Sermon: Broiled Fish

April 18, 2021

1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

by Eric Anderson

The koa seed wasn’t sure that it believed in the sky.

To be fair, the koa seed had never actually seen the sky. It had taken form inside a pod, much like a pea, and it had fallen to the ground without the pod opening, and soil had covered it before the pod had enough of a crack to see anything. All the koa seed knew about was the warmth of the soil, and the refreshment of water, and the comforting darkness.

What else did a seed really need?

There were rumors, of course. Roots and shoots and other plants grew nearby. Their tendrils ran through the soil to one side or the other, and some ran underneath, and as time went on and the soil got deeper over… head. I mean, a seed doesn’t have a head, but for want of a better word, overhead. Clearly something was going on up there because sometimes it was wet and sometimes it was dry. Sometimes the roots hummed with the groaning of their tree trunks swaying in the wind.

Those roots and tendrils were a talkative bunch, too, passing on the news from above the line of soil. They spoke of green leaves and of warmth from falling light. They whispered of rain and sometimes they giggled because their leaves tickled. Mostly, though, they talked about blueness, and bigness, and spreadiness, and sky. Sky.

The seed couldn’t quite believe in that. After all, these roots hadn’t seen it any more than the seed had. Rumor isn’t a reliable source for information. It didn’t seem likely at all.

Nobody quite knows what gives a koa seed the sign that it’s time to grow, and that includes the seeds themselves. One day it was content to lie in the warm dark earth. The next day it was stretching roots down into the soil and a shoot up to the surface. Well, thought the koa, this should settle this nonsense about sky. I’m sure they’ve got it wrong.

It pushed its first leaf above the ground in the middle of the night and was satisfied that it had been right all the time. Until, that is, the dawn arrived. Then it looked, speechless, as the sun’s light peeped over the horizon, grew in color and strength and warmth, and mounted to the sky.

“I don’t believe it,” the koa shoot said.

“No?” said the older tree next to it. “I didn’t either. Just wait. Your unbelief is going to get tested.”

Sure enough, when a few hours had passed the blue began to give way to gray and white, and then deep gray. To the koa’s astonishment, water began to fall from above, splashing down onto the soil. It found itself drinking deeply from water whose source it had never known. Sometime later the clouds cleared away and the sun shone brightly again. The koa’s leaves sprang open and began turning the light into food.

“Do you believe it now?” asked the taller koa.

“I must,” said the koa shoot.

The older koa nodded its green head. “It’s easier to believe in the sky when it feeds you, isn’t it?” And the younger koa had to agree that that was true.

Debie Thomas writes about this meal with the risen Jesus at JourneyWithJesus.net, “I love this story for the way it grounds divine revelation in the concrete and the ordinary.  It is in the presence of skin and bones, taste buds and nerve endings that the disciples come to faith.  Indeed, all of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels center on the physical.  Jesus doesn’t manifest as a disembodied voice that waxes eloquent on the philosophical implications of death and life.  He shows up with hands and feet, scars and wounds.”

Luke has described here the end of that first Easter Sunday. Jesus showed up in front of a group of people who were not prepared to believe in his presence, despite the fact that at least three in the group had already encountered the risen Jesus. Luke has told us of the angels’ message to the women, which was discounted. Luke has told us of Cleopas and companion meeting Jesus on the road, and they’ve just returned to tell this story. Luke has mentioned but not described that “the eleven and their companions” – so this was a larger group than the eleven closest disciples only – had been saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Simon Peter, that is)

Nevertheless, how did that group of disciples greet the appearance of Jesus? “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

Jesus tried to offer reassurance. He invited them to look at them. He invited them to listen to him – by talking to them, basically. He invited them to touch him, which is less comforting to my mind but if what you’re afraid of is a non-corporeal ghost – a ghost without a body, and non-corporeal is our Word for the Day – perhaps that’s more reassuring. Finally he asked them for something to eat, and ate that piece of broiled fish in their presence, and that seems to have set their minds at rest.

