Sermon: Live Aloha

February 23, 2019
Hawai’i Conference UCC Church Leaders Event Opening Worship

Nu’uanu Congregational Church UCC, Honolulu, HI

Ephesians 4:29-5:2

by Eric Anderson


Live aloha: That’s the instruction of the sixth initiative of our Hawai’i Conference Strategic Plan, the title of this sermon, and the challenge of Christian discipleship.

I came to the topic with the usual dilemma when preaching about love, about aloha. One option is to define love, or aloha, or agape (the Greek word used in our text). With Americans obsessed with romantic love, that can be a useful approach, but let me check: How many of you grasp, at least to some degree, that love, that aloha, that agape is deeper and broader than online dating?

OK. Let’s move on.

A second option is to make the case for the benefits of living aloha, of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Which seems pretty obvious, but let me check: are you satisfied that a world in which people lived aloha would be better than what we’ve got now?

OK. Let’s move on.

A third option is to look at the obstacles to loving. Why is it so hard to live aloha? There’s plenty of reasons, but perhaps I can sum them up this way: 

People can be really annoying.

Have you noticed that?

OK. There are a lot of very kind people here. But: Let’s move on.

Because it comes down to this, doesn’t it? Beyond definitions, beyond benefits, beyond the obstacles, remains the challenge: living aloha. How are we going to do that? Or at least, how can we make it a little easier to do?

Don’t let anybody kid you. Living aloha is not easy, and not just because people can be so annoying. Loving, living aloha, is breathing out. It is sharing our essence, our ha. As Pono Shim said in an interview, quoting a wise elder, “When you ha, you go to a moment of emptiness… All connection… is preceded by a moment of emptiness.”

Emptiness is frightening. Living aloha is hard, among other reasons, because we’re challenging our sense of safety.

How can we make it easier?

It starts with a decision. “I will live aloha today.” I will set others’ interests at or above my own. I will prepare myself to dedicate my resources – spiritual and physical – to the benefit of others. And… I will recognize that I won’t always feel good about it.

I had a friend in Connecticut who just couldn’t get out of his own way. Every so often, he’d ask me for help: often just plain cash. Meeting him meant I’d have to leave home earlier, and that had me grumbling: “I’m getting up at this hour to give this guy money.”

I don’t claim any virtue to all this, except that I did it. I made the decision, at least on those days, to live aloha.

It will be easier to live aloha if we’re real about it. I am constantly struck by the mixed messages of American workplaces. On the one hand, employees are constantly told how important they are as a part of the team. Their photos go on the wall as “employee of the week,” or the month. And then, they get a paycheck based on the minimum wage. Each payday, they know that their value to the company is the least amount that they can get away with paying under the law. The company would pay less if they could.

If we’re going to live aloha, we’ve got to be real about it.

It’s also easier to live aloha if we ask questions, and listen to the answers. People’s needs and people’s wishes are not obvious. The things that fill my soul may or may not be the things that fill yours. If I don’t ask you, I might get lucky. But I might not – and my earnest efforts to live aloha with you may be meaningless at best, and harmful at worst.

It will be easier to live aloha if we give up being right.

In January, pastor and cartoonist David Hayward drew a picture of Jesus addressing a small group of people wearing 21stcentury attire, each holding a copy of the Bible. They listened glumly as Jesus said, “The difference between me and you is you use Scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what Scripture means.”

How does aloha change our reading of Scripture? How does aloha change our sense of rightness and virtue? How does aloha prevent us from holding one of God’s children at arm’s length? How does aloha prevent us from putting one of God’s children in harm’s way?

It’s easier to live aloha if we give up being right. It’s easier to live aloha if we ask questions and listen to the answers. It’s easier to live aloha if we’re real. It’s easier to live aloha if we prepare not to feel good about it.

And, first, last, and in between, we must rise each morning and say, “Today, I will live aloha.”

As it says here in the letter: “Peripateite en agape.” “Live in love.” “E haele ho’i ‘oukou me ke aloha.” 

Today, God willing, I will live aloha.


Photo of the Nu’uanu Congregational Church UCC by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on February 23, 2019

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