We Can Make The Heavens Rejoice

The Gospel of Luke tells us that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. How much more the rejoicing must be in heaven when people on earth are reconciled to one another.

Glory to God in the Highest, by He Qi

Glory to God in the Highest, by He Qi

General Synod has hardly begun here in Waitangi, but already I have experienced what I believe will be the most moving moment for me of this, the 61st Session of The General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui.

Being in the work of ministry, it is easy to forget that we ourselves often are affected by the same challenges, shortcomings and experiences as those we are ministering to, this is especially true in regards to things like reconciliation.

As a Priest, one of my functions is to reconcile people to God and indeed to one another, the thing is though, that in reconciling others, I forgot my own need for reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a funny thing. The ultimate result is release, but the only way to get to that result is to first acknowledge, and that is perhaps the hardest thing of all.

To acknowledge your need for reconciliation often means baring all, it means accepting the vulnerable state you put yourself in, and above all, it means humility.

Reconciliation at times is also about more than just the immediate people involved, often there is a community, a family behind the people involved, when this occurs, their support and love are often what enables the people immediately involved to make it through the process of reconciliation.

This week I myself was reconciled to someone. Of course, there was a process to the reconciliation, and it was hard, but the end result was release from the burden of broken relationships and the returning to a state of aroha between myself and this person.

I give thanks to God for his grace which continues to soften our hearts. I give thanks for the amazing support that was shown to me from my church whanau. I give thanks for the charitable response from the person I wronged.

I truly believe that this week there was rejoicing in heaven over two people who, through the grace of God, reconciled to one another.

If you need it, don’t let the opportunity for reconciliation pass you by. The heavenly host are waiting to rejoice with you, don’t keep them waiting too long.

Maori Spirituality: A Wairua on Auto-Pilot?

Maori Jesus, St. Faith’s Church, Rotorua

The following is an article I submitted to ‘Craccum’ (Craccum is the University of Auckland’s Magazine) for publication in their Maori Language Week edition of the magazine. At the time of posting this entry the magazine had not yet gone to print. The posting of the article here is in response to numerous requests from various people to obtain a copy. In all honesty it was put together in haste, but I believe everything I wrote and I hope one day to do more research and study in this area in the hope of producing a useful study/resource that will encourage and indeed empower Maori people everywhere.

For Māori, spirituality is such an important part of our lives and our identity that quite often it can seem as if it is ingrained into the core of our very being. Indeed spirituality is so important that ‘Taha Wairua’ (Spirituality) makes up one of the components of Dr. Mason Durie’s ‘Whare Tapa Wha,’ four things necessary to live a well balanced life based on Tikanga and Whakaaro Māori. But apart from a few rote learnt prayers and perhaps praying before we eat, it seems as if any sense of deliberate spirituality is becoming less and less prominent amongst our people. This then begs the question, is spirituality still a fundamental part of who we are as Māori or has it simply become habit and void of any meaning at all?

It is important first and foremost to recognise that spirituality is not a synonym for Christianity. Although more often than not the spiritual context on our marae and at our hui is a Christian one, it is necessary to recognise that the religious spectrum of Māori is so much broader than just Christianity alone. Likewise it is important to remember that Māori spirituality is more than just praying or setting aside times to be ‘spiritual.’ Māori spirituality permeates everything we do and affects all facets of our lives; it is for this reason that perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the key to Māori spirituality lies in its application.

Too often we rest on our tradition as a way of manifesting our own spirituality, this can look as if we are simply putting our Wairua on Auto-Pilot, not too worried about what the outcome may be. But in this space and time, as we attempt to make sense of the world that surrounds us, a world full of destruction and pain, a world where the poor continue to be oppressed, the marginalised remain voiceless and our Tamariki (Children) are still going to school hungry, a Wairua on Auto-Pilot is a dangerous thing.

Although the thought of a conscious spirituality may not be a priority to many young people, it is vital to the future of our people, our whanau (Families), and our very being. It is not enough to exercise a passive spirituality that bubbles to the service when we all of a sudden need a karakia (Prayer) to open a meeting or to bless food. We need to cultivate a deliberate spirituality amongst our people, something that is sadly lacking in too many of our whanau. This doesn’t mean that we karakia day and night in an attempt to become more spiritually awake, rather it means that we need to become more aware of our Taha Wairua and its intrinsic link to our very identity as Māori. By doing this we create a foundation strong enough to stand up to the worst the world has to offer but also sensitive enough to see and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.  This provides us with a much needed lens with which to see and indeed, respond to issues of marginalisation, oppression and injustice with concern and love.

