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The Ministry of Reconciliation - Cate Burton

Date: 19 April 2015

19.04.15 Ministry of Reconciliation

In less than a week we, as a nation, will be commemorating 100 years since the battle of the ANZAC’s on Turkish shores.

When we commemorate we ceremonially remember significant people and events in our past, in the hope that the stories will continue to transform our future.

Today we are going to reflect on three key events in our shared history, identifying God’s presence in the past in order that we might also identify the transforming presence of God in the here and now; in our families, our communities and our nation.

Today I won’t be talking about the World Wars or the ANZAC’s, though the timely remembrance of these stories has spurred me to share with you other stories of significance from our history.

This is going to be a different kind of sermon. It is a sermon based on a paper I wrote for the Global Institute of Theology which I attended in Costa Rica back in July last year. It is a sermon which begins with our context and incorporates reflections based on Scripture. Usually we do it the other way around; usually we begin with Scripture, which then informs our context. So today’s sermon is a different kind of sermon, and that’s ok. It is a sermon about conflict and reconciliation and the coming of Christ in our midst.

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When I wrote the paper I could choose one of three topics. This is the one I picked:

Name and develop three epiphatic moments of God in your context, considering the religious, cultural, social, political and sexual aspects of your community. In this reflection name places, situations, historic moments and movements where you see God’s presence through the Holy Spirit in your country and explain why and how these events are marked as God’s epiphany.

Yeah. So. That was quite a mouthful. It was a bit daunting too because I didn’t know of any New Zealand academic theologians who have written about these things. And that meant I had to work it out for myself.

Yet, I chose to write about this topic because I thought that as I wrestled with these things something would eventually touch down into my context and all this abstract theological thought and discussion would actually mean something: mean something for me and my faith community and my country.

And so I am eager to share with you these reflections in the hope that we can be encouraged that God is with us here at the ends of the earth, in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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I was asked to write about three epiphatic moments, three epiphanies, three specific experiences of God’s presence manifested in the lives of people.

The three events from our local and national history which I chose to write about all occurred in the midst of conflict, born out of a struggle for unity in the face of diversity:

-         The Treaty of Waitangi

-         The 1981 Springbok Tour

-         The Battle of Gate Pa

Yet though these events are marked by conflict, they are nonetheless marked with the presence of God. Because God is revealed in the midst of this conflict, bearing these marks on his own scarred hands and bringing about peace, reconciliation, and justice. The good news is that our conflict within ourselves and with one another is not beyond the presence of God.

These events can be seen as epiphanies, as experiences of God, because we can see that the Spirit of God has been at work bringing transformation; transformation from ignorance to empathy, from prejudice to the prophetic, and from war to reconciliation.

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A)  Kingdoms and Covenants: The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi is a flawed yet beautiful document, born out of a desire to see Maori and Pakeha enter into a covenant relationship with one another and with the Triune God the Missionaries attested to.

We all know of the divisions caused by the Treaty but it is important to remember that is was birthed out of a great desire for unity.

The covenantal nature of the Treaty is easily overlooked, yet it is explicitly outlined in the key principles of the Treaty: partnership, participation and protection. From the very beginning there was a commitment to caring for one another, and these principles have continued to influence various sectors of our society, including education and healthcare.

The Treaty of Waitangi demonstrates a willingness to welcome the stranger, the alien, even the enemy. A hospitable invitation is extended and accepted.

An invitation which echo’s God’s instructions to the people of Israel that they were to care for the new members of their community who had come from outside.

An invitation which echo’s God’s call to us to ‘come and abide’, to come and dwell, to come and share life with God.

God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ [has given] us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us a message of reconciliation.

We have been reconciled to God; we are no longer in conflict with God.

In the same way God is ending our conflict with one another, we are being reconciled. God, our covenant partner, is continuing to establish a new kingdom where people dwell together in unity.

In this way the signing of the Treaty and its continued implementation since is a place of epiphany. The people of Aotearoa New Zealand – Maori, Pakeha and many other ethnicities – are experiencing a process of transformation brought about by the Spirit of God; a process of transformation from conflict towards reconciliation and unity.

And we, the church, have a part to play in this process. Will we too welcome the stranger, the alien, the immigrant, the enemy? Will we extend the hand of hospitality to those who are different from us? Will we receive the invitation with open hands when we are offered an opportunity to share in the life of another? Will we demonstrate a true covenant relationship with the Trinity?

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B)  Racism and Rugby: the 1981 Springbok Tour

The 1981 tour of the South African national rugby team was a significant event in our recent history. It has been described as the time when New Zealand lost her innocence and it not often remembered fondly by those for whom it is a lived history.

