13th October 2019
Sermon: Rod Oram
In the name of God the Creator, Christ the Cosmic One, and the Holy Spirit the
Next Saturday (Oct 19th), in our annual cycle of prayers, we will commemorate
Tārore, a 12-year-old Maori girl. Her murder on October 19th, 1836 gave rise to a
profound expression of repentance, forgiveness, and transformation of people and
Her story is told poignantly and beautifully in this book written by Joy Cowley. To
illustrate it Joy chose watercolours painted by Mary Glover Bibby in the 1920s when
she was a Sunday School teacher in Waipawa.
I’ll read the story…then I’ll offer a reflection on its importance in our lives today.
Some history. Tārore’s miniature Gospel of Luke was one of only 100 copies. It was
translated into Maori by missionary Rev William Williams, and printed at Paihia in
the Bay of Islands in 1835. It was the first book to be printed in New Zealand. This
photo is one of those Gospels of Luke, which the Bible Society has in Wellington.
And in our Anglican calendar, next Friday (Oct 18th) is the feast day of St Luke, the
physician, the healer.
As Joy’s story tells us, the Gospel transformed the life of first Tārore and her
whanau…then Uita, the man who murdered her and took her Gospel of Luke…then
his whanau, and iwi…then many others as the little book itself…and stories about it
and from it…travelled through our land.
“The blood of this child became the seed of the Church” – reads the inscription on
her grave at Waharoa, in the shadow of the Kaimais in the Waikato.
The story of Tārore reminds us that our repentance and Christ’s forgiveness bring us
new life in the spirit. I’d like to offer you an additional contemporary example of this
transformative power of God’s love for us.
We live in deeply troubled times…times even more threatening than the time of war
in which Tārore lived.
We humans are massively destructive of all forms of life in our ecosystems — and
increasingly so as our population, appetites and technology soar. We are causing the
climate crisis and other manifestations of our deeply unsustainable lifestyles.
Yet we utterly depend on all those forms of life for all the air, water, food and other
natural resources we have to have for our very lives. All of God’s creation is literally
our life support system.
So, we have to hugely transform the way we do everything…guided by one central
principle: we have to learn to work with nature, with creation…not against it.
But we won’t do enough, until we care enough. And we won’t care enough, until we
rediscover our spiritual relationship with all of God’s creation on her Earth. This is
what we seek and celebrate in this current Season of Creation in our church
To many of us the Bible is almost always about us humans and our relationship with
God. This morning Paul’s epistle to Timothy is just one example.
But what about our relationship with the rest of God’s creation? The more we
exploit, abuse and degrade creation – the more we diminish creation’s ability to
support us – the closer we come to death.
So, in addition to the triune God and us, shouldn’t there be a third character in the
Bible? I believe there is. It is God’s creation, embodied in the Earth itself.
I believe if we read and listen carefully to the Earth’s story in the Bible, we can
deeply improve our spiritual and temporal relationships with it. Then we would care
more for it. Then we would act with far greater conviction to protect it, and thus
Indeed such insights help us with this morning’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah.
The Lord says: “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth…I will create
Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”
Conventionally, we think of that as the perfect city on the hill.
But what if that “new heaven” is an atmosphere purged of pollution and gases
causing the climate crisis? What if the “new earth” is a planet restored to its
abundance of pristine life?
What if God is testing us with these tasks? As Isaiah tell us this morning: “They will
neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.
Similarly, Luke’s Gospel tells us this morning of the great storm which threatens the
disciples aboard a boat. They wake Jesus. He rebukes the wind and the raging
waters…and the storm subsides.
The disciples express astonishment. He replies, “Where is your faith?”
It is our faith in our triune God…creator, redeemer and Holy Spirit…which will restore
our spiritual relationship with God’s creation — which will guide us in helping God’s
planet heal itself.
And where are the Tārores of today?
They are with us in fast growing numbers. From one Just 14 months ago — a 15 year
old Swedish girl on her solitary school strike — to millions of young people who took
to the streets of the world on September 27th to protest about the climate crisis
we’ve caused and we refuse to do anything about.
In New Zealand the protesters that day numbered 170,000 school children and
supportive adults…including a group of 40 of us who walked from Holy Trinity
Cathedral to Aotea Square. We carried the historic Melanesian Cross, which others
have carried at many earlier protests such as at Bastion Point 1977-78 and against
the Springbok Tour in 1981. In Aotea Square, we raised it high to proclaim our faith
and our commitment to care for God’s creation.
We 170,000 nationwide constituted the second largest public protest in NZ history.
We accounted for 3.7% of the national population. That is more than the 3.5%
threshold level at which protests successfully trigger big social and political changes
which transform societies. That’s from a very detailed data analysis of 323 mass
actions in countries around the world from 1900 to 2006 by Professor Erica
Chenoweth of Harvard University.
Quite simply, young people are leading us to better lives. They are the sort of sparks
Katharine Jefferts Schori, then the Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church,
described on All Saints Day 2006 in Washington National Cathedral.
“Let the pain of the world seize us by the throat.
Listen for Jesus calling us all out of
our tombs of despair and apathy.
May the shock of baptismal dying once more set us afire.
This place we call home is meant to be
a new heaven, a new earth, a holy city, a new Jerusalem.
It is the sparks in the stubble that will make it so.”