Our culture is enormously spiritual, from Tangi (Funeral Rites) to Powhiri (Ceremony of Welcome) to Hura Kohatu (Unveiling of a Headstone), Taha Wairua is the key to our culture. The risk we run if we approach our spirituality in a passive manner is that we reduce these most intimate of times into little more than a role play, a performance with no substance. The substance to everything we do as Māori relies on a foundation built from a spiritually deliberate base. This means that we have an obligation as Māori to become more spiritually aware. Just as we have an obligation to ensure the survival of our Reo (Language), we must also ensure the survival and growth of our Taha Wairua. This is what we are called to remember in the words of Sir Apirana Ngata : “E tipu e rea, mo nga ra o to ao. Ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha, hei ora mo to tinana. Ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna, hei tikitiki mo to mahunga. Ko to wairua ki te Atua, nana nei nga mea katoa.”

Right here and now we as Maori have the opportunity to make this happen, to remember the words of our Tipuna and Ta Apirana, and to turn those words into action. If we do so now, we save our children and our mokopuna the harsh and painful experience of having to search needlessly for the Taha Wairua that we lost.

Translation of Sir Apirana Ngata’s Proverb: Grow up and thrive for the days destined to you. Your hands to the tools of the Pakeha to provide physical sustenance, your heart to the treasures of your Māori ancestors as a diadem for your brow, Your soul to your God, to whom all things belong.

LGBTQ Ordination (a follow up to my Te Kaea interview)

Five Minutes of Fame.

Well, it seems my all too brief and not very illustrious career as a commentator on Church issues has hit its first speed bump!

With General Synod underway in Fiji and issues around our LGBTQ whanau having some prominence, it was only natural that the media would pick it up as a story, and so the lot fell to me to be interviewed. In an attempt to ensure 100% clarity I elected to be interviewed in English for the Māori language news, Te Kaea. The interview went well and I was pleased with the overall experience, until I saw the subtitles.

In the interview I was asked if I thought there was a barrier to the ordination of LGBTQ people to which I responded in the negative. I went onto say that there is, in my opinion no theological or tikanaga reason why LGBTQ people who are living in a loving relationship or are celibate cannot be ordained. This is not a view I apply uniquely to our LGBTQ whanau, but one I apply to any ordained person, or indeed candidate for ordination. The subtitle, however said “…I don’t see why any celibate gay man or lesbian woman cannot be ordained.”

Whanau, I believe that sexuality in its entirety and the physical manifestation of that sexuality between two people who love each other is one of the great gifts of God. It alarmed me therefore to see that the subtitle indicated or inferred anything other than that position. To demand anyone, LGBTQ or otherwise to exist in a state of celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination when they are involved in a loving relationship not only denies the couple perhaps the most intimate manifestation of love available to humans, but also denies the fullness of the candidate’s identity to be lived out. Of course there are some who choose to live a celibate life, and I support them 100% in that calling. I, however draw the line at demanding celibacy as an enforced way of life.

Whanau, although this post largely takes the form of an explanation, it is also a statement of support and solidarity from myself to our LGBTQ and Takataapui whanau everywhere, not only those in the Church.

Arohanui.

Please note that this isn’t an attack on Maori TV, Te Kaea or the reporter. Sometimes these things just happen.

Sermon – Pentecost 4 – Ordinary 12 – Mark 4:35-41

Peace Be Still. By He Qi.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, remain acceptable in thy sight

O LORD my rock and my redeemer. AMEN.

 “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 You know Whanau, I feel lucky this morning, and its not because I won Lotto last night. As if preaching here, and being with you all this morning isn’t enough, when I looked in my lectionary last week to see what the readings were, I found the reading we have this morning is one of my favourites in the entire bible.

                Here we have Jesus and some of his disciples out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us that they are on their way to the town of Gerasa, and while they are on their way, Jesus falls asleep. Whanau, that right there is why I love this reading. Here we have Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, and what is he doing? He is sleeping. In this moment, this brief instance we are given an insight into Jesus that we don’t often get, that is an insight into his humanity and indeed his human vulnerability. Here we are reminded of the human nature of God, the fact that God sent his son into the world for us. Not simply as conqueror, or some sort of super-human entity, but a fully human manifestation of God, what a beautiful thing. He got hungry, he got angry and he even got sleepy sometimes. Jesus experienced life just as we experience it and in that knowledge there is a sense of comfort for those of us who continue to struggle through life’s challenges, through life’s ups and downs. That comfort is the knowledge that Christ himself experienced these struggles, and continues to experience them with us.

