kingdom. In their kingdom they saw the role the Christian faith had to offer; they saw the sickness around them, they saw that the children of these islands needed education; they saw the things that their people/ their kingdom needed, and brought about the changes needed.
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for many things and be reminded of God’s love, and of that kingdom where we are called to care for one another. This is not just some moral idealism, it is foundational to who we are as a faith community. It is certainly foundational to the very essence of who we are as people of God.
The presence of the Episcopal Church in Hawaii is unique in the history of Christianity in Hawaii. And yes, parts of our service today are in Hawaiian. It is not a language St. Tim’s is used to- we don’t have a Hawaiian language service like the Cathedral or St. John’s Kahalu’u. But we have it today to remind and re-connect us to our cultural roots. To remember that the Book of Common Prayer was- before Hawaiian language was forbidden in schools by law from 1896-1919, it was the language of the prayers of our predecessors. What can the language and culture teach us about how we are called to live and who we are called to be? If nothing else, We must be anything but ordinary. We all must continue to root ourselves in the values the Holy Sovereigns knew and understood so well. The same values found in the teachings of Jesus.
Let us be reminded and to also teach our children and grandchildren to look around and to see the problems of this world in order that we might use our gifts and all that we have learned - to address them. Poverty, homelessness, indigenous rights, the dignity of LGBT persons, partisan entrenchement; the fight against racism and civil rights did not end with Martin Luther King, Jr and the Civil Rights Act.
What kind of King do we see in Jesus? In reflecting on that question we are challenged by another: What kind of Church are we called to be? What do YOU see around you that could use your gifts. I’ve been watching the impeachment hearings with some interest and Friday’s testimony of Dr Fiona Hill struck not just me, but many people as poignant when she spoke against hatred and division; about the need for civility and dignity. For some time now we have witnessed things happening in the larger culture like racism, ageism, and classism that is prevalent in our society even in idillic Hawaii where such racial tension lie below the surface.
Such ‘isms’ and all the isms of our time are rooted in an understanding of the values of the world. But that is not who we truly are. Our task is to strengthen and build a community of relationships based on the understanding that we are created and loved by God.
We can only predict what the future of this congregation will be like- how you and I must embrace our kuleana as members of this church and continue to make this place of But we cannot lose sight of the Hawaiian values on which our mission of faith is founded. Values that are upheld our Episcopal heritage and its commitment to ushering in the Kingdom of God. Our kuleana is to follow in the footsteps of our King. Yes we ought to fill our minds with, knowledge and wisdom; we fill our heart and soul with word and sacrament, but how much richer is the world when we take what we have learned and embody it so that we can grow young women and men of character. That too is our kuleana. Our mana, that is, all that makes us who we are, is directed toward preparing our hearts and minds to take our place in the world. Our kuleana is to to know and understand the value of pono to do and make this world right. That is, as individuals and as a community, each of us is called to live the right way in right relationships; to live with integrity and a sense of connectedness. And yes, we must also learn and live with aloha; to be compassionate, loving.
PROPER 27, YR C, NOV 10 2019
Proper 27 Yr C, November 9, 2019
If you happen to go downtown to ‘‘Iolani Palace this weekend and on Monday you will see the palace adorned with the red white and blue bunting of Hawai‘i; miniature Hawaiian flags adorn the balcony a gigantic Hawaiian flag and another flag that represents the personal standard of Queen Lili’uokalani hang from the second story. The reason for this elaborate display is the commemoration of the death of Queen Lili’uokalani- Hawai’i’s only queen regent and last reigning monarch. She died November 11, 1917 in her home at Washington Place just adjacent to St. Andrews Cathedral, at age 79 from complications from a stroke. She was given a state funeral and her casket was processed up Nu’uanu Avenue pulled by 204 stevedores for her entombment and burial at Mauna ‘Ala or the Royal Mausoleum.
A year later to the day the Armistice would be signed bringing an end to what the Western world hoped would be the “war to end all wars”. Estimates that there were 40 million military and civilian casualties in WW1 with 15-19 million deaths of those 9-11 million were military. \Known also as Remembrance Day, in the United States, Veterans Day honors those that serve and have served in our armed forces and the sacrifices they have made in service to their nation.
In reflecting on the convergence of Veterans Day and the 102th anniversary of Lili‘uokalani’s passing and our scriptures for today all have in them an element of death.
And that could be the rather morbid end of it. But God does not do that. Instead, as much as our scriptures are about our final consummation, they are also about hope and promise. Scripture teaches us that God is a god of the living.
By way of the backstory, Job has had everything taken away from him, his family is killed off, his crops are destroyed, everything is gone as part of a bet between God and Satan over whether or not Job will abandon God altogether. Job was a righteous man and what’s happened to him seems so unfair. Ultimately, Job wants justice he wants to face the almighty and ask himself, “Why did this happen?” Has he done something wrong? His so called friends insist he must have in order to merit God’s lack of favor and turn of fortune.
