On this day, in this place, two hundred years ago the Christian gospel was proclaimed for the first time on the soil of Aotearoa. It must have been a remarkable occasion and it is right that we gather to remember and to celebrate.
It is also important to acknowledge that this historic moment in 1814 was many years in the making and to acknowledge that its potential is still to be fully realized.
This moment two hundred years ago was possible because of grace – filled generosity.
It is true that the Nga Puhi Chief Ruatara provided that generosity. It was Ruatara who invited Marsden and those who travelled with him and were to settle here in this quiet bay.
It is also true that the friendship forged between Ruatara and Marsden began with Marsden’s kindness to Ruatara who he met in a sad state of health as a result of maltreated by sailors on the long journey to England from Australia. Simply transferred onto a returning ship with little care for his physical state, it was on this ship that Marsden met Ruatara and helped him back to health. This friendship was strengthened when Marsden invited Ruatara to stay with him on his farm at Parramatta.
But it is also true that Ruatara’s invitation was in spite of actions that could, perhaps even should, have derailed the welcome completely.
Te Pahi, Ruatara’s uncle who had formed a friendship with Marsden some years before was accused of having been involved in the sinking and massacre of the crew of the Boyd. Te Pahi’s home was attached and Te Pahi was mortally wounded. Marsden, after investigation, was convinced that his old friend was falsely accused.
In many cultures and societies there would have simply been an escalation of mistrust and hostility, but here in this bay 200 years ago Ruatara extended to Marsden and his companions a grace of manaakitanga which secured this small mission settlement and inaugurated a vision of partnership which undergirds our potential as a nation to this day. We are a people born out of a grace-filled act of sacrificial generosity. What Ruatara offered was more fundamental than the English word hospitality can possibly convey. Ruatara lived out the values of manaakitanga; costly, self-giving generosity, putting the holistic well-being of the other first.
These are the values on which the hand of friendship was offered at this place. These are the values that undergirded the partnership between tangata whenua and settler.
The same yesterday, today and forever
At the heart of this first Christian service on the soil of Aotearoa Samuel Marsden preached on the text from the Gospel of Saint Luke, “Behold I bring you Glad tidings of great joy”!
These ‘glad tidings’, this good news is the same today as it was 200 years ago and is just the same as it was 2000 years ago.
Simply put it is the truth that I am utterly, profoundly, unconditionally and unreservedly loved, and so are you and so is every other human being.
We are each of us made in the image of God and as a result have ultimate worth and value. It is in this simple truth that our dignity as human beings resides.
We are created in love, we are redeemed by love and we are called to love. Love is the essential element of our DNA. We are built for relationship with God and with others.
God’s yearning for relationship with us cannot be contained and in Jesus, God again offers us the intimacy of relationship. In Christ God reaches out to us again. There are no bounds to the extent our God will go to draw us back. This is Good News!
The extraordinary claim
The birth of Jesus the Saviour, holds before us just how vulnerable and fragile this way of seeing ourselves and of seeing the world we inhabit actually is.
It is an extraordinary claim isn’t it? that God is to be found in an infant born in difficult and yet very ordinary circumstances, born on the edge of the Roman empire, far from the center, born in a stable, born to parents who marry because of the child’s unexpected and unplanned for conception, who marry despite all the conventions of their society, born only to have to flee as a refugee to another land for the fear of a tyrant, born amidst the slaughter of the innocents – Poor, persecuted and vulnerable - vulnerable love.
Love is humble, it will not force itself upon us. It cannot control or force our response, for this by very definition, would not be love.
When we take the risk of loving someone, we quickly come to realise how fragile and precious that love is. The risk of loving someone and not having love returned or having that love betrayed, the risk of birth, of relationships, of parenthood. All that has beauty, all that has meaning, is vulnerable. Vulnerable to rejection, abuse or distortion.
It is not hard to recognize this distortion, this corruption of Love. We see it in ourselves when we take a loved one for granted, or speak or act towards someone we love in a way that demeans or diminishes them - that makes them feel bad about themselves.
We see the rejection, distortion and abuse of love in so many images that confront us from around our world. We have been horrified by what we have seen in this last week in Sydney, in Pakistan and in Brisbane. And our prayers are with the victims and those who grieve.