As our reading continues, we see Peter, perhaps hysterically, attempting to wake up Jesus. There is a huge wind on the water and the waves are pounding the boat, fearing that the boat will sink, Peter puts it to Jesus, “Do you care?!?” So, in what seems like a dramatic shift, from a sleeping, fully human Jesus, we see a change to a wind and rain stopping Son of God.

I think a lot of us here can relate to what must have been going through Peter’s mind at that very moment. Here he was, literally facing death as the boat was being swamped and where is Jesus, the Man who can make it all go away? He is sleeping! I remember in 2010, my older sister, the oldest in our family of 7 kids, was very sick. She was having seizures and blacking out all the time and the doctors didn’t quite know what was going on. She had MRI Scans, she had tests but still, they didn’t know why these things were happening. It wasn’t until mid 2010, after a series of CT Scans that they found a tumour in her brain that was growing just behind her ear. In that moment, at that time, it felt to me as though Jesus had fallen asleep, and my whanau and I were alone, facing the devastating news that my sister had Cancer.

We all have moments like this, Whanau. Times where it can seem as if we are at it alone and we cannot see Christ or God in anything we are doing. When children are beaten and killed by their whanau, when loved ones pass away well before their time, when we look at the Newspaper and it seems as if there is war and suffering all around us, these are moments where we can all be forgiven for perhaps thinking that we are alone, and Christ has fallen asleep, unaware of the pain we are experiencing. But whanau, in our reading is the remedy for this feeling, all along, Jesus was with the disciples in the boat, and every step of the way, Christ is with us. Christ’s response to Peter after having calmed the storm holds the answer for us, Christ said “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Faith, Whanau, the answer is faith.

Of course this reading is all about faith, and faith, along with love and hope, is one of the most important aspects of our callings as Christians. This doesn’t mean that we are always 100% sure of ourselves or our lives; it doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments of doubt, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be times where we think Jesus, or even God has fallen asleep on us. Faith means that despite those times, we remain strengthened and empowered in our calling as Christians to love and to serve. Faith provides the foundation that allows us to live lives of service informed by love, and if we do it properly, faith means that our love becomes real and transforming not just for us, but for everyone around us.

I believe that as humans, we are called to love. Nowadays, love is word that gets thrown around all the time, it seems we have almost gotten too familiar with it as a word that we no longer feel it as the deep and powerful emotion that it really is. We live in a world where the important thing in a marriage isn’t love, but your sexual orientation. We live in a world where we use love to explain the way we feel about food, we use it to explain how much we like a song or music, we even use it to say how much we like a pair of shoes or jeans or a stunning dress, as Christians, I believe that we are called to a much deeper love than that.  The Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote a lot on his ideas around grace, his main whakaaro was that we should avoid what he called ‘cheap grace’ and strive for ‘costly grace’ I think the same thing applies to love. It is easy for us to love those who we like, those who we are close to, but that sort of love is easy for us; it is a cheap love that costs us nothing. It is much harder to love those who no one loves, to stand with those who are being persecuted, the lost, the lonely, the outcast. When we refuse to ignore injustice, when we choose to speak out prophetically in love rather than remain silent, that is when we are exhibiting the love that all Christians are called to show. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but with the faith that Christ talks about in our reading this morning we are all the more ready to show that love when the time or situation demands it.

Our Gospel reading this morning alerts us to issues of faith, it is a reality of the Christian life that there will inevitably be times where we question our faith, where even the most faithful among us will be tested, the thing we are reminded of in our reading this morning is that even when those moments come and it seems as if our faith is getting smaller and smaller, we must remember that Christ is with us, even if like in our reading this morning it seems as if he is sleeping, he is there nonetheless, and that knowledge alone is enough for even us to command the wind to cease and storm to stop.

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.         AMEN.

Bibles Not Allowed?

No Bibles!

As a minister, a lot of people make assumptions about me, especially when they see me in a clerical shirt or ‘minister’s clothes.’ Some people think I must be really spiritual, while others take me for somewhat of a Moral Policeman. Some of those assumptions will be correct, while others will inevitably be wrong. This is one instance where I think people would be assuming me to take a certain stance on an issue, when in reality; I stand on the other side.