The discriminatory apartheid system in South Africa was challenged and opposed by the escalating voice of young liberal New Zealanders, and channelled through public protest of the Springbok Tour. The voice of protest sought to challenge the status quo in the New Zealand context as well as its involvement in issues affecting other parts of the world.

The Tour coincided with an increasing national concern for international human rights. The subsequent protests and debates caused divides among families and between colleagues.

For the first time sport was mixing with politics, and the intended non-violent and peaceful opposition quickly became aggressive, crossing the boundary from protest to riot.

It is difficult to identify God’s presence in such a contentious environment. Yet, in the midst of these taxing times, the Spirit of God was at work bringing transformation to both New Zealand and South African society through the prophetic voice of everyday New Zealanders and their commitment to social justice.

It is also difficult to receive the voice of the prophet, ‘if we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God...,’ and it is perhaps even more difficult to accept that the prophetic voice can be heard outside of the church. But...the Spirit of God is at work inside and outside the walls and rules of the institutional church. Our shared history shows us that the Spirit of God was present among the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, leading us from a position of prejudice and reorienting us towards justice.

This prophetic voice came out of an increasing commitment to social justice, a commitment which included both word and action. As the prophet Micah called the people of Israel to ‘act justly and love mercy’ so too were the protesters demanding that the nation, at both a social and a political level, act justly.

This involved a disruption to the current order by using something dear to the heart of all New Zealanders – sport – and forcing the hand of unjust systems. During a time of division and conflict God was at work in both New Zealand and South Africa establishing a just world socially and politically – things changed. Things changed for both the people of New Zealand and the people of South Africa. The relationship between Maori and Pakeha is being transformed, as is the relationship between blacks and whites in South Africa.

The prophetic voice and social action brought about a new order focussed on reconciliation and unity.

But it wasn’t without conflict.

My lecturer commented, saying this:

Disruption is a way of God’s movement in the world. Disruption and challenging unjust laws and situations of oppression must continue! God’s epiphanies always bring a demand for continuing healing, unity, reconciliation and making sure everybody has a dignified life.

Our pursuit of justice cannot be divorced from our humble walk of discipleship. In the same way, our humble walk of discipleship cannot be divorced from our pursuit of justice. We are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

The question for us now is, what are the current social justice issues, whether they be local, national or international, which demand prophetic voice and action? Ecology? Discrimination? Poverty?

How will we continue to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God?

C)  Commemoration and Reconciliation: The Battle of Gate Pa

Last year the people of Tauranga Moana commemorated 150 years since the Battle of Gate Pa. This has come from a desire to continue to establish reconciliation between Maori and Pakeha.

The Battle of Gate Pa was one of a number of armed conflicts over land ownership and occupation which occurred during the mid 1800’s. The British military were unmerciful in their attack while they were drafting their plans; the Maori warriors were drawing up a revolutionary and merciful Code of Conduct, which stipulated that wounded soldiers were not to be mutilated or maltreated.

During the battle this Code of Conduct was honoured. We see this in the actions of Heni Te Kiri Karamu, the sister of a Maori warrior, when she distributed water to the wounded and dying Lieutenant-Colonel Booth and other British soldiers.

Heni demonstrated a love for the enemy as she came to the aid of those in need. Her actions echo the actions of the Good Samaritan, who risked life and limb to care for the perceived enemy. It appears that Heni took seriously the instruction to ‘go and do likewise’

Her life exemplified that of Christ Jesus who came to his enemies in their time of need and endured conflict and abuse because of a desire to reconcile them to the God of love.

In this story we see that even in the midst of the darkness of battle and the bounds of war, the God is peace is made known – this is a place of epiphany, a place where the presence of the Spirit of God is seen and experienced.

In our commemoration we seek reconciliation.

The Battle of Gate Pa Exhibition will be open again on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This exhibition tells the story of the battle from two perspectives; a local Maori warrior and a British soldier who had left the Industrial Revolution in England as a young man before travelling to New Zealand with the infantry. The two pathways of the exhibition encourage us to view our shared history from the perspective of ‘the other’ – a key task of reconciliation.

The current challenge for us, the people of Tauranga Moana, is to continue along this path of restoration. The Spirit of God has begun a good work among the people of Tauranga Moana. The Kingdom of God has come and is coming to bring peace to the conflicted, health to the wounded, and love to the enemy. Will we perceive it and participate in it? In what ways are we being asked to extend love to our enemies here and now? What is the Code of Conduct for the current battles we face?

Conclusion

God’s presence has been encountered throughout the history of our nation. God is reconciling us to himself and to one another. Our role is to testify to God’s presence among us in our history and to be attentive to the coming of Christ in our midst here and now.

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