This week I’ve been trying to think about the small things that make things real.

On Friday, I was given the gift of a rather large thing that was a symbolic part of making something real. Through Interfaith Communities in Action – ICIA – this church has contributed toward a HOPE Services project in Pahoa, one that that would enable the temporary shelter community erected behind Sacred Heart Church to continue to serve beyond the Puna eruption emergency, but would also create permanent low-income housing in Pahoa. Friday was the formal ground-breaking and I was asked to be there in my capacity as President of ICIA. My primary task was to offer an opening prayer, but I was also among those invited to turn the ground with o’o sticks prepared by Kamehameha Schools. To my honor and delight, I was given one of those o’o sticks.

This, of course, is nearly six feet of koa, no small symbol to make things real. This has heft and solidity and for centuries it has been the way people broke ground and began construction in Hawai’i. It has the reality of a piece of broiled fish.

Like that piece of broiled fish, it is a summons to bear witness. I testify to the persistent work of HOPE Services’ staff and board members, to their partners in the community, to the support of county officials and construction professionals, to the generosity of donors ranging from major foundations to the member faith communities of ICIA. I further testify to the need for this project and for more projects, because one third of the homeless individuals on our island are children – children – and there just aren’t enough places that those families can afford to live in. I testify to the very real challenges that housing provides, because while many have lost homes because most families live just one financial crisis away from homelessness, those with mental illness and addiction require additional and ongoing assistance if their housing is to be stable.

This past week has been filled with events that demand witness. Violence against residents of Asian and Pacific Islander ancestry has continued. Even as we have heard testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a police officer has been arrested for the death of a 20-year-old in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, and we saw video of a thirteen-year-old Latino boy shot in Chicago. We saw an African-American Army officer in uniform threatened with guns and pepper-sprayed in Virginia. In Honolulu, police have shot two people this month.

We also heard of eight dead at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis on Thursday night. Last night, three more died in a shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Yesterday, by the way, is the anniversary of an event in 2013, when in the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed the lives of twenty children, six educators, and the killer’s mother, the United States Senate decided to do… nothing.

Cheryl Lindsay writes at ucc.org, “The trial for the killing of George Floyd opened with powerful testimony of witnesses, who in some way participated in the event, if not the actions that caused Mr. Floyd’s death. Strikingly, the witnesses consistently conveyed not only grief and regret at the passing of Mr. Floyd, most also bemoaned their participation and openly wept as their sorrow overwhelmed them. These were not dispassionate observers; their inability to stop the unfolding events haunts them.”

Is it a long way from Jesus to George Floyd? No, I’m afraid it’s not. Both died due to the actions of government agents. One of the truths of Jesus’ resurrection is that government sanctioned injustice is still injustice, and that injustice doesn’t get to triumph over God’s resurrection.

A piece of broiled fish. A first glimpse of the sky. Six feet of koa wood. Flickering video on the Internet. We are witnesses.

As Karoline Lewis writes at Working Preacher: “Witnessing is not optional. It’s not an intermittent activity of faith. It’s not something you can decide to do one day and then resolve to take the next day off. It’s constant. It’s a way of life. It’s who you are. And it’s time, more than time when it’s post-resurrection time, to get used to it.”

The world is not as it should be. There is death and evil all around. The world is not as it should be, and it crucified its own Savior. The world is not as it should be: and death and crucifixion did not have their way. There are homes rising in Pahoa. There are marchers calling for justice in American cities – there were marchers decrying violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Hilo yesterday. We may even see some who thought themselves immune held accountable for their actions.

And there is a piece of broiled fish between the fingers and between the lips of Jesus. You are witnesses: in a world so filled with death, God insists on resurrection life.

Amen.

Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire worship service of April 18, 2021. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

It must be said that what is prepared is not the same as what happens, on this Sunday morning or at any time.

Photo by Raita Futo from Tokyo, Japan – 赤魚粕漬け焼き, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=102133244.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on April 18, 2021

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