Recent reports in the New Zealand Herald (you can find the report here) tell the story of Tuni Parata, a hard working, committed member of the staff at SkyCity in Auckland. Ms. Parata has made headlines because, in the words of her employers, she breached the uniform policies of her job. So was she wearing bright nail polish or did she dye her hair a bright colour? No, Ms. Parata was carrying a Bible in her pocket.

As I said before, people would perhaps be expecting me to write in outrage at what has happened, but to be honest, I am not that outraged. I can only make an assessment on an issue based on what I know, and at the moment my knowledge on this issue is largely from the Herald report, and from that report, I don’t really see the issue. I accept that the response from SkyCity may have been over the top, I don’t think there was any need to issue her with a notice and use the rather stern language that was in the letter, but at the same time, I think SkyCity has a point, they have a policy on staff carrying things in their pockets and Ms. Parata breached that policy, Fair enough. I think where SkyCity went wrong was in the harshness of their response for what is, in the greater scheme of things a rather minor issue. It seems that a quiet word to Ms. Parata would have sufficed, instead SkyCity choose to go down a more formal route, a rather bad call in my opinion.

While at first glance this issue seems to be quite a big deal, and I accept that this has no doubt placed undue anxiousness and stress on Ms. Parata and her family, it seems to me that this is, in reality, simply a storm in a teacup stirred up by those with vested interest in ‘sticking it to the man’ at every chance they get. SkyCity isn’t banning Ms. Parata from bringing the bible to work and reading it during her breaks, SkyCity isn’t saying that she must choose between her faith and her job, SkyCity isn’t saying that the bible, in and of itself is the issue. SkyCity is, however badly, simply enforcing a standing policy in regards to staff uniforms, something they shouldn’t be made out to be anti-faith or anti-Christian for doing.

Prophets or Porangi?

Tame Iti

From Jeremiah, to Peter, to Paul, the bible is full of stories of prophets who were imprisoned because they dared to speak the truth. This week in Auckland, we have somewhat of a similar case in the imprisonment of Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara.

Now, this post is not intended to argue the details of the law, or indeed its application. But rather it is an attempt to try and make sense of exactly what happened on the 15th of October 2007, and the affects the events of that day had, and continue to have on Tuhoe, Māori and New Zealand.

Perhaps one of the most moving speeches ever presented to Te Runanganui (the Māori Synod of the Anglican Church) was given by the Reverend Awanui Timutimu. Matua Awa, who has since passed away, lived in Ruatoki and was on his way to the Whakatane on the morning of October 15th, but he never got there, not that day at least. Matua Awa was greeted by armed, Police in full combat gear as he drove through Ruatoki. The Police ordered him to get out of his car, and to lie down on the side of the road while they searched it. They then took a picture of him next to his number plate in a final act of humiliation. Matua Awa, was a Navy Veteran, having served in South-East Asia, the Far East and the Pacific. He was also a Priest in the Anglican Church and a respected Tuhoe Kaumatua. A pillar of his community and the Church brought to his knees and humiliated by cowards who covered their faces and refused to listen.

It is these experiences, these unacknowledged mamae (pains) that we must keep upmost in our minds as we continue to move forward and make sense of what happened 5 years ago. Unfortunately, for Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria, their court case and imprisonment has ensured that their story and that of Matua Awa’s will be forever intertwined, and forever make up the sad, sad song that Tuhoe and Māoridom have been singing since October 15th 2007.

If you were to ask me if Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria are prophets, I don’t think I could answer that question with any certainty. If, however you were to ask me are they prophetic, I think I would have to answer in the affirmative. Prophets, biblical or otherwise are in many ways like weather vanes; they gauge the atmosphere and point out the changes. Here, like the prophets of old, Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria are pointing out to us the continued injustice that surrounds us every day. Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria are pointing out to us the deeply, deeply concerning and painful change of wind that has been slowly gaining strength since 2007. It is now up to us to act, to respond and indeed to be prophetic ourselves. This is a calling we are all a part of, it is more than just a calling of race, or space or time. It is a calling of the gospel, to affect change where there is injustice, to speak out where there is wrong and to act prophetically when called upon to do so. The imprisonment of Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria is calling upon us to do just that, if not for their sake, then for the sake of the gospel of justice.

