Sermon – 2nd Sunday After Epiphany – Ordinary 2 – John 1:43-51

Calling Disciples, by He Qi.

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.

“Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Phillip called you.’”

                Well whanau, I must have annoyed whoever puts our Ministry Team Roster together, because, as if preaching last week, the first Sunday in Ordinary time wasn’t hard enough, I have been put down again to preach this Sunday. Although it may seem like that is rather bad luck, I don’t think it is. The themes that were started last week continue this week and allow us another opportunity to reflect on what we are being called to do as we enter the year proper.

Last Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus and this week we follow on from that in the natural progression from baptism, to putting those baptismal obligations we spoke about last week, into action. During the season of Epiphany the themes we celebrate revolve around Jesus revealing himself to us and this week is no different. Here, this week with the calling of Phillip and Nathaniel we experience the revelation of Jesus in Galilee, a revelation that is revealed to us in his calling of Nathaniel.

According to Peter Woods, the imagery of the fig tree here in John points to the Old Testament idea of the Fig Tree being a place of blessing and comfort. On the other hand the fig tree in the New Testament is most often seen as a cursed place, an image of a withered fig tree is what we are given in Mark, chapter 11 . Although these two interpretations seem to be miles apart, and on different ends of the scale, it is this space that Nathaniel is occupying in this reading, and it is the place that we risk occupying too if we let ourselves slip into the “ordinary” this Ordinary Time.

This coming week marks a return for a lot of people. If they haven’t already, most people will be returning to work this week and although there is a few more weeks before uni and school starts back, book shops and malls are already starting their “Back to School” sales. Before we know it we will be lost in another year of School, work, and other priorities. It won’t be too long before we are all caught up in our own lives and our own issues, but one thing we must remember, even though thoughts of Christmas may be fast becoming a distant memory, is that we must take forward with us, into the year and the ordinary time, the spirit of Christmas and the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ.

As Christians, wherever we go, and whatever we do, we carry with us the essence of our faith, the belief in Jesus Christ. This means, whether we like it or not, we are symbols of our faith and for Christ wherever we are. This responsibility calls us to live out our faith at all times. Not just at Christmas time or during Lent when we might be a little more conscious of our faith, but in all places and at all times. This calling to live out our faith is even more important during the normal, mundane times of our lives, and this time of the year is a good time to be reminded of that. Before the hustle and bustle of the year kicks in and we are truly overwhelmed by the pressures of life it is important to stop and reflect on our faith and what our faith calls us to do, before the year grabs a hold of us and before we know it, it is Christmas time once again and we have lost another year. Every interaction, every moment is an opportunity to live out our faith. That doesn’t mean that we should be standing on a street corner preaching or we should be actively trying to convert our friends, but rather that we should live our lives informed by our faith in Christ and become a walking, living testament to that faith. As St. Francis of Assisi put it, we are called to preach the gospel at all times, and only if necessary, use words.

Since October here in New Zealand, and all over the world there has been a group of people living out a type of faith. Since last year a movement called Occupy have been responding to what they perceive to be an injustice. The basic thrust behind the movement is an attempt to name and increase awareness about the inequality around the distribution of wealth and political power. Their main slogan is “We are the 99%.” This is reflective of the fact that 80% of the World’s wealth and power rests with a mere 1% of the population. The people involved in Occupy are responding to their beliefs, and their actions are being informed by those beliefs moving them to express their concern through various occupations throughout New Zealand and the world. Currently the movement in Auckland has occupations at Aotea Square, Queen Street, Albert Park and Victoria Park.  Now, whether or not you support the movement, or think what they are doing is the best way of going about raising awareness, we cannot deny that this movement is at least doing something. Just like the people of the Occupy movement we need to let our beliefs and our faith inform our action. Of course, this doesn’t mean we all need to go and pitch tents outside Holy Trinity Cathedral, but rather that we need to be ready to step out in faith because of our beliefs. We need to be ready to leave the comfort and shade of our own fig trees in an attempt to effect change. To do this though we need to be constantly aware of our faith and the obligations that comes with being followers of Christ. This means not taking a place at the banquet table if our brother or sister is denied one, it means being ready to deny ourselves for the greater good, it means we need to preach the gospel, not with words but with actions.

