A sermon, Te Pouhere, Sunday, 29 May 2016 – St Albans Balmoral
Readings: John 6: 51-58, Genesis 14: 18-20, 1 Cor 11: 23-26
May my words encourage us to broaden our perspectives and deepen our love for one another . Amen.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’
“This is my body given for you”. These two biblical passages are probably one of the most well known, and most powerful verses in Scripture, and yet so often taken very lightly most of the time because they are so familiar. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’
“This is my body given for you”. Both verses are found today in our lectionary readings. One for the readings for Corpus Christi, which we have just heard, and one for Te Pouhere Sunday which our Church across the province celebrates today.
Jesus speaks of the love that his disciples should have for one another. Jesus also speaks of the love we are to have in him through receiving the blessed sacrament. It is two of the key marks of being Church – love one another and honour and love Christ Jesus. And yet a lot of the time it does not feel that we do this very well. May be things are very different here at St Albans, but the church as a whole – across Dioceses and across provinces - struggle with loving one another let alone celebrating Jesus presence amongst all the people of God, and the world.
So what can we do to ensure that our life together is more about loving one another and celebrating in Jesus life and death and resurrection? I must admit I do not have many of the answers. But what I want to offer you this morning is a reflection on how a church might behave at its best.
As I said earlier today is Te Pouhere Sunday; a day in our Anglican church calendar when we think about the way we live together here in this Province; as we celebrate our life as a Three Tikanga church. It is a day when we celebrate living together as a community, and more particularly as a church representing many peoples of the Pacific, and also acknowledging that at times it is a challenge to get it right; to keep our relationships healthy and life giving; to make the decisions that are right for all. Some of you may be very familiar with the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and others may be politely thinking ‘so what?’, and others of you may NOT be very happy with our Anglican structures at this time after our last General Synod a few weeks ago. Whatever you may be thinking, I want to say to you that there are many things to celebrate and give God thanks for as Christ gathers us, even when our church politics does not make it easy. I guess as Archdeacon, I see the best, and sometimes the worst of the church, but I am still hopeful. Why? Because I know Christ is present with us. That through sharing his body and blood together we are made whole and nourished to keep on keeping on. Christ did not promise that it would be easy, but he did say that he would always be with us.
Now I have often assumed that people know what I am talking about when I speak of our beloved three tikanga church, and yet I am constantly reminded that this is not the case. And you know what people say about people that assume. So I am not going to do that this morning. So please forgive me if you are very familiar with our church structures.
The Anglican church in this province (in these islands) is a partnership between 3 tikanga or strands – tikanga meaning way: Pakeha (the 7 dioceses in New Zealand), Maori, (which is 5 dioceses or hui amorangi) and Pasefika (the diocese of Polynesia), working in partnership. All held together by our Constitution, te Pouhere.
And to illustrate te Pouhere, I found a story for you:
Hinekura loved this time of the year – when men and women from the villages across the water came together for a hui. She loved to sit, as she did today, high on the bank above the shore, watching the great waka coming in. Majestic and strong, the canoe came around the headland from the far end of the bay, gliding purposefully into the shore. Standing at the front of the canoe one of the men threw a thick rope around the hitching post – te pouhere. The rope was tied tightly securing each canoe in place while the men and women came ashore to meet, debate and interact.
Hinekura could remember a time, some years ago when the sky was not blue like it was today, when the sun did not shine as it did this morning. Dark, heavy clouds hung overhead that day as the waka glided across the bay one after the other. Many waka were tied up to te pouhere, the hitching post. As the men and women came ashore, the rain began to fall. Gently at first, then much harder. The wind blew branches off the trees. The waves battered the beach, and the great waka were tossed too and fro. It was the worst storm Hinekura could remember. She was worried as she lay in bed that night. Scared the waka might come loose and be damaged. But when she ran down to the beach the next morning she could see that each of the canoes were still there. Tied firmly to the strong hitching post, the canoes sat side by side on a calm morning sea, bobbing up and down as the waves wandered into the shore.
