Te Pouhere Sunday Isaiah 42: 10-21, 2 Corinthians 5: 14-19, John 15: 9-17
A fortnight ago we celebrated Pentecost when the church came to being among the believers through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Last Sunday we celebrated the revelation of God as Trinity: one God in three persons. In the Book of Genesis we hear the intention of God to make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and so on. This helps us to understand that ‘image and likeness’ has much more to do with persons in community than standalone human beings which leads us even more towards a vision of the Church. Last Thursday we celebrated Corpus Christi and gave thanks for the gift of Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist. This gives the church, the Spirit inspired assembly of the baptised, its sacrament of unity.
A sacrament has an outer form, which points to an inner essence. The celebration of the Eucharist has been called the Sacrament of the Church. This means that in the celebration of the liturgy of the Eucharist the deepest reality of the Church is to be found. Each week and each day we celebrate this here so that we can constantly be presented with all we are called to be as Church 24/7. Each time we come back to the Eucharist we make our general confession realising our failure to fully be the Church.
We can also say that the Church is a sacrament of the Kingdom of God. This means that all that God desires for the world is can be found in essence in the Church. The Church is not the Kingdom of God, any more than the outer forms of bread and wine are actually the flesh and blood of Christ or our celebration of the Eucharist is actually the heavenly banquet: it is but a foretaste. Yet we are drawn into those realities through the Holy Spirit who transforms our offerings of praise and thanksgiving, imperfect as they are, into acceptable ones.
The mission of God for the Church it is to extend the kingdom. Our part is to celebrate with as much reverence as we can muster the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and to allow it to transform us into a Church which is an authentic sacrament of the Kingdom. It is, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, the love of Christ which urges us on. We are so often, as Isaiah observes, deaf and blind to the things of God. This is why God has magnified his teaching and turned up the volume through the love of Christ. Those who are in Christ are to be a new creation. We are given the ministry of reconciliation which is the pathway from the old to the new. This is the heart of our work. In our own life as church this needs to be obvious if we are to be a believable sacrament of the Kingdom of God.
The Anglican Communion is well placed to be a sacrament of the kingdom internationally. We are neither a centrally operated hierarchy, nor are we simply a collection of churches who share a name and a history. We contain within ourselves great differences in culture, history, ethnicity and theology. These things give rise to tensions among us, which is why we pray every day for the Archbishop of Canterbury and our communion. These tensions and even divisions are not a sign of failure. They are a sign of life; they are a sign that we matter to each other; they are a sign of communion: they are a sign of our need for God. The world is full of tensions and divisions that lead to separation, alienation, war, starvation and death. The Anglican Communion is a sacrament that points to life in all its fullness, indeed a new creation. This is what it means to be a sacrament of the kingdom.
In Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia we have developed a way of ordering our life called Te Pouhere. In 1857 the Church of the Province of New Zealand agreed a constitution, which at the time was world leading. The Church of England, in England is what we call an ‘established church’. This means it was, and still is, the official church in England. This was not to be in New Zealand. Our constitution was formed on the basis of ‘voluntary compact’ which means that people join it voluntarily and it has no official standing in the state. One implication of this is that the assets of the church were contributed by its members, predominantly the laity. This constitution pioneered the practice of the laity and clergy sharing responsibility and authority in the church. This happens at all levels including the parish and is reflected as we commission the Wardens and Vestry today.
The revision of our constitution in 1992 recognised that since colonisation New Zealand had in effect two Anglican Churches: A missionary church among Maori and a settler church transplanted by the colonists. As with many things the Maori part became overrun by the settler part. Their dignity as tangata whenua was not honoured in the church or in the nation as a whole.
Anglican missionaries had been instrumental in the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. In the 1990’s General Synod realised that our church had a special responsibility and opportunity not only to talk about justice but to make it manifest in the life and structures of this Church. Our province also contained South Pacific islands who wanted to remain part of it, so the third tikanga, Pasifika was formed to complete the three tikanga. All this is most clearly seen at General Synod. I have attended this four times and seen a marked growth in the way these relationships are conducted. This revision of our constitution has been costly to us, yet it is a significant sign of reconciliation and peace. We have played out part in developing a new set of relationships and expectations between Maori and Pakeha in this country for which I give thanks.
Te Pouhere means a pole to tie waka up. The pole is Christ, and the three tikanga are waka so tied. The time is coming when we have to look for another image that keeps us tied to Christ and each other, but recognises that waka are meant for sailing not for tying up.
To be a convincing sacrament of the kingdom this church must now tackle issues such as child poverty and abuse, homelessness, climate change and so on with the kind of energy we have until now reserved for grappling with issues which challenge our unity.