Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

The Sarah Reeves sermon

Here's the unedited text of the sermon Judge Sarah Reeves preached at Archbishop Philip Richardson's commissioning service in New Plymouth at the weekend.

Sarah Reeves  |  13 May 2013

Sermon for the Service of Recognition and Commissioning of Archbishop Philip Richardson and Collation of Wharehoka Wano as a Lay Canon to the Taranaki Cathedral Chapter

E Te Atua, Te Tamaiti, me te Wairua Tapu, Amine

Firstly I greet my relations, the tangata whenua of this place Te Atiawa and Taranaki iwi. I also greet my Pākeha tupuna, those who came to settle in this place in the early 1840s. I greet Wharehoka and Philip and their families, and I greet all of you gathered here today to witness and celebrate this occasion.

I was 8 when my father became a bishop. As children my sisters and I spent many hours bouncing round in the back of a car subject to the frenzied but God inspired driving of our father, as we roared around the Diocese of Waiapu.

We listened to a lot of his sermons. We came to believe we had cracked his formula; soften them up with a good laugh, hit ‘em with 2 maybe 3 key points wrapped in compelling anecdote and theological insight. Bang!! In and out in 7 minutes.

As an adult I would try and tease him. “Three daughters and not a priest among us, surely that’s a sign of parental failure?” He never rose to the bait, he would just smile and say “God works in mysterious ways.”

When I received Philip’s invitation to speak today, I was in England with my mother and sisters. We spent Easter with Archbishop John and Margaret Sentamu who have close ties with Philip and Belinda, and very fond memories of their time here in 2010. I want to acknowledge and thank them for their support and encouragement as I have prepared for today.

Margaret Thatcher died while we were in England. Her death was immediately followed by a deluge of media comment, debate, and protest, more than 20 years after she left power.  I was struck by the legacy of rancour and division she left behind, surely a result of the confrontational politics and deeply divisive social and economic policies her government pursued.

The institutions of our society; Parliament, the courts and the church have not always delivered justice or hope to Taranaki iwi. War was waged here, Parihaka invaded, men taken and imprisoned without trial many hundreds of miles away, and the land was taken. Māori have lived with the consequences of those events through the generations.

But deep inside those experiences lie the seeds of reconciliation and new beginnings.  And there are some hopeful signs.  

Treaty settlements inch closer.

And for this Cathedral, a significant act of reconciliation with Māori was the recent moving of the military hatchments which previously hung in the body of this cathedral.

Now in an act of faith, Wharehoka a man of Taranaki is stepping forward as a lay canon of this cathedral.

As was said earlier, this new canonry is established in the spirit of Ruatara, Te Ara o te Rongopai, and my father, but also of Tohu and Te Whiti whose words Archdeacon Tiki Raumati repeated to us earlier;  “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill to all mankind.”

Wharehoka, please know that you have the aroha and support of the Reeves whanau on this new journey of yours , just as you and your whanau have given us love and support on our journeys.

There is still much to do here, but there is a sense that Māori and Pākehā in this place are struggling and striving to overcome the legacy of our shared history.  To understand it fully, and to re-negotiate it.

John Chapter 17 tells us we can be victors and not victims of our history. In this this chapter, often referred to as the Prayer of the Overcomer, we are privileged to listen in as God the Son converses with his Father. In John 16:33, Jesus says “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”.  

This morning’s gospel reading from verses 20 to 26 focuses our attention on the future. Jesus prays for us today and for his church. He prays to return to the glory he shared with God his father, and he prays for his disciples whom he will leave in the world.

How does the Church respond in today’s world?

From his prison cell Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German theologian wrote of a “world come of age”, as he tracked the shift in Western civilisation from divine commandments to humanly constructed rules for life. Sigmund Freud went further. Religion and its ultimate symbol God was the unconscious wish of fragile human beings to create a world of meaning.

Religion no longer dominates the social structures that shape our lives. The concept of community is under siege from fiscal management. Our churches are emptying out. Has the church finally become irrelevant?

The key here I believe is that the Church can never be an alternative to society. The Church will always be judged by its involvement with and connection to society. We are not, and cannot be an ark with the anchor out. Creation and redemption must co-exist.

Jesus said “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The world can’t see God but they can see Christians. Some will believe because of our witness – so we must make sure it is real and loving and that we demonstrate God’s love and God’s grace by the quality and unity of our relationships.

Philip, you asked me to reflect on the type of Church I and my children want to be part of in the future.

We want to worship in a community of faith where all are welcome, where we hear the Word of God but are open to what the Spirit is saying. We want our Church to be inclusive, non-judgmental and loving. To stand with those who have the least in society and to speak up for them. We want to be part of a Church where across the three tikanga issues of resource allocation are resolved equitably, and women have equal opportunities for ordination and to assume positions of authority. 

We don’t expect much!

Archbishop Philip has shared his gift of relationship and commitment to the wider community as Bishop of Taranaki. He is a good shepherd of his people. He is also a multi-tasker. He has steered his way through dual episcopacy, and three tikanga. The challenge now is to translate those skills and gifts to the bigger stage.

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith said all great leaders have one characteristic in common. They are willing to confront the major anxiety of their people in their time.

Our Church is painfully and publically grappling with the issue of blessings for same sex couples and ordination of people in same sex relationships.

So, Archbishop Philip, you have your work cut out.

And yet, I can’t help reflecting. For the Church, is this really the defining issue of our time? Will we really tear ourselves apart over this? Surely, this is but a sub-set of building a just and life-giving community for all? Society at large has taken measure and moved on. Why can’t we?

Philip, Belinda, Josh and Clare, I wish you well for this new chapter in your lives. You have our love and support, and our prayers.

The last word to Saint Anthony who lived in the desert of Egypt. He said:

“Our life and our death are with our neighbour. If we win our brother we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.”

Think about that.


Sarah Reeves

11 May 2013