Our Lessons today are perfect for the commemoration of the great 19th century monarchs of Hawaii, King Kamehameha and Queen Emma. The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (17:22-31) shows us the gentle and sensitive evangelism preached by St. Paul to the Athenians where he builds on their primitive faith without undermining it. He acknowledges their altar to “an unknown god” and tells them that this is the God he has come to proclaim!
A similarly gracious approach must have been taken by the English missionaries (unlike some of the earlier ones in Hawaii!) who came at Kamehameha’s invitation and which led to the confirmation of both king and queen on this day in 1862.
They had already proven that they were people of good will and motivated by a Christ-like spirit by building Queen’s Hospital for their people in the wake of a devastating small pox epidemic. It only remained to introduce them to the Good News of the One who was the Source of such generosity!
And the great Gospel text from Matthew (25:31-40) reminds us that, while justification may indeed come by faith, Christ’s final Judgment will include seeing just how that faith has been lived out in our lives. “For I was hungry and you gave food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t read that list without thinking of another one to which The Episcopal Church has committed itself through General Convention action – The Millenium Development Goals – eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS and malaria and other diseases and all the rest.
I know that we have come under some criticism by adopting such “secular” goals and giving them such a high priority rather than, say, The Great Commission to “go into all the world, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” For the life of me, I can’t separate those things! I don’t think Jesus does either! Our Presiding Bishop has described the MDG’s as images…icons…lenses for how we can help build the reign of God in our own day.
“Show me your faith apart from your works,” St. James writes in his Epistle (2:18b), “And I by my works will show you my faith.” Queen Emma of Hawaii did that in spades!
After she lost her son and her husband to death, she devoted the rest of her life to good works and built schools and churches and took many other initiatives on behalf of the poor and the sick.
When was it, Lord, that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or in prison…and came to your help?
When you did it to one of the least of these, dear child, you did to me.