Covenants of love

People of this Place  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  29:08
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Harakeke whetū

Looking for Matariki craft
found the harakeke whetū - flax stars
four woven strands
can’t see where one begins and the other ends
struck me that this is an image of covenant
What is a covenant?
promise or blessing that shapes a relationship
A contract is transactional - give to get
a covenant is relational - give as a blessing to one another
Covenants throughout scripture - Genesis to Revelation
with the harakeke whetū the strands are intertwined - each one shaped the other, and is in turn given a new shape
As I was talking about this with Luke last week, I realised that the strands of the harakeke whetū are like the strands of God’s covenants with Israel, with humanity, with all of creation.
Some strands reach up towards God
Some strands reach deep to the heart of creation, to the land, to whenua
Some strands reach towards us
Some strands reach towards others
Together, we’re woven into something new

People of covenant / tangata tiriti

Last week I reflected on our calling to this land - whatever our whakapapa, whatever our family history, or our life story, all of us have one thing in common - the desire to call this land of Aotearoa “home”.
Last week we were left with the challenge to reflect the blessings and promises of God in our own lives.
This week we are exploring what it means to be people of this land, and also people of God’s covenant. How is that refelcted in our lives? How can we work this out?
As we know, our nation’s founding document is te Tiriti o Waitangi - a covenant forged between the British crown and tangata whenua.
As pakeha New Zealanders, we often feel nervous, uncertain, anxious about te tiriti.
I wonder if that’s because we worry about losing our identity?
After all, we not British citizens, we’re New Zealanders. We’re not tangata whenua, we’re pakeha. Is there any room in te tiriti for us?
A few years ago, when I was on the Boar of Trustees at my kids’ school, an ERO review challenged us to integrate te Ao Maori and treaty principles more deeply into our school’s cuuriculum.
We had some soul-searching to do as a board. Some asked “If we don’t have Maori families in the school, why should we have to have Maori language and culture in our kids’ education?” (It turns out, there were more Maori families in the school than we imagined).
For me, it made me wonder, “Who am I?” My family, on all sides, have been in Aotearoa for generations. There is nowhere else I can call home. As I reflected on this, I realised that although I may not be Maori myself, Maori culture is a unique part of my identity. No matter where I go in the world, I will always be from Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud.
My identity is woven together with this whenua, woven together with tangata whenua. Like the harakeke whetu. Like a covenant.
That’s my story. Yours might be different. You might come to different conclusions than I do.
I wonder though, if you looked back over your own story, if you examine your own ties to this land, I wonder if you too might realise that Maori culture has some significance in your own life too. Are you ever more proud to be a New Zealander than when the All Blacks perform a haka? How much does the courage and mana of the Maori Battalion shape the ANZAC spirit and our national identity? Perhaps the peaceful protest of Parihaka resonates with you. Do you have a connection to this corner of God’s creation that goes deeper than enjoying the scenery? Does the word “aroha” help to shape how you understand love?

Faithfulness and Unfaithfulness

Last week I made a distinction between God’s promises and our promises. God’s Word is trustworthy, faithful and true. We may aspire to that faithfulness, but so often we fall short. Human promises are always subject to brokenness as well as faithfulness.
The same is rtrue of our covenants with one another.
As much as we seek to weave our lives togetehr in faithfulness and love, there are things that come in the way of those covenants being fulfilled.
This is true in our personal lives, and it’s also true in the life of our nation.
Most of us know that a good deal of friction around te Tiriti comes from how the treaty pratners have interpreted its words over time.
We often hear what came after the treaty, but I wonder how much we know about how it was formed?
I’m no expert in this, but at our Presbytery Gathering in Kaikoura earlier this year I heard more of the story than I have heard before.
These are very broad brush strokes, but British foreign policy in the nineteenth century was shaped by two important movements.
Who ehre has heard of the Clapham sect? William Wilberforce?
Ended slavery, shaped a foreign policy that sought to treat indigineous peoples with dignity and respect.
Environment within which te tiriti was drafted.
Around this time there was a sea change in British Foreign policy. Went from the liberalism of the Clapham sect to a much more aggressive, imperialistic stance. “Make Britan Great Again”, if you will.
Colonial leadership was replaced, and very soon te Triiti was being breached, even totally disregarded.
the covenant was in tatters.
Tangata whenau, betrayed.
But did you know that it was not only tangata whenua that was betrayed, but also the trust of the church?
Translated into Maori by a Christian Missionary, Henry Williams and his son Edward. His trust with Maori rangatira was hugely influential on the treaty being signed. In betraying the treaty, the British crown destroyed the trust of Christianity and the church that missionaries had spent generations establishing. This is a stumbling block for the Gospel among Maori to this day.
At the time te tiriti was signed, Maori had higher rates of literacy, and faith commitment than pakeha. Within a generation, both of those hopeful signs had been destroyed.

Where is God in this?

Today’s reading is the final declaration of God’s covenant promises in scripture.
It speaks of a day of ultimate fulfilment of the covenant promise. I will be your God, you will be my people. I will dwell among you. There will be no more crying, or mourning or pain.
That’s a day that we can only dream of.
But it’s a promise that God’s faithfulness will hold true.
I said earlier that the difference between God’s covenants and human covenants is God’s faithfulness.
Throughout scripute God’s covenant priomise is repeated over and over again. Not because everything was going swimmingly, but because, again and again, God’s people fall short of their covenant commitments.
Sound familiar?
The Good News is this: Even when we are unfaiothful to God’s covenant, God’s promises remain trustworthy and true.
From the time of Abraham, God has renewed the covenant with Israel again and again.
In the coming of Jesus, God placed an everlasting seal on that covenant by choosing to live as one of us, as a member of creation, as a person of this place. In Jesus, God’s renewed covenant is extended to all of humanity, all of creation. To all lands and to all peoples, not only one people in one place.
We are heirs of this promise.
We are called to faithfulness - not only to God, but to one another, to creation itself, to this whenua that we call home.
We are still figuring out what it means to be woven together as people of Aotearoa New Zealand, as tangata tiriti. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong. But when we pursue faithfulness to one another, then we are pursuing the heart of the Creator Himself.
So, as we move into the season of Matariki, as we explore what it means to celebrate this season faithfully as people of this place, faithfully as followers of Christ, I would encourage you to notice how it is that we are woven together, and, like the harakere whetū, allow yourself to be woven into something new.
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