ANZAC Day 2012 – Homily.

The Rev. C. Douglas-Huriwai preaching at the ANZAC Day Service, Orakei RSA 2012.

Each ANZAC Day for the last three years I have officiated at the morning service at my local RSA. This year was no different, and while the temptation is always there to play it safe and deliver a message that will be easily digested, it has been somewhat of a tradition for me to preach a homily that hopefully does more than that. What follows is the text of the homily I preached this morning at Orakei RSA, it is my hope that it offers something a bit different to the usual ANZAC Day sermons preached up and down the country during this time of year.

I am working on the video of the homily, but it may not be worth it as the traffic in the background is at times louder than me!

ANZAC Day – Homily 2012

Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, Service Men and Women, as we gather here this morning, ANZAC Day 2012, we are called to remember the sacrifice of service men and women of every time, of every place, of every country. Not just here in Aotearoa- New Zealand or in Australia, but throughout the world. Ad as we do that, we are also called to remember the duality that surrounds us every day. In death, we are born to new life. Where there is hate, love can conquer. Where there is despair there is hope. In the midst of our darkness there is light. ANZAC Day, of all the days of the year, is a good time to be reminded of that duality. It is around this time of year that we get presented with the rhetoric of ANZAC Day. Every year in April, we all get caught up in the romance and nostalgia of ANZAC Day. Friends I’m talking about the images that are given to us year after year. I’m talking about expressions like “the glorious dead.” I’m talking about expressions like “lest we forget.” I am talking about expressions like “they died for our freedom.” And while all of those things are true, let us also remember the other side, the duality of those expressions.

“The Glorious Dead,” the name we give to those brave men and women who fought and died for our country in theatres of war, in all places, in all times. As we remember our glorious dead, let us not forget the glorious dead on the other side of that front line. They young men and woman, much like ours, who went to war. Not in hopes of killing other people, not in hopes of ravaging and destroying cities, but in the spirit of adventure, informed by their love of their country. Just like some of my Koros and grand Uncles who boarded those ships in pursuit of what we would call nowadays, their OE. Let us remember that they are us and we are them. No matter the flag on their shoulder, no matter the colour of their uniform.

Perhaps the most well known saying is “Lest we forget.” And while that saying conjures up images of our family members who went to war and those men and women who fought and died in theatres of war, it also calls us to remember the futility, the horrors, and the pointlessness of war. Lest we forget those who died and those who served, but lest also we forget the ultimate pointlessness that is war. For as the old saying goes, those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. Lest we forget.

Another saying we hear talks about how those that died in war, died to secure our freedom, and while that’s true, we can often get caught up in the romance of war, in the idea that war is necessary to obtain freedom. While we say these things, while we say and give thanks to God for the men and women who died to secure our freedom, we are also called to remember that war brings with it oppression and destruction, and so through the seeking of freedom, we risk taking freedom away from so many others.

And so friends as we come together this ANZAC Day and we say together and we give thanks to God for our glorious dead, let us also remember that our glorious dead are their glorious dead, and their glorious dead are ours. Let us remember that when we say “Lest we forget” we are also saying “Lest we repeat ourselves”. Let us remember that as we give thanks to God for those who fought to secure our freedom, that through our own freedom we are called to ensure the freedom of all people everywhere. This is the hope that we can take out of something as ghastly as war. By doing this we transform our tears of sadness, into tears of joy. We transform something so horrible, into a thing so beautiful. So that the ultimate sacrifice paid by our service men and women who served and continue to serve in our armed forces, didn’t happen in vain.

So as we gather here this morning let us give thanks to God, let us also give thanks to you, our veterans, to those of you who served and continue to serve in our armed forces. For everything you do, for everything you’ve done, we, together say thank you.

(Note: ANZAC Day is New Zealand and Australia’s national day of remembrance for those who have served in our Armed Forces, and especially those who died in theatres of war.) 

Matua Hone Kaa – A Tribute.

Matua Hone...e rere tonu nga roimata.

 In January, I posted a piece about Sermons. In that post, I made reference to one of the best preachers I have ever heard, the Ven. Dr. Hone Kaa. I have had the privilege over the past few years to work with and learn from Matua Hone. From driving him around, to being one of his ministers in Mangere, to just spending time with him, Matua Hone has had a huge impact on me. It was with sadness then that we learned of his diagnosis of cancer and that little could be done for him. As the days went by, Matua Hone didn’t seem to change, he continued coming to Church, he signed up to front a new TV show, things were looking good. But at the beginning of the week Matua Hone’s condition began to change until, on Thursday the  29th of March, surrounded by his family, Matua Hone passed away.

