Sermon: How Shall We Stand?

July 16, 2017
Genesis 25:19-34
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In 1791, King Kamehameha invited his cousin Keoua to attend the dedication of a new heiau at Kawaihae, dedicated to Ku, the god of war. A prophet had declared that when the temple was completed and consecrated with a sacrifice, it meant that Kamehameha would achieve undisputed rule over Hawai’i Island.

That sounded pretty good to him, so he had the temple finished, and then invited everyone he could, including his cousin Keoua, with whom he’d been at war for some time over precisely this question: Who would rule Hawai’i? Kamehameha thought it should be himself. Keoua thought it should be himself.

When Keoua’s canoe touched the beach at Kawaihae, violence broke out. Modern historians cautiously say that it’s unclear how it started or what happened, but King David Kalakaua boldly wrote that Kamehameha’s lieutenant Keeaumoku attacked Keoua without warning and killed him.

With his death, Kamehameha had no rivals left for kingship of Hawai’i Island, and when Keoua became the sacrifice that dedicated the Pu’ukohola Heiau, that fulfilled the prophecy. About eighty years after the event, Kalakaua wrote: “Keoua was a brave, noble, and magnanimous chief, and the apologists of Kamehameha have not succeeded in relieving him from the odium of Keeaumoku’s cowardly act.”

As a pastoral colleague on this island, who was raised on O’ahu, said to me once, “Not everyone has the same perspective on Kamehameha.”

And it does make the rivalry between Jacob and Esau look less unique, doesn’t it?

It’s not very unique. We could add the sons (and wife, and daughters) of King Henry II of England. Or the divided families of American in the 1860s, when some had soldiers fighting on both sides of the Civil War. Farther back, the ancient nation of Israel (the northern kingdom, with the capital at Samaria, which split from Judah after Solomon’s death): Kings of Israel had dynasties that lasted only two generations. The son never passed the crown to a grandson, but always was overthrown by a rebel.

King David himself had to weather an attempt to displace him led by one of his own sons. At the end of his life, he abdicated to Solomon in order to prevent yet another one of his sons from seizing the crown against his wishes.

I’m starting to look upon this high-priced bowl of lentils more favorably.

Because what I really want is less of this kind of rivalry, and more of something that’s better.

Mind you, I have some uses for competition. Economists will tell you that competition makes things more affordable. I did a quick test of this on Thursday. I checked airfares between Hilo and Honolulu (where there’s only one airline serving the route) against airfares between Honolulu and Kailua-Kona, where there’s more. And I found what you all know: it cost 20% to 35% more to fly here than to Kona.

I have omitted the name of the airline in order to protect the guilty. You all know who it is, anyway.

There’s a lighter, joyful side to competition as well. Board games with the family would raise a lot less laughter if we knew in advance who would win. Or even that we’d all win. I do enjoy cooperative games, too, but there’s a unique joy to competition as long as one doesn’t have to win.

It’s the winning that’s the problem, isn’t it? This drive to win, to overwhelm, to dominate? There are games my children and I stopped playing because the victory became more important to one or more of us than the company. When the drive to win became the focus rather than the time together, we changed the game.

But, in real life, we stay in the game to win nearly every day. Don’t we?

So where shall I stand?

Jacob had to be the favored son, and the bearer of God’s promise to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. He had to be greater than his brother.

Now, I get that. I like to win. When my household took games off the table because somebody got more involved with victory than family, is usually me who was at fault.

These days, there are economic, social, and political contests that I very much want to win. These are contests with consequences; these are decisions that make a difference. I want sexual violence to end, and gun violence to cease. I want the sick and injured to receive good medical care, and I want every worker to receive a living wage. I want people to be encouraged to participate in our electoral processes and not discouraged or turned away by demands for documentation, transportation hurdles, social burdens, or other distractions.

I want to win all of these. I am not interested in losing.

So where shall I stand?

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker writes, “Jacob is not an admirable figure, at least not here at the beginning of the story. But he is one who is singularly focused on obtaining the blessing of God passed down from his grandfather Abraham. And his focus on that blessing will shape the rest of his life.”

Indeed it did. But did that blessing need to be only for him? Was it a one-time offer, exclusive to the first one to call? Jacob thought so. The authors and storytellers of Genesis seem to have thought so, too. And since they say Esau as the progenitor of a rival nation, they had some interest in seeing it that way.

Now, Jesus… He may have had a different opinion.

I usually resist taking an Old Testament question and providing a New Testament answer, but in this case I have a question about this Old Testament story and I think Jesus brought a new word and a new direction. Or so I hear in these words from Theodore J. Woodlaw: “This parable is not so much about good soil as it is about a good sower. This sower is not so cautious and strategic as to throw the seed in only those places where the chances for growth are best. No, this sower is a high-risk sower, relentless in indiscriminately throwing seed on all soil – as if it were all potentially good soil. On the rocks, amid the thorns, on the well-worn path, maybe even in jail.

“Which leaves us to wonder if there is any place or circumstance in which God’s seed cannot sprout and take root.”

If we’re to engage in this competition of right and wrong, good and bad, where shall we stand?

We could stand with those who seek an opportunity to harm a political opponent and respond enthusiastically when a foreign government might have something damaging.

We could stand there.

Or we could stand… with the sower.

We could stand with Jacob, triumphant in obtaining his brother’s inheritance and blessing, and yet lost to his brother and his father for years after.

Or we could stand with the sower.

We could stand with those whose need to dominate others seems insatiable. There’s always room in their tents for the hangers-on, the hatchet-people, the sycophants who tell them how great they are.

We could stand there.

Or we could stand with the sower.

We could stand with those who begrudge a living wage to the person who flips the hamburger while they need not work another day of their lives for bread.

We could stand there.

Or we could stand with the sower.

We could cast the seed of blessing, of giving, of forgiveness, of repentance, of grace, wherever we can reach. We can scatter this seed from Hilo to Kona, to the offices of the airlines, we can scatter this seed to the White House itself. We can cast our blessings wide, and say and pray and hope and summon this seed to Grow!

We could stand with the sower.

God, help me – God help us – God help us stand with the sower.


Photo is of a pulpit decoration in Bad Aussee, Austria. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Categories Sermons | Tags: , , , | Posted on July 16, 2017

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