In the text for this Sunday, Job imagines two a couple of ways he eventually might be vindicated. He accepts the likelihood that he will die unanswered by God. And if he dies, so too dies his case. His presumed guilt will be the final word. Therefore, he fervently wishes that his case against God be inscribed in a book. Better yet, his words could be engraved with an iron pen on a rock and the letters lined with lead to protect them from wear, an enduring, monumental testimony to his innocence. After his death, Job expects that a kinsman redeemer will arise and stand “upon the Earth” to defend him. This contrasts with his earlier hope for a witness in heaven (16:18-19). Job has suffered on earth, and his vindication must be earthly as well.
In the case of 2 Thessalonians 2, rumors have spread through the church concerning Paul’s teaching about the end times and these rumors are causing significant distress. Rather than becoming distracted by detailed maps of the end times and time frames Paul’s message is one of encouragement that they “not become easily unsettled or alarmed, either by spirit or by world or by letter” but instead “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings” he gave them in person. They are to ground themselves in Christ’s grace and hope do not let the anxiety of the end times over come them.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus encounters the Sadducees. Though they are rivals of the Pharisees, they are united in their dislike of Jesus. The Sadducees had primary authority over the Temple. They recognized only the Pentateuch or the original five "books of Moses" as fully authoritative, and for this reason did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (because it is not referenced in the Pentateuch). In his criticism of the religious leaders, Jesus would attack the sacrificial practices of the Temple, thus incurring the wrath of the Sadducees. In asking Jesus about this widow who has absolutely no luck in the husband department, they reference a law called levirate marriage from the Latin levir ("brother in law") comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10. This law sought to insure the preservation of one's family name by stipulating that a man should marry the childless widow of his brother. The question is hypothetical, meant to take an ancient practice to the extreme in order to show that the whole idea of resurrection was foolish.
Of course, Jesus doesn’t fall for the trap. First, he demonstrates their failure to understand the resurrection. Second, he demonstrates their failure to understand Scriptures by using another passage from the Pentateuch -- the crucial Exodus 3 story of Moses' encounter with God in the burning bush and the revelation of God's holy name. In doing so, Jesus establishes the validity, indeed certainty, of life after death.
What all of our scriptures point to and particularly the gospel is that the resurrected life, is very different from the life of here and now. Which invites the question- What is the resurrected life like? Or more to the point, “how much will our resurrection life be like our life in this world? And what will our relationships be?
As human beings we want to believe that our existence in the next life will be a lot like our existence in this one where we will retain our persona- our memories- our relationships. But we should limit our imagination when it comes to God’s design. When we talk of “eternal life” we talk of being in the nearer presence of God. Remember that Jesus all along has been calling us to be citizens of the Kingdom of God where the rules are vastly different from that of this one. Time and space canot understood in the same way as we understand them now. And as far as our relationships go, we cannot know what they will be like, but we know that we will be related to each other in and through our relationship with God.
In the resurrection- what exactly is resurrected? The soul? The body? I once asked the question when I was young what happens to those who are cremated? Job after all says, “After my skin has been torn apart this way— then from my flesh I’ll see God, whom I’ll see myself— my eyes see, and not a stranger’s.” Is there an implication that all the ash pieces will come back to form a whole person again? Or is it the soul that is resurrected? Once again, the vision of resurrection lies in the imagination of God himself. But what we can sense is that resurrection insists that the whole person will ins some way be united with God. And it is our whole selves not some wispy essence that God promises to redeem. All of us go down to the dust- in other words we all die and there is no escaping it, but because of the One who died on the cross and was raised again- who as our creed says descended to the dead and has come back. We now live and die with the promise that God will also raise us from death to new life where, in the words of Jesus today we hear that we cannot die, because we are lie angels and are children of God, being children of resurrection.
God is a a god of the living. That is God does not exist for us when we die, but as followers of Jesus we ought to be about things that bring life.
As children of the cross we believe that resurrection is possible. How can our lives lived on this earth be lives that bring life and hope- lives that seek to destroy death and despair?
When the Queen was deposed she willingly abdicated ceeding her authority to that of the pro-American businessmen who sought power for their own gain. There were Hawaiian’s - Native and citizens of the Kingdom, willing to fight and to die to protect their queen and their homeland. But she said no, she wanted to avoid further bloodshed. She believed ultimately in God and in justice. While under house arrest she composed hymns including one called the Queen’s Prayer which we will sing beginning next week. And though no longer queen of the Hawaiian kingdom, remained Queen of Hawaii until her death in 1917. Lili’uokanlai’s life and her actions were about caring for the people of Hawai’i in a way that brought hope and life.
Like Queen Lili’uokalani before us, as followers of Jesus, as children of the living God and the god of the living, what ways can we bring light and life to this world even as we wait for the next? We will offer this world the Aloha it so desperately needs- an Aloha that is missing from our public square. A love so profound and deep that it can overcome any darkness- because it leads to resurrection and eternal life.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.