Only when we, like Nathaniel leave our own fig trees can we truly effect change and whole heartedly live out our own calling in Christ to love and to serve. If we don’t we risk turning our fig trees into withered, cursed places of selfishness and greed, instead of life giving places of strength and foundation.

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

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We Are The 99%

My inspiration for this post.

Perhaps one of the most prevalent themes of the Gospel story is that of justice. Not just a superficial, forced type of justice, but a justice that permeates everything we do, a justice that is lived out and a justice that causes change. It is for that reason that Christ quoted from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah and said,

“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 favour.”

“We are the 99%.” This slogan has become somewhat of a house hold term over the last month. It is, of course is the catch phrase of the Occupy movement that is currently spreading all over the world. Beginning in America, Occupy has spread  from South Africa to Japan, to the Czech Republic to Brazil, the Occupy movement is truly a worldwide event, and since the 15th of October Occupy has made itself at home in New Zealand.

According to their Facebook page, Occupy Aotearoa New Zealand exists as “…an expression of solidarity with the people occupying Wall Street as well as many of the other occupations around the world. We support the assertion that endless corporate greed compromises the political system and holds too much influence over our everyday lives. We stand for a truly democratic society of freedom, equality, justice and equity.” At first glance I was, at least in principal supportive of the Occupy Movement, but as the days and weeks have progressed I find myself less and less in support of Occupy. For me as an indigenous person, I find it very hard to reconcile the Occupy cause with that of my own people and indeed, that of native people the world over. Occupy’s slogan is largely based on the disparity between those who have the majority of the worlds wealth and their influence. It is largely regarded as fact that 1% of the world’s population control 40% of the world’s wealth, and in the eyes of Occupy that also means power. So far, so good, I have no issues with that as a basic issue that should be brought to light. My reservations come in on a more fundamental level, that being the baseline foundation of the movement and their mode of protest.

My people, our people have been occupied, formally at least, since 1840 and so when a movement springs up in New Zealand proclaiming the occupation of the country until we see a return to democracy and equality, I am sure you can understand why I would be a touch hesitant to stand in solidarity with the said movement. Our people have been fighting for the last 170 odd years for our very existence as Māori. Not for financial gain or in protest at a financial deficient, no, our needs are far more fundamental than financial. We have been fighting for our language, our histories, our culture, our land. We have been fighting for our very lives. All of those things that make us who we are, we have been fighting for. As an indigenous person in Aotearoa New Zealand I feel marginalised, sidelined and ignored as a result of the Occupy Movement.

At a very fundamental level, the Occupy movement is effectively an import. We imported the slogan, we imported the mode of protest, and we even imported the chants. In doing so, the organisers of Occupy Aotearoa New Zealand have introduced yet another tool of colonisation to this country.

While the protesters march down Queen Street, Māori are making up more than 50% of the Prison population. While the protestors are pitching their tents in Aotea Square, over 50% of Māori are living in the 3 highest deprivation deciles. While the protestors occupy Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, Māori are still fighting for rights to our Ancestral Lands.

I have said it before in my blog posts and I will say it again, as Christians our calling to love and to serve means that we should be concerned with injustice in whatever form it takes and wherever it occurs. A part of that responsibility is to ensure that our response to injustice doesn’t cause more hurt and pain and therefore simply perpetuate the cycle that injustice creates. This is where I feel Occupy Aotearoa has come up short. I must confess, like I said earlier, at first I thought Occupy was great. Finally, a response to corporate greed and power, but when I looked beyond the surface and reflected on the implications of the protest, especially on indigenous people I began to realise that this protest doesn’t in fact, empower the already weak. It doesn’t liberate the marginalised or release the captives. It doesn’t restore sight to the blind or let the oppressed go free. What it does do is highlight just how off the radar and unimportant issues of justice, especially justice for Māori, is in Aotearoa New Zealand, even among those who fight for better equality and justice. Perhaps if nothing else, that realisation for me is a worthwhile outcome of the Occupy Movement.

My Name is Christopher Huriwai, I am indigenous and I am the occupied.

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