Tuesday, June 5, 2018

No other church celebrates this

Te Pouhere Sunday 2018

No other Church in the world celebrates this Sunday!

It feels strange that, just after Trinity Sunday, we celebrate a Sunday that is unique to our New Zealand Church.  In just about everything else we connect with the international church through the readings that we follow with the Revised Common Lectionary - but not today.   

Today we celebrate the amendment to the constitution of our church – a constitution first agreed in 1857 to form an autonomous province, but revised in 1992 to have three partners in the one church who will order their affairs within their own cultural context.  

People have argued about Te Pouhere Sunday, this day that celebrates the constitution of our Church – at the heart of the arguments against it are that this is inward looking; it doesn’t celebrate anything critical to the faith and it cuts us off from the wider church; perhaps even more insidious is the argument that it entrenches diversity and discourages unity.

But my questions are where does faith start?  Where does theology start?  The two questions are effectively the same.

The answer is obvious – faith and theology issue from the same matrix – from where we are; from the local, the specific, the particular; they are not formed as abstracts, or rarefied concepts, but are drawn from our flesh, our world, our context, our matter.

For all of humanity it is certain that our contexts, circumstances and fortunes will vary but what we all share is our bare humanity, our flesh and our knowledge that we are finite, vulnerable and must die.  This is the universal fact of our humanity.  

To be human is to have this knowledge and to try to understand it and even embrace it in the faith that this all has some meaning – and that we can trust it.  This is the primary reality that spans and encompasses all humankind, and which seems somewhat at odds with the particular cultural peculiarity of Te Pouhere Sundsay.  We are all caught up in our humanity: all caught up on how to live and what it means.  In this sense faith is a verb, not an option but something that is the very essence of what it means to be human.  

"Our feet are of clay while we contemplate the stars; we are caught between time and eternity; between the finite and the infinite; between quarks and quasars – and we can contemplate both.  In that sense it could be said that we are an example of the universe become self-conscious. "

We are caught up in the processes of creation and something new is being formed – or, as Paul sees it, ‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’

In this universal predicament of our humanity is our underlying unity.

Now, I want to explore another way of looking at it.

The case for Te Pouhere Sunday, is that it creates space and opportunity for us to acknowledge the Babel of humanity; it acknowledges the energy and extraordinary variety, the differences, the diverse ways of being through which language, culture and place have formed the distinctive peoples of our Three Tikanga.   In a world where forms of cultural difference are often the excuse for discrimination, persecution and violence, it is a good thing that we embed such differences within the unity of our church; show that this can be done and that this can be a source of energy and strength.

The tag that has been used for this is ‘unity in diversity’ – and a very Anglican notion that is – it could have been used for the reformation in England as a program to form the English Church; but it was Cranmer’s brilliance in the Book of Common Prayer that managed to hold diverse doctrinal options within the Church.  Something similar might be claimed on behalf of the New Zealand Prayer Book: namely that it provides liturgical forms that include Pakeha, Maori and Polynesia – and that in this liturgical unity our cultural diversity is celebrated.  Except that because we have a Prayer Book does not mean that we have (or want) liturgical unity – and the diversity of practices within Tikanga, dioceses, and parishes may demonstrate divergent tendencies rather than a convergent or integrating vision.

Nonetheless within this Three Tikanga church the moments of awkwardness and uncertainty are eased and refreshed at General Synod and diverse other occasions when the three parties meet and talk; share bread and wine in Eucharist; and come to know each other.  

Relationships are formed – and look – there is a new creation!  Here also is where faith starts from.

The collect for this day epitomizes the spirit of Te Pouhere Sunday for Tikanga Pakeha – it locates the settler spirit  in the southern sea and these islands, it yearns for a deeper belonging, a deeper sharing in a  cosmic purpose, led by Christ, nicely imaged as our ‘dolphin guide’. 

“God of the southern sea and of these islands, God of Norfolk Pine and Lofty Totara, God of spindle and sail, You brought us to this land of plenty and bound us here in sacred trust. Make us worthy of our covenant with You: Create in us a deeper belonging by Your grace, That we may partner Your ways together And serve Your purpose in each other. In the name of Christ our dolphin guide. Amen.“

A new creation indeed.

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