June 22 NOTES FOR REFLECTION Te Pouhere Sunday
Texts: Isaiah 42:10-20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-19; Matthew 7:24-29*
[*The Lectionary offers four possible gospel readings for this Sunday, none of which seem to me to give grounds for celebrating the Constitution. But to be fair, I can't think of any alternatives: it's almost as if theCconstitution has no biblical basis at all.]
Theme: Fortunately I'm not preaching this Sunday. If I were I would be tempted to choose as a theme something like "This is the Good News?" or "So St Paul Got It Wrong?" or "The Church's One (New) Foundation". Privately, just between you and me, I'm going to follow Fiona Bruce's example and go for "Basic, Better, Best". (If you don't watch the Antiques Roadshow ask someone who does.) The safest option, of course, is to toe the party line and simply go for "Te Pouhere Sunday".
Introduction. I noted last week that when The Lectionary has difficulty in finding relevant readings we know we're heading into troubled waters. I was then referring to Trinity Sunday, of course, but the comment is even more apposite this week. We begin with a typically brilliant passage from Isaiah which comments, among other things, on the unmatched blindness of Israel's leadership, which, given that Israel was what today would be called a theocracy, means its religious leaders. So as we are commanded by General Synod (our religious leaders) to celebrate their masterpiece, we can only wonder if the choice of this lesson has its roots in humility or irony. The second lesson seems a little more on theme: Te Pouhere is a new creation, and was intended as a way of reconciliation with Maori who had every right to feel aggrieved by much that was done and practised by what was to all intents and purposes The Settler Church. We finish with a gospel passage, the choice of which for this "celebration" must border on the blasphemous if the inference is that Te Pouhere is the rock on which our church is built. Hopefully this Sunday in many congregations we will be singing Samuel John Stone's great hymn "The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord". May we sing it loudly and defiantly on this occasion!
Background. Yes, I'm feeling very grumpy this week, but it's not just my annual outbreak of PTPT (Pre-Te-Pouhere-Tension): there has surely been a great deal to be grumpy about this week. If the brief media reports of the findings of the Glenn Inquiry are in any way accurate, we have in this country a horrendous amount of violence towards women and children, highlighted, sadly, by yet another infant dying from head injuries inflicted by an adult male living at the same address in Hamilton. This follows on from a murder of a dairy owner by a 13-year-old boy and his even younger accomplice. Meanwhile Iraq falls apart with ever greater atrocities committed by young men shouting "Allah is Great" as they massacre their prisoners and, far from trying to hide their crimes, boast about them on the internet. Brief publicity is given to the scourge of elder abuse, and yet another of our fellow Kiwis is imprisoned for child pornography.
So, about three months out from an election, what are our politicians, and their playmates in the media, focused on? A letter written by an electorate MP on behalf of a constituent 11 years ago! I wonder how those brave women and men who told their stories to the Glenn Inquiry feel about that?
After such an appalling week we need as people of faith somewhere to go and be healed, to have our hope renewed, to be strengthened to carry on, to be empowered, to be recalled to our mission of reconciliation – above all to re-learn the fundamental truth that flows from our faith in the one true God, the one we in our national anthem address as "God of Nations", but whose greatest apostle insists calls us in his Son to transcend all supposed differences of gender and ethnicity. There is only one God and only one human species. All wars are civil wars and equally repugnant to the God of us all: all violence is domestic violence for we all belong in the one household of God. Is that truth revealed in or contradicted by Te Pouhere? After such a tough week as this, is there anything in that document that even remotely sounds like the Good News we so desperately need to hear?
This year General Synod met in Waitangi. On the same day that I read our Bishop's blog on the subject I heard an item on the radio about the dissension and division among Nga Puhi over their long-awaited negotiations with the Crown seeking a Treaty settlement. Was General Synod a beacon of light in that dark and troubled land, or was it a meeting of the blind and the deaf completely unaware of the pain and suffering of the people all around them desperate for some really good news?
So what do we celebrate today? A constitution that is better than the one it replaced? In theory, certainly, but in practice? One of the people who made a strong impression on me years ago was a South African priest who was asked if Apartheid was wrong in principle, or only in practice. If each "racial group" had been treated fairly, would it still be wrong to enforce separation? He was very clear. It was wrong in principle because it constituted "otherdom". What he meant was that to stick any label on someone – whether that label was about colour, or ethnicity, or faith, or whatever – was to designate that person as "other" than the people who wore any other label. Worse, he said, to do that was blasphemous, for God alone is Other.
