Sermon: Steadfast Love, Not Sacrifice

June 11, 2023

Hosea 5:15-6:6
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

Five people’s deaths came to my attention this week, all of them notable for their Christian faith. The last to make the papers was actually the earliest to pass away: former Secretary of the Interior James Watt, who died on May 27th. Last Thursday Pat Robertson, long-time host of the 700 Club and an unsuccessful Presidential candidate died. I’m sure you’ve heard of those two.

The other three you may not be aware of. Last Wednesday the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, former president of Interfaith Alliance, died. Ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention, Rev. Gaddy became an ardent spokesman for religious liberty for non-Christians as well as Christians in the United States. The current Interfaith Alliance President, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, writes, “Across so many areas, Welton used his platform to project a vision for America that was inclusive of different beliefs and respectful of every individual’s inherent dignity. He was unwilling to accept that any religious tradition in this country should take precedence over another.”

The same day the Rev. Kency Conrad died. He was President of the Namoneas Congregational Church Association, the church in Chuuk out of our Congregational and Hawaiian heritage. I met him when he visited Hilo in 2019 as part of the Micronesian Council of Churches, United Church of Christ. He enjoyed great respect and affection among church leaders across the Pacific.

And on Monday, and it made Monday very hard to bear last week, the Rev. Sharon Lee MacArthur went from our care to God’s. A long-time leader in the UCC, particularly in Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministries, she’d served as interim pastor at Church of the Crossroads and most recently at Community Church of Honolulu. In 2019 she was one of the preachers at the Thirty-Second General Synod of the United Church of Christ.

In my judgment – mind you, I’ve got no right to judge anybody, but by their deeds you will know them, won’t you? – in my judgment, three of these Christian leaders knew what God meant by saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Two of them did not.

Over seven hundred years before Jesus, the prophet Hosea (one of the great cranky prophets of the Bible), spoke for a cranky God. “Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away,” said God to the people. Hesed is the Hebrew word there, a word with broad meaning: Love, steadfast love, mercy, goodness. “I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice,” said God, using hesed once again. Love one another, said God. That’s what I want. It’s not that difficult to figure out.

As I look at two of those lives, I’m not seeing so much of the love. I’m seeing demands for sacrifice and I’m seeing assertions of power. I’m not seeing so much of the love.

Seven hundred and some years later, Jesus invited a tax collector to join his band of followers. That was a big deal. It’s not the same as the refusal to give the Internal Revenue Service enough resources to make sure the wealthiest and best-lawyered Americans pay their taxes. We don’t consider ourselves spiritually unclean when we encounter someone who works for county, state, or federal tax collection services. In the first century, they did. A lot of these people were Jews working on behalf of the occupying Roman Empire. That made them worse than an inconvenience. It made them collaborators and traitors.

They really didn’t think Jesus, a healer, a teacher of the Law whose opinions had won grudging respect from people, they really didn’t think he should be summoning or being with or eating with (ick!) someone like that.

Jesus quoted Hosea. “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Mercy here is standing in for that old Hebrew word, hesed.

Go and learn what that means.

Rev. Kency Conrad knew what it meant. Four years ago he came to Hawai’i for a meeting of the executive committee of the Micronesian Council of Churches UCC, an ecumenical body consisting of the UCC of Pohnpei, the UCC of Kosrae, the JRD (which translates to United Church of Christ) of the Marshall Islands, and the Namoneas Church of Chuuk. Rev. Conrad had a busy schedule, but he made time to check in with as many of the Namoneas pastors here in Hawai’i as he could. Those churches knew of his steadfast love.

Jesus struggled with people who didn’t want to accept even repentant tax collectors. The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy dedicated decades of his life to the welfare of people frequently ignored, abandoned, or persecuted by the American Christian Church. He struggled for proper treatment of Muslims after 9/11. He opposed government actions that created a privileged place for Christians in America or an underprivileged place for non-Christians. He called for full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in this society.

That sounds an awful lot like steadfast love to me.

While Jesus was still eating, along came an interruption. It was a distraught father, frantic about the fate of his daughter, who had just died. I imagine Jesus left his meal on the table partially eaten – had he taken any bites at all? – to follow this man through the streets to his house.

Along the way a woman reached out to touch his cloak. She probably didn’t mean for him to notice. Like the man leading Jesus to his daughter, this woman reached out in desperation. She’d been ill for twelve years and nothing had worked. Some of you know what it’s like to feel sick and draggy for a long time. She didn’t even go to bother him, to ask him for healing. She took not a leap of faith, but an outstretched arm of faith.

Jesus, who had jumped up to help this frantic father, stopped now to reach back toward this woman. “Your faith has made you well,” he said.

Then he completed his journey to the house where the girl lay, and completed his service to father and mother and family. She, too, rose.

Do you see there one of the other features of hesed, or steadfast love, or aloha, or mercy, or whatever words you want to use? Jesus saw the needs: of Matthew, broken-hearted at his tax station; of those gathered at the table, expecting rejection at any moment; of the desperate father and the desperate woman; of the little girl and her grieving family in the house. Jesus saw the needs, the deep and present needs, and he responded. “Come, Matthew.” “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” “I will come now.” “The girl is not dead but sleeping.”

Love responds.

I didn’t know the Rev. Sharon Lee MacArthur well. In 2019 as a General Synod reporter I was assigned to cover the service at which she preached. I met her at our ‘Aha Pae’aina and asked if she might send me her sermon text when it was ready so that I could quote her properly when I wrote the story. It was a short conversation, but she was so gracious.

Then as Synod ended, I happened to be there as she turned in her mobility scooter – those are really useful in the gigantic Convention Center spaces of a General Synod – and I walked back to the hotel with her. I have no memory of what we talked about. None whatsoever. What I remember was the feeling of being in the presence of a great soul, and I treasured that time and I treasure that feeling. This was someone who shed the light of spirit with the simple fact of her presence.

She chose that light. During her sermon she said, “…there were so many challenges that turned into blessings. Like the challenge of being raised by a single mom who spoke no English. The blessing? Self-esteem and self-confidence! Chinese girls back then were discouraged to interact with the scary world at large. I, on the other hand, had to do just that… I was the only one in the family who could speak English… so I accompanied my mother whenever she had to interact with the world beyond the Chinese community… I was her translator, her interpreter, her connection to life beyond the home. Light from darkness – self-esteem from hardship.”

(from “Lighting the World from the Inside Out,” by Sharon Les MacArthur, a sermon preached at the UCC General Synod, June 24, 2019; author’s collection)

She took her experiences of racism and sexism, and turned those into an outpouring of steadfast love.

She knew what it meant to value steadfast love over sacrifice. When I spent time with her, I knew what it meant, too.

“Mercy isn’t fair,” writes Cheryl Lindsay at “It also is not arbitrary. Mercy is a choice…of love, compassion, and faithfulness. Mercy brought Christ into the world, and Mercy sends us out into the world to embrace, embody, and proclaim the kindom of God. Mercy.”

Hesed. Aloha. Steadfast love. Mercy. I don’t care what you call it, and I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care either.

Just bring it. And bring it. And bring it. Like Sharon, and Welton, and Kency. Bring it in your own way. Just bring that aloha.


by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Sermon

Changes to the prepared text happen in the course of sermon delivery. This week is no exception.

The image is The Calling of Saint Matthew (Vocation de Saint Mathieu) by James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2006, 00.159.91_PS1.jpg, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on June 11, 2023

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283