As preparations began to take shape, myself and several other young ministers who Matua Hone had mentored began the task of looking after Matua Hone and his whanau during his tangi (funeral). It was a sad but humbling pleasure for me to preach at Night Prayer on Friday Night at Matua Hone’s tangi. The following is the sermon I preached that night, I wanted to say more, and to be honest I could never put in words all that Matua Hone has meant to me, but as we prepare to take Matua Hone home to the East Coast it seems appropriate to share the sermon here…given it was him who inspired me to post my sermons online! No reira ki a koutou te whanau, Whaea Jane, Hirini, Nepia, Paea, Ngarino, Emere, Hana and Takimoana, kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, remain acceptable in thy sight O LORD our rock and our redeemer.

(John 10:11-16, The Good Shepherd)

                A couple of weeks ago, some of us from St. Johns were lucky enough to spend an evening with Matua Hone and Whaea Jane at their home in New Market. It was a night filled with stories, laughter and karakia. For my sins, it was decided that I would preach that night. One thing I noticed as I prepared my sermon, was that since Matua Hone fell ill, a lot of people had been using different words to describe him, now that Matua Hone has passed away, the whole nation is referring to him like that. Some have called him a “rangatira”, others an “activist priest” and some have even described him as a “living legend.” I remember talking to one of Hone’s cousins, Wharekawa, and we got to talking about sheep. Wharekawa said that some of my Huriwai wanau were good shepherds back in the old days. Well whanau, needless to say, that talent must have skipped my generation! I don’t know much about sheep, and to be honest, I haven’t even touched one, but what I do know is that the work of a shepherd is hard, especially in the time of Jesus. Their work revolved around being alert and ensuring the safety of the flock. It was the shepherd’s responsibility to ensure there was good pasture and water for their sheep and that meant the shepherds often spent long stretches of time away from home, often sleeping under the stars, open to the affects of the weather and in some cases wild animals. All of these things, combined with the sheep’s tendency to wonder off and become lost, meant that the shepherds were always working. In some cases the danger was so high, that in order to protect the sheep, the shepherd would have to place himself in harm’s way, sometimes resulting in the shepherd’s injury or worse, death.

Whanau it may seem as if this story in the Gospel of John is simply talking about Jesus, and you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that. But beyond that theme, this gospel reading is calling us all to realise that we too, through the death and resurrection of Christ are being called to be shepherds to our whanau, our friends, our people. Matua Hone did just that, he began a journey in response to his calling to serve his people, and like the shepherds of Jesus time this calling, this mahi lead him away from his home, away from Rangitukia and the East Coast and sometimes even away from Aotearoa. Matua Hone’s work as a priest, was a work and a ministry directly informed by his faith, and if anything the one thing he held closest to him was the care of people, so much so that given his over 40 years of Ministry as a priest, you could say that he lay down his life, and therefore lived his life for his people. That isn’t to say that he only ministered to Ngati Porou or to Ngati Kahungunu, No. It was Matua Hone’s belief that everyone was made in the image of God and that therefore means that we all have a vested interest in one another, all people were Matua Hone’s people. What better example do we have of this part of Matua Hone’s life then the establishment of Te Kahui Mana Ririki. Matua Hone took a vested interest in every child in Aotearoa, and when it was obvious that something needed to be done, and our tamariki needed a voice, Matua Hone once again lay down his life and did something about it.

So what does this all mean for us? No doubt over the next few days we will hear story after story about how Matua Hone touched people’s lives, or how he inspired them, or how he was a man of faith, and while the sharing of those memories is good, what can we actually take from them? Here and now, as we mourn the loss of Matua Hone we are given a chance to really reflect on his life and impact on us all. Here and now we are given the opportunity not just to tell stories and remember, but to turn those stories into inspiration and that inspiration into action. As we move forward and prepare ourselves to say goodbye to Matua Hone, we must let his example lead us to also realise our calling, the calling of Christ that demands us to love. It is a calling of hope, of justice and of service and it is that calling that Matua Hone lived his entire life. If we let this opportunity go by then we might as well bury our memories with Matua Hone, if however we wish to honour Matua Hone and all that he meant to us, then let us follow his example to live a life, our lives, in such a way that we are ready to lay them down for all people, no matter who they are. By doing this, we take a piece of Matua Hone forward with us, we transform this time of grieving into a time of rejoicing. We change the tune of our song from one of sadness to one of joy. Whanau, as I share these words with you I am reminded of a line from one of Matua Hone’s sermons, he said “When we expect the worse at the last, we get the best. That is the mind of God, always to turn what you and I consider to be the end result into something so different.”