Perhaps that's why those who worked on the new Constitution for South Africa did not adopt a three-tikanga model – Tikanga White, Tikanga Black, and Tikanga Coloured. That would have been better than the old constitution; but it wouldn't have been the best. So they gave their people instead a one-Tikanga model, which we might term Tikanga Rainbow. One advantage of that is that it sounds and is so much more biblical. I can already think of an Old Testament lesson that would be spot on!
So perhaps 1-2 cheers for Te Pouhere today, recognising, in the words of that great modern seer, S. Hansen, "we're getting there but there's still a lot we can improve on". We will reserve the third cheer for the next constitution that recognises that in Christ there is no longer Maori or Pakeha or Pacifika.
Isaiah. The passage opens with a call to worship by all creation, coupled with an image of God that is as far removed from that of a sort of divine constitutional lawyer as it's possible to imagine. This is an active God who psyches himself up with load cries not usually heard today outside of sporting contests. It is an eclectic image, to put it mildly, embracing both a mighty warrior and a woman in labour. Perhaps there is something there about fighting to bring new life, the very opposite of complacency or indifference. This is a God who's had enough: he's through with patience and understanding. His people have let him down; very well, he will take action himself. In a world of deafness and blindness what good are leaders who are also deaf and blind? Israel, the Lord's chosen servant, is as blind and deaf as everyone else. And it is a spiritual blindness, perhaps even a wilful blindness, as verse 20 makes clear.
Taking It Personally.
- Is it too late for the Church, the new Israel? Has God lost patience with it? Is there any evidence that God is still working through the Church, or do you think it is much more likely that God is now working around the Church?
- What new song should we sing to the Lord? Is worship the most important thing we can do, or is it a form of escapism by which we avoid dealing with real issues?
- Meditate on verses 12 and 13. How do you feel about the images of God in these verses? Are they attractive to you, or off-putting?
- What do you know about Te Pouhere? Is it really modelled on the Trinity? Were you ever consulted before the adoption of Te Pouhere? Do you feel free to criticise it or is it now "official doctrine" to be accepted without question? Does it owe more to the Treaty or to the Bible? Is it essentially a political or a religious document?
- Ponder verse 20. Does it speak to you? Is it challenging you in some specific way? What might you change to meet that challenge?
Corinthians. This lesson, too, raises difficulties if we try to read Te Pouhere in its light. What should motivate us in all we do is not social justice, or a desire to implement the Treaty, or any other worthy but secular goal; what should urge us on is the love of Christ, an ambiguous phrase perhaps because it could mean his love of us or our love of him – or both. But Paul is quite clear about one thing: it all starts at Golgotha, not Waitangi. Because Christ has died for us all, all have died, he says. What does that mean? It means we have died to ourselves, to our own agendas, our own individual egos, our own wishes, desires, wants and whims. We now live only for him. We no longer look upon Christ in human terms, as male, or Jewish, or tall or dark. Now all is made new in him. In him God has reconciled us to him. That is the message and the ministry which are now entrusted to us. We are now ambassadors for Christ, proclaiming his message to others so that they too might be reconciled to God. The whole focus is to be on God, not on Synods, and Constitutions, and other purely human concerns.
Taking It Personally.
- Are you at peace with God? How would you describe the present state of your relationship with God?
- How are you fulfilling your role as an Ambassador for Christ?
- How do you regard Christ? Is your predominant image of him pre-Crucifixion or post- Ascension?
- Do you live your life primarily for Christ, for yourself or for your family?
Matthew. Surely one of our Lord's clearest and most graphic pieces of teaching. One of the saddest aspects of the terrible slaughter that took place some years ago in Burundi was the fact that it followed so soon after a great spiritual revival when millions of people embraced the Christian faith. Their new-found faith proved so fragile that in the face of ethnic tension it collapsed entirely, and even priests and people in religious orders joined in the slaughter. As followers of Grand Designs can attest, the most important work often goes on below ground level. If our faith is all about looking good and impressing the neighbours it will not stand very long. Only if it is connected at the deepest level to Christ our rock does it have a secure future.
Taking It Personally.
- What sort of foundations is the house of your faith built on? Are they well embedded in solid rock, or high on stilts to get a better view?
- Can you recall a time when you felt the storms of life might bring your faith crashing down around you? What happened?
- Are you a doer as well as a hearer of the word? Can you recall an occasion when you heard something read to you from the Bible that challenged you to go and do something? Did you do it?
- Take time to review the foundations of your faith. Do they require strengthening? How might you do that?