Sermon: “Aloha”

July 8, 2017

This sermon was preached at the Kalapana Mauna Kea Congregational Church UCC’s 194th Ho‘ike, celebrating the theme “Aloha Kekahi I Kekahi – Love one Another.”

1 John 4:7-8


I give thanks to God for the privilege to be with you this morning, and mahalo to Kahu Mike Warren for the invitation to share the word. I am still a newcomer here on Hawai’i Island, so I deeply appreciate the trust you’ve extended. It touches my heart.

Which is appropriate, because today’s lesson is the precious, famous, and challenging text that concludes, “God is love. He aloha ke Akua.” Kahu and I were on the phone the other day, and he told me that I probably had a few things to say about love. Well, yes.

The problem with preaching about love, about agape (the Greek word), about aloha, is not that it’s difficult to find a place to start. Rather, it’s difficult to find a place to stop.

Kahu Mike had some advice on that, too. When people start falling asleep, he said, it’s probably time to wrap it up. Well, back in February, I spoke at the Church Leaders Event on O’ahu. People would ask me how it went, and I’d usually refer them to somebody who’d been listening to me. One person cheerfully told me that nobody had fallen asleep.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t had the view I’d had. Somebody did fall asleep.

I guess the word that day should have been shorter.

And, folks, I just came back from the UCC’s General Synod on Wednesday. The travel was a twenty-two hour long day, and it came after the five day marathon of General Synod, which has activities running between 6:30 in the morning and 9:30 at night. So if there’s any napping happening during this sermon, I’ll probably be leading the way.

If you don’t mind, I’m going to use the Hawaiian word, “aloha,” rather than the English word, “love.” John, of course, used neither. He used the Greek word “agape,” which is one of three words translated as “aloha” in the New Testament. It’s the most challenging of the three, more intimate than the physical embraces of “eros” and more committed than the family ties of “philios.” It’s an aloha of giving and sacrifice. In English, “love” covers all of these, plus the lightest of statements such as, “I love sushi.”

“Aloha,” to me, retains the depth of “agape,” while including much of the others and without quite the same trivialization of the English “love.” Besides, it sounds better.

John was the first writer whose works came to be Scripture to say, “he aloha ke Akua.” Plenty of Biblical writers had appreciated the abundant aloha ke Akua before that. The Psalms sing with it; the prophets compare it (uncharitably) with the lack of love of the kings; the apostle Paul attempted to capture aloha in words in First Corinthians, and Jesus Christ embodied it. Yet John is the first to say, “he aloha ke Akua.”

He did not mean it as reassurance. John was issuing as stern a challenge as I can imagine. “E na punahele, e aloha kakou i kekahi: no ka mea, no ke Akua mai ke aloha.” “Beloved, love one another, because love is from God.” Beneath the pretty poetry and the lovely frills of sentiment is a stern reality.

Because, well, have you noticed that people aren’t always that lovable?

And it’s people toward whom John wants us to direct our aloha.

I suppose he could have made it harder. He could have told us to love those who seek to do us harm… Thank God he didn’t.

Except, of course, that Jesus did. Aloha isn’t for those who deserve it. Aloha is for everyone.

Help me, Jesus, aloha is for everyone.

For some years, working with couples planning their weddings, I would offer them a pretty unromantic definition for aloha. It was this: To love someone is to set their interests at or above your own.

To set their interests at or above your own.

It’s not the sort of thing you’d whisper to your beloved over a romantic meal. It’s not something you’re likely to tell a child to comfort them. It’s certainly not something you’re likely to tell a stranger whom you’ve decided to help.

But people can see it when you do. They can see when you stretch beyond your limits to see that they have what they need. They can see when your efforts further their efforts toward their goals. They can see when you take time from other things to see that they do not feel alone.

Oh, yes. People can see when you’ve set their interests at or above your own.

That’s the entire point of John’s letter. Aloha, he says, is something you can see, and taste, and touch, and hear and perhaps even smell. It’s tangible, graspable, as hard as stone and as a tender as a flower blossom. It’s real. It’s there. It’s here.

As I mentioned, I just flew back from Synod (and boy are my arms tired).

The United Church of Christ has launched a two year initiative, encouraging us as individuals, as congregations, as associations, and as conferences, to make a difference in the world. It is, in fact, an invitation to live out the Biblical mandate here in the First Letter of John.

The initiative is called “Three Great Loves,” and it’s about sharing the ministries we are or have been doing for some time, it’s about joining into three specific projects together, and it’s about inspiring us to new ministries, new embodiments of our aloha.

The Three Great Loves are: Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation. These all grow out of our love of God.

How do we demonstrate our love of neighbor? How do our neighbors know our aloha for them? I know many of our churches are engaged with our neighbors who are hungry or houseless, who suffer from health problems or who can’t get around due to advancing age. Our ‘ohana around the UCC wants to know these stories, too. There’s a website to collect them (there’s always a website) at What you’re doing might inspire someone in Topeka, Kansas, to do something similar. What’s happening in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, might spark some ideas for your church. What’s happening in Saint Louis might make you think, they need more help for what they’re doing, and we can lend a hand.

How do we demonstrate our love of children? How do the keiki know of our aloha for them? Our churches teach in word and in deed of aloha ke Akua every week, year in and year out. That is no small thing. Youth delegates were given special permission to address General Synod last week, and they spoke with knowledge, insight, and power. Teens from the Cleveland suburbs and from the city neighborhoods of Chicago addressed gun violence in ways that brought many of us to tears. How will they know of our aloha for them? And what must we do for our keiki that they will never doubt our aloha for them?

Malama honua – Care for the Earth. It was the theme of Hokulea’s world-circling voyage, and, as UCC General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer has said, if we don’t get Love for Creation right, we may not be able to exercise our other loves at all. How will God know of our aloha for this wondrous creation? How will the rocks which make our bones, the grasses which make our bread, the animals whose meat makes our muscles, the trees which shade our skin, the very air we breathe: how will these know that humanity values them, protects them, needs them, embraces them with aloha?

How will we know that we have embraced the planet with aloha?

I can think of any number of ways that people have failed to show aloha to our neighbors, to our children, to our home. It still astonishes me that when somebody works hard throughout the week, that isn’t always enough to maintain a home, to put food on the table, and even save for a troubled day. But there are jobs where we’ve decided that the folks who work them don’t deserve to live. How is that aloha?

In three Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainment facilities right now, there are keiki imprisoned with their mothers. While I understand the difficulty of finding an appropriate way of dealing with children whose families come into the nation without permission, what are children doing behind barbed wire? What were the keiki doing there at Manzanar or Tule Lake in 1943? How is that aloha?

With king tides washing up above the beach in Waikiki, with fish stocks declining offshore, with 200 inhabited islands of the Maldives threatened with uninhabitability due to ocean rise by 2100 (the highest point in that Indian Ocean nation is just eight feet above sea level), our government has nevertheless determined to abandon the limited steps we’d taken toward reducing climate change. How is that aloha?

It isn’t. So we will have to show the way. We will have to embody our aloha, and we will have to share our aloha, and we will have to tell the stories of aloha so that those who misunderstand, or misundertake, or are simply misanthropes, may see and change their ways. We are called to insist upon aloha from those who would be leaders in the nations. We must not let our worst impulses become our national life. We are called, as somebody who I can’t remember said, “to love the new world into being.”

Love the new world into being.

Bring your love. Bring your agape. Bring your aloha: for neighbor, for children, for creation. Love the new world into being.

Mahalo ke Akua. Amene.

Photo by BeardedMango on Flickr, used by permission.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on July 9, 2017

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