No reira e te Matua, e te hoa, e te Hepara. Moe mai ra i roto i to moenga. Moe mai ra i roto it e ariki.

Sermon – 3rd Sunday in Lent – John 2:13-22

L-R: The Rev. Ngira Simmonds, Peter Bargh N/TSSF, and the Rev. Christopher Huriwai at the Ports of Auckland Rally.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts remain acceptable in thy sight, O LORD our rock and our redeemer.

“Making a whip of chords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”

Well whanau, here we are, right in the thick of it. It’s the third Sunday of Lent and while our thoughts maybe turning to the hope and promise of Easter, and not to mention the Easter holidays, we need to continue to think about exactly what it is we are being called to reflect on this Lenten season. Here and now, as we pass through the half way point of Lent for this year, it is perhaps all the more important that we keep our calling at the forefront of our minds as we crossover into the second half of this season of Lent. As Christians, we each have a fundamental, baseline calling, that is a calling to love and to serve, and here and now, during Lent is the perfect time for us all to reflect on what it means to be called to love and to serve, not just those we know and love, but those we don’t know, and perhaps even more importantly, those we find it hard to love.

In our reading today, Jesus is actively clearing out the clutter; in our bibles this section of the Gospel of John is named “Jesus Cleanses the Temple.” Although in our reading, this clearing out is a literal one, I think that what we can take from this reading is not a literal calling to clear out everything from our Whare Karakia (Churches), but rather a calling, and an invitation to clear out, and cleanse ourselves from those things that clutter and gather up within us, that hinder, and in some instances even stop us from living out our calling to love and to serve. On the first Sunday of Lent I preached about the importance of allowing our faith to inform our actions, and in doing so, allowing our faith to become more than just an abstract idea. Here and now as we reflect on the importance of clearing out all those things that clutter our lives, we are given an opportunity once again to let our faith become a real and informing part of our lives so that when we are called upon to respond to issues that strike at the very core of our lives, we are ready and equipped to do just that.

Since last year, but in the last few months in particular, we have been witnessing the unravelling of one of those issues that strike at the very core of our faith and demands us to respond in a prophetic and loving way. I am of course talking about the issues surrounding the Ports of Auckland. The issues surrounding what is happening down at the Ports aren’t just a matter of money, although that’s what the big wigs down there would have you believe. The real issue is one of security and certainty, and the Port of Auckland’s attempt to deny those basic rights to their workers. Much like the earthquake in Christchurch, which brought words like “liquefaction” into the everyday vocabulary of all New Zealanders, the Ports of Auckland issue has also taught us a new word, “casualisation.” The new contracts that the workers were being asked to sign turned them all into casual workers, effectively casualising the entire workforce of the Ports of Auckland. Now, it may seem as if this isn’t too bad a deal. They will still be employed, they will still be working, and they will still be getting paid. But whanau, the issue is the uncertainty and complete lack of security that comes with being a “professional” casual worker. Not knowing when you are working, not knowing how many hours you will have each week, not even knowing what your weekly income will be. All of these things increase the levels of pressure and tension on the workers of the ports, not just on the job with their work mates, but at home with their families as well. Whanau, it is issues such as these that demand us to live out our calling to love and to serve and to meet these issues head on with the conviction of our faith and the knowledge of our calling. Like I said in the first week of Lent, we are called to respond with action, informed by our faith, no matter how small that action may be.

Yesterday, a couple of my friends and I decided that we would try and do something like that. We decided that our faith was calling us to establish a physical presence with the demonstrating workers and other unions as they marched and rallied from Auckland City to the Port. Although our actions were small, after all, all we did was walk, it was real, it was intimate and it was deliberate. It was action inspired by our calling, informed by our faith and lived out in the real world.

