SERMON PREACHED AT St PAUL’S CATHEDRAL, DUNEDIN
22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
ORDINARY SUNDAY 21 (September 1st) 2019
1 Corinthians 3:11-14
May I begin to say I am slightly embarrassed to find myself preaching on this Sunday on which we observe the “Builders of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa.” When Ondine rang me to ask which readings I wanted I was caught on the hop: I have made it my practice for thirty years to emphasize the more “global” routines of shared readings, rather than more localised observations. I have promised however to be a good boy and stick with what I suspect was the , preferred option of your Acting Dean, who happens also to be our bishop and my “boss.”
Forgive me though if I focus on just one conglomerate of builders. Forgive me, too, if I speak of something of which you probably know far more than I do. For I suspect most if not all of you will know the story of Tārore.
Twelve-year-old Tārore was murdered in the Kaimai Ranges on October 18th – St Luke’s Day, coincidentally – in 1836. She was killed in an iwi’s revenge raid, killed by Paora te Uita, her body ritually mutilated before it was reurned to her pacifist and grief-stricken father, Wiremu Ngākuku. She was carrying in a kete, strung around her neck, a rare te Reo edition of the Gospel According to St Luke.
The story is long, and I don’t want to go into all the details, but as many of you know this small book transformed the life of Tārore’s killer. Te Uita asked a missionary, Ripahau, to explain the small book’s strange narrative. Shocked by the message that we som comfortably digest Sunday by Sunday, Paora Te Uita came to faith, sought forgiveness and reconciliation from God and from Tārore’s father, and providentially the book made its way to Otaki, to Ripahau again. The small te Reo volume went on to accompany Ripahau on his mission to evangelise the iwi of te Wai Pounamu, the mainland.
The bible, and portions of it, are not as sometimes is suggested, some sort of talisman by which to ward off evil. Miraculous tales do exist of men and women saved from bullet or blade by a bible in their pocket, and I have no cause to doubt them. That though is not the significance of the bible in human history or in Tārore’s tale. Tārore’s life, after all, was cruelly ended in mid-childhood, a tragedy in any century.
The impact of the small book in her kete was through engagement with the text: Paora te Uita beseeched Ripahau to unlock the narrative for him. We could do worse ourselves: two thousand years of Christendom and a couple of hundred years of post-Enlightenment arrogance have often all but closed western, global north hearts to the remarkable witness of the New Testament writers.
That was true in Tārore’s time. I am strongly committed to the use of te Reo in liturgy, as strongly committed as a Johnny Come-Lately can be to respect for and empowerment of tikanga Māori in equal partnership in the mission and resources of contemporary Anglican Christianity. I am committed because slowly I have learned it is that it was Māori like Ripahau and Wiremu Ngākuku who saw the difference between Europeanization, paternalistic imposition of a foreign culture, and the embrace of radical Christ-centred good news transcending hatred and death.
As it happens, as I came to know the tragic history of colonial contact across the Tasman I saw the same pattern there. As Europeanised Christians we need constantly to ascertain whether we are celebrating a false gospel, even in the twenty-first century, of European superiority, or the radical, manaakitanga of the God of the Cross. We are called to proclaim that broken God who came to be so well understood by Māori and Australian Indigenous alike.
I only partly digress. Convinced by the urgency of the message of the Cross – albeit sometimes badly warped by layers of European additions – Māori seized the message of Christ, fanned the fires, and spread Good News across the Islands of Aotearoa. From Otaki, te Rauparaha the younger used the terrifying mana of his father to spread with Ripahau an urgent new message of hope amongst the southern Iwi. The engagement with the scriptures that had converted Paora te Uita, led the murderer to seek the forgiveness of his victim’s father, breaking cycles of negative utu that threatened to tear a race apart. The scriptures fell into te Uita’s hands not through any merit of his, indeed through the opposite, but because a vulnerable child so loved the message they contain, the message that St Paul calls the message of the Cross, that she carried it with her in her futile flight to longed-for safety. The scriptures were not a magic talisman, but then and potentially now are the key to liberation of an oppressed people, reconciliation between bitterly opposed forces, hope beyond sight for all who suffer loss, grief, and even the universal curse of mortality.
As we celebrate, despite my “worser” judgement, the “Builders of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa,” we could do worse that reflect on the love a small girl had for the Lord who she met in the Gospel according to St Luke, a love so strong that it transcended her brutal murder, and slowly transformed cultures of hatred into cultures of reconciliation and hope. We might ask that we too find such love for the risen Christ that our lives and deaths point only to him.
May God help us so to do.