So Te Pouhere, our church constitution is named after that hitching post to which Hinekura’s waka were tied. The intention of Te Pouhere is that even we when experience stormy days it keeps us together. So today is the day set aside to remember the constitution which ties together The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – Te Pouhere. The new constitution was adopted in 1992. I remember being at that General Synod; a huge step in the life of our church. It sought to establish three cultural pathways, or tikanga, allowing for culturally appropriate worship and leadership in each of three tikanga partners. Tikanga Maori, Tikanga Pakeha, and Tikanga Pacifica. And that is why over the last year Michael, my husband – who is the General Secretary of this three tikanga structure and sometimes Jessica, our daughter, and I have been to Polynesia – not just for the sunshine or to sit on a beach, but to be with our Polynesian sisters and brothers – to meet with them, and to worship with them – celebrating with them in their way. It is such an honour to participate in their worship and to be in partnership with them. And as an aside, in Michael’s job description it says that he is to be the glue of the three tikanga. No pressure there!
While some saw the constitution as a separation or even a form of apartheid, the goal of Te Pouhere was to allow for unity within diversity – honouring our differences but linking ourselves together to the one hitching post – structurally, spiritually and in terms of governance. Why? Because diversity is part of our Anglican DNA; it is who we are. It is what makes our church so awesome, but also so frustrating and infuriating. Diversity is no easy gift to work with. On any issue we always have the extreme views and a whole lot of people in the middle struggling to keep up. It is part of our DNA. But somewhere, amidst the stormy days, as God’s people we find Christ’s presence – sometime in the still small voice of the Spirit, and sometimes in the loud voices of those who are passionate. But where does the difference happen? I think it happens as we share in the blessed sacrament. As we celebrate in Christ’s presence amongst us, no matter what. That is our hope. That is the church’s hope. Even when we feel like we are being teared apart. Christ’s body and blood can bring us together. We watch and we wait and listen.
In a practical sense Te Pouhere is an arrangement quite different from most of the other provinces in the Anglican Communion. We have three archbishops, for example , in a shared primacy that ensures that each of the Tikanga are represented. And unlike other places where a particular geographical territory is within one diocese and one diocese alone, it’s different here. The dioceses of Tikanga Pakeha and the hui amorangi of Tikanga Maori overlap. And here in Auckland there are faith communities, and clergy, that belong with Pasefika.
And all this is actually very ‘Anglican’. The Anglican Communion is a world-wide family of Christians who express their Christian faith in the local circumstances of the nations in which they live. Allowing for local differences is one of the key Anglican principles, one that goes all the way back to the very beginnings of the Anglican church. And so is honouring our history, honouring where we have all come from, and the things that have happened in this land. And of course as we celebrate Corpus Christi this morning, it reminds us too that it is also about sharing the blessed sacrament amongst all people in their own language and in ways that give meaning to Christ’s body in the world.
I think it comes down to our understanding of family or whanau. If you think about your family/your whanau, they are probably not limited to one part of the world. May be your children or parents or brothers or sisters live around the world, but it does not mean that you are not connected. We don’t always see them every day, but we know they are there, and that we all belong together. We know that we are part of something bigger than just us. It’s like that in our three tikanga church. Even if we do not see each other we are still connected, and we continue to think and pray for one another
But what does all this mean for you, here at St Albans? You may be thinking, how does having a constitution like this shape our lives? How does it affect what we do, not only on Sundays, but from Monday to Saturday? Even though many of us live and worship within one tikanga, the Constitution, Te Pouhere provides a model for how we can live. Te Pouhere tells us that diversity is a good thing; it is one of God’s blessings to us. It says there is never only one right way to think, to act, or to worship. It affirms the value of choice, as one’s Tikanga is not fixed by ethnicity, but is something one can choose according to the way you wish to worship, meet and make decisions. Each tikanga does things differently. Te Pouhere cautions against thinking we can live in isolation, associating only with those who are like ourselves. It calls us to share our lives and our resources with one another, and to learn from each other. It reminds us of the importance of partnership, of the joy that can come from working together on a common task. It reminds us that we are bound together by Christ. All these are things that can enrich our lives.
So may we go into this week conscious of being part of something greater than ourselves. As perhaps with me being here today reminds you that you are part of the Auckland Diocese. My role as full time Archdeacon of the Auckland Region involves working with 46 ministry units, so I am at a different place every Sunday. My responsibilities include caring for the clergy, supporting education and training and ministry development, working with some of the hard stuff, and being on the Episcopal team, so contributing to the overall leadership of this Diocese. But most importantly it is about supporting and encouraging your ministry and faith. It is about building up the body of Christ. It is about being in partnership with you - with people in their local context – to do mission and mission together, to worship together; to share in the blessed sacrament together.
So as you work together with each other here may you remember that you are part of something bigger. May we partner God’s ways together and serve God’s purpose in each other. Above all, may we know ourselves to be family, whanau, loving others as Christ loves us. Amen.