What we have here in our reading is a bit of a blue print, an example of sorts for us as followers of Christ to ourselves follow. One problem with our reading this morning is that it has become so familiar to us that the real intensity and craziness of it has all but worn off, but let’s think about it for a while. Here we have Jesus, the Prince of Peace, effectively storming the temple. Not only that, he actually made himself a weapon of sorts and physically drove out those in the temple who he saw as degrading the house of God. He turned up tables, he drove out the animals he rebuked those present. Here we have the same Jesus who calls us to be as gentle as doves, being the complete opposite! He is angry, he is passionate, and he is doing something about it. Now this doesn’t mean that we should be leading the workers at the Ports of Auckland on a rampage through the head offices of the Ports, or that we should all go to the City Council chambers and tip their tables over, rather it means that we should be open to allowing our emotions, our feelings and our passion become a part of our calling. We need to remember that just like Jesus, we act not just on behalf of ourselves, but by virtue of our baptism and our callings we act on the behalf of God. That might sound a bit odd, or even a bit whakahihi (proud), but what it really means for us as Christians, is that we need to be constantly looking for the money changers in our society and not be scared to act on our calling and effect change. It means that we need to be on the lookout for those issues that threaten to oppress and marginalise people and speak out, and indeed act out prophetically and with passion.

Whanau, if we take the opportunity we are given during this time of Lent, to clear out and cleanse ourselves of all of the clutter that builds up within our own lives that can hinder us from living out our calling, we will be all the more ready to respond with emotion and passion when we are faced with a decision to either keep silent or speak out.

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

For Ports Sake!

Casualisation.

On the first Sunday of Lent I preached at my church in Mangere. While the sermon itself was structured around Lent and what this time of the year means for us as Christians, the overall theme of the Sermon was one of reflection. Not just idle, feel good reflection, but a real world reflection with real world applications, however small those applications may be. Along with that theme running through that particular sermon, lately I have also taken a shine to speaking about how important it is for our faith to be real, and therefore inform our actions. I suppose, when you put those two themes together, you end up with what I think is a fairly decent attempt to live a life based on the gospel, a life centered on Christ.

Right now, here in Auckland, we are being presented with an opprtunity to engage in some of that real world reflection. Right now there is a group of people on Tamaki Drive holding up signs, they aren’t human billboards for some pizza company, nor are they trying to sell you anything, no these people are workers at the Ports of Auckland, and they have had enough. The reason the men and women of the ports have set up camp on Tamaki Drive is because they have been issued an ultimatum of sorts, basically they have been told to sign new contracts, (contracts that will effectively make them casual workers) or else face losing their very livelihoods. While the Ports of Auckland’s Spin Doctor has been hard at work trying to paint a picture of a spoilt and more than well paid workforce, the fact  remains that the workers of the Ports of Auckland are being taken advantage of, and we who claim to be followers of Christ must, at the very least acknowledge this injustice that is happening in our very own backyard.

The issue of the Ports of Auckland is bigger than just a stand off between frontline workers and the powers that be. The real issue here is the knock on effect of what this attempted casualisation threatens to do to the workers and their families. The mere talk of casualisation sends a bolt of uncertainty to the very core of workers. Casualisation means an entire workforce living and working within an environment of concern and uncertainty. The workers are facing questions of how many hours will I be working this week? Will I have enough, come pay day, to pay my bills? Will I be seeing my family this week? All of these things, rooted in instability and uncertainty, can and will take their toll on the workers and their families. The tension that these questions will introduce to the families of the affected workers should be our main concern. As Christians we are, by virtue of our very calling to follow Christ, called to ensure that the community around us is cared for with Christlike compassion. One way we can do this is to ensure that our communities are well, and how do we get well communities? We build them on the backs of well families, something that we are in danger of losing to the tune of over 300 families if the workers are forced to sign this contract. This is not an issue of greed or bad will on the workers part, no. This is an issue of justice, and issues of justice are, by their very nature Gospel issues.

Here and now, we as Christians are called to step out and allow our faith to inform our actions. We are being (and are always being) called to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, here and now we need to stand with the workers from the ports and in this, the season of Lent, we are called to remind society of the reason why Jesus himself quoted from the prophet Isaiah saying: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarked in reflection on his involvement with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, “We were involved in the struggle because we were being religious, not political. It was because we were obeying the imperatives of our faith.” Although on a much smaller scale, this is what we too are being called to do. We aren’t being called to go on a crusade motivated by political allegiances or leanings. It is something much bigger than that that is calling us to action, it is our very faith that commands us to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the lords favor, and, in this instance, to stand in solidarity with all the workers of the Ports of Auckland.

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