Martin Luther King speaks
We are bombarded by so many images of tragedy, grief or of corruption and evil that we can be overwhelmed by it, or even worse, it no longer seems to affect us. Martin Luther King understood this, and in one of his most powerful speeches, not long before he himself was assassinated, said this:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate multiplies hate, and violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
Hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a person’s sense of values and their objectivity. It causes them to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.
It is a whole different frame of reference. Not retribution but redemption, not revenge but restoration. Looking for the best, believing in the best, refusing to be deterred by human frailty and sinfulness.
This is the way of Jesus the Christ, this is the transforming power of love of God.
God, in Jesus Christ, continues to reach out, and reach out and reach out to us. This is Good News, these are glad tidings of great joy!
It’s not all about me
This is the way Jesus offers.
This Way is at its heart not all about “me” it is all about “us”.
One of the things we do with this Christmas story is that we domesticate it.
We individualise it.
It all becomes only about me and my God.
We are each of us uniquely valued by God, beloved of God. Each human person has something to offer to the whole. It is a Way that is based on inter-dependence, and mutuality, - quite simply - we need each other. One of the scriptural images of this great truth is the image St Paul the apostle wrote about when he described our community as being like a human body. Each part needing the other, each part having a unique offering to make to the whole.
We are the body of Christ - God has no hands, feet, eyes, tongues but ours.
But it is more than this; the whole of Jesus’ life speaks from the bottom up.
The leper, the Samaritan, gentile, tax collector, prostitute, women in general, the maimed, the dumb, the blind, the lame and the dead…
Beginning with the simple things
The Gospel of the infant in the stable, the refugee Christ, the baby carried by an unmarried young woman, - the Gospel of this Christ is about God’s overwhelming compassion and concern for those most marginalised in any society.
We have a responsibility for one another and particularly for the most vulnerable members of our community and we must work tirelessly for justice, for peace and for righteousness.
It begins with the simple things...
Like treating each person we meet with the same value, with the same respect, with the same genuine interest – living out the simple truth that every person we meet is beloved of God and must be treated as such.
The kind of community we are called by the gospel of Christ to work for is a community which is based on this mutual respect and inter-dependence. It is a vision of a community in which each person’s worth is measured not by their economic value but by their intrinsic value as a human person made in the image of God.
This simple gospel message would have resonated in this quiet bay with a people who understood already the principles of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga and the radical inclusion that these principles or values represent.
Dramatic disparities here, at home
Of course the tragedy, scandal even, is that so many people do not experience lives of dignity, of safety, of simple happiness and joy.
We live in a nation with abundant natural beauty and resource. We are a people known for innovation, creativity and a “can do” attitude. We are a small nation. We feel as if we all know each other and that we are a part of a diverse, dynamic extended family. We have taken on the world in so many fields and we have excelled.
We value a society in which all can achieve and where all can reach their potential. But we are seeing developments in our society where this is increasingly difficult.
- From the mid -1980s to the mid-2000s, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened faster in New Zealand than in most other developed countries.
- The average household in the top 10 per cent of New Zealand has nine times the income of one in the bottom 10 per cent.
- The top 1 per cent of adults own 16 per cent of the country’s total wealth, while the bottom half put together have just over 5 per cent.
Housing is becoming increasingly inaccessible, not only for the poorest but for middle New Zealand.
Our Church social services are reporting dramatic increases in homelessness, increased demands on food banks and other services. Notably there are increases in the proportion of people on wages who are needing to access this support.
Our incarceration rates and reoffending rates are unconscionably high.
Maori and Pacific island people are disproportionately represented in all these figures.
And dirty politics, too…
We have also seen a growing cynicism in our public life. A shift to engagement in some aspects of this public life where individuals are attacked and demeaned as a way of furthering ideological goals and ambition
Why are such things important for us as Christians? Simply put God’s provision is for all people to have lives that are full, happy and creative. Social, economic and political frameworks are to serve the people, to provide the environment for human flourishing. The health of a community is measured by the experience of the most vulnerable, the most marginal. What we are seeing is that these things are creating a deep chasm in our society. This will undermine our social fabric.
Good news proclaimed
Christian mission is not a form of palliative care. We are called to radical intervention to build societies, communities for human flourishing – because this is God’s intention for human beings.
This is rooted in the simple gospel proclamation that all are loved of God, all have ultimate worth before God and that all are created to flourish.
This was the Good news proclaimed 200 years ago, this is the Good News of Jesus Christ and this is the Good News that we need to take forward into our community, our nation and our world.