In 2016 The Baptist Union set 5 strategic priorities focusing on the word Grace.  The first we discussed last week with the heading “Discern”.

Today we tackle another, with the title “Share”

It says: We will celebrate and develop our bi-cultural partnership and ethnic diversity, valuing that we are made in the image of God

It is fitting to discuss this so close to the day celebrating the birth of our bicultural nation, even though it has become an object of division in some quarters over the injustices perpetrated since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Today we talk of our bicultural identity as New Zealand Christians.

I am reminded of a quote from Chief Judge Eddie Durie in 1989: “We Maori must not forget that the treaty is not just a Bill of Rights for Maori. It is a Bill of Rights for Pakeha too… We must remember that if we are the tangata whenua, the original people, then the Pakeha are the tangata tiriti, those who belong to the land by right of that Treaty.” [1]

 

For better or for worse, Treaty principles of partnership, protection, and participation provide a blueprint that shapes the conduct and mutual expectations of Maori and Pakeha. [2]

 

We can argue about which version of the Treaty is right and what the understanding that the hearers of the various words and concepts used in that Treaty had but it comes down to the fact that we have a nation built not upon conquest but a nation built on an agreement between two peoples.

We have to ask ourselves as Christians: “what does living in this bicultural society mean for us as followers of Jesus?”

We the people of God in Aotearoa New Zealand need to reclaim the treaty as part of our story. We need to understand the historical injustices of the past and we need to find ways of expressing the values of the treaty in our life together into the future.[3]

In the past Pakeha have expected Maori to become brown Pakeha in thought and actions – it is called assimilation.  But we are not called to be the same, think the same or act the same, we are to celebrate our difference.

 

Let us dwell a moment on another division between cultures, one that existed in New Testament times – the division between Jew and Gentile. 

There were strict rules in Judaism about associating with Gentiles concerning even basic things like eating together yet a new paradigm came into being with Christianity.

We remember the vision that Peter had prior to the visit to the Roman centurion.

Acts 10:10

He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. ”  It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”  “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that G-d has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate.  They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”

Here explicitly God breaks down the barriers between Jew and Gentile, between the races..

Recall also the Council of Jerusalem which decided this issue of whether Gentile needed to become Jews in their practices, including circumcision, and their response.  James the head of the Council made the following ruling: (Acts 15:19-20)

19 Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.

He was saying that Gentiles can remain Gentile and Jew remain Jew under the covering of Christ as King.

To make this relevant to today’s discussion: Maori can remain Maori, Pakeha can remain Pakeha but both under the covering of Christ our king.

Rather than the Gentile having to become a non-Jewish Jew in customs, practices and behaviors, Paul could write in Ephesians 2:14-22

14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;  for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,  built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;  in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

In 2009 Baptist Maori Ministries, now called Manatu Iriiri Maori made a statement at their Whakawhanui Kaiarahi hui:

“the church has said [in the past], believe first and behavior has to change then you can belong. [But] God accepts people in their cultural identity, before a notion of going to a church or becoming a Christian.”

If we look at the book of Revelation 7:9, we see that culture rather than disappearing on becoming a follower of Jesus, actually remains for eternity:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

There is no longer any hierarchy of who is in and who is out because of class or status or race in Christianity.

 In Galatians 3:26-28

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

There is no hierarchy but neither is there a call that we should all be cookie cutter replicas of each other.

Romans 12:4

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us

Now if all these Scriptures are true – and they are - then what does it mean to be a follower of Christ in New Zealand in this 21st century?

Way back in 1982 a NZ author Michael Shirres wrote that we should be looking for a specific vision for New Zealand based on our shared faith[4]

And 20 years later another NZ writer Neil Darragh challenged us to adapt ourselves to the specifically NZ cultures.[5]

What can we do to embrace Maori and Pakeha ways of celebrating God and his Kingdom here at Eastside, to honour both cultures?

Ephesians 2:19

Na reira ehara koutou I te tangata ke, I te manene ranei; engari he tangata whenua koutou tahi ko te hanga tapu, no te whare hoki o te Atua

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God

What does being a follower of Jesus look like for Maori believers? Is there a particular flavour? I am sure that there is, but what is it?

What does it look like for Samoan or Chinese believers? 

What do expressions of Christianity look like through the various cultural lenses?

I recall the hoo haa over the archway gate of the Church of Christ down the road, because it looked like the archway into a marae. None of the complainers had looked to see the Christian motifs carved into the posts.

I loved Bro Towns depiction of God – a Polynesian man with tatts.

I loved novel “the Shack” depiction of God as a kindly black woman.

Are they wrong or is it just not our cultural norm that is offended?

We have already debunked the idea that Jesus was white with a Roman nose and watery blue eyes. It seems the depictions of the long flowing hair is probably wrong too. And more importantly, does it matter?

I think it is wonderful that we can express the colorfulness of God’s creation of humanity through our culture, and we can embrace other expressions away from our own.

It’s worth thinking about why we think what we think and consider how others see the same thing differently. Remember the blind men and the elephant?

It is fitting that today we have communion together. It is fitting that we come as one people to take the bread and juice symbolizing the body and blood of Jesus because we are one in him.

 

 

 



[1] Mark Grace “Treaty of Waitangi grew from the gospel” in NZ Baptist Mar 2010, 14

[2] Augie Fleras & Paul Spoonley Recalling Aotearoa: indigenous politics and ethnic relations in NZ  6

 

[3] Grace ibid

[4] John Ker & Kevin Sharpe (eds) Toward an Authentic New Zealand Theology 3

 

[5] John Stenhouse (ed) The Future of Christianity 214