Gen 37:1-4, 12-28
1 Kings 19:9-18
1 Kings 19:9-13a
105:1-6, 16-22, 45c
by Rev Dr Paul Reynolds, Anglican Indigenous Network (AIN) Secretary, Acting Dean, Tikanga Māori (Te Ahorangi), St Johns Theological College, New Zealand
The Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33 is a scriptural passage that highlights the power of faith in times of challenge.
Indigenous peoples have walked in times of challenge for a long time – through colonisation, genocide, and then attempts at being ‘civilised.’ For what purpose? To eradicate and extinguish Indigenous existence.
Each year since 1994, The United Nations General Assembly has designated the 9th August as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
“On this day, people from around the world are encouraged to spread the UN’s message on the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples.”
The theme this year for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples focuses on COVID-19 and Indigenous people’s resilience. This resilience comes from many years of teachings and knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation. Integral to this resiliency is Indigenous peoples faith, as well as how they see their place in all of Creation; as having a whakapapa (genealogical) relationship to all of creation, and as kaitiaki (guardian/protector).
The hope with this sermon is to link this resiliency during the time of COVID-19, with the resiliency and fortitude and faith that Indigenous people have always called on in times of challenge.
The Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33 is illustrative of this resiliency, fortitude and faith. I highlight 3 aspects:
- Have faith and do not doubt, even when times are challenging.
- Keep the focus on Christ in all that you do.
- The boat can be symbolic of the church.
Have faith and do not doubt, even when times are challenging
In the midst of crisis and trauma and trouble, we can find God. For Peter, when he steps out of the boat to walk toward Jesus, he steps into the unknown. He focusses on Jesus in faith in his walk out into the stormy sea. Jesus gives him courage, gives him strength, gives him direction as his beacon of light and hope, and his walk is confident and true and faith-filled.
For Indigenous people, the pandemic required some bold and courageous steps in order to protect everyone, especially those living rurally. Some examples from New Zealand included:
- Some iwi (tribal areas) implemented measures to secure their tribal boundaries, and put in place rahui (prohibiting access to a particular area) thereby limiting potential exposure to infection from visitors and non-residents during this period of lockdown. The rahui areas included waterways and bush, and some community facilities.
- Iwi and hapu (sub-tribe) leaders were particularly concerned with protecting the health of kaumatua (elderly) within their communities, and service included delivering packages of food, distributing water to households who have been affected by droughts, and local volunteers also ensuring that medication was collected for kaumatua, as well as offering to pick up shopping and provisions in town for them.
- Local hunting and fishing for traditional food to distribute to the community, and growing own food.
- Use of traditional medicines, healing and prayer.
- Utilising own Maori/Indigenous health and social service agencies to serve local communities.
- The Maori Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand offered a variety of online options for fellowship and worship, including Sunday Eucharist service, daily morning prayer and even song, via livestreaming karakia (prayer) through the facebook pages of the different Amorangi (diocese).
- Gathering of Indigenous Anglicans via zoom meetings of the Anglican Indigenous Network throughout the pandemic to share stories of impacts of COVID-19 on communities, and offer prayer for one another and our communities.
Throughout the pandemic crisis, Indigenous communities have had to come together in faith to care for and love one another. This time for caring for one another and staying local, also allowed the earth to breathe and to rejuvenate itself.
Keep the focus on Christ in all that you do
When Peter became frightened of the strong stormy sea, and took his focus off Jesus, he began to sink. He cried out, “Lord save me.” Jesus held out his hand to Peter, saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt me?” The disciples then knew that Jesus was the Son of God.
Jesus provides us in this scriptural passage an example of his tenderness, his humility, his compassion and love for all where he provides a plan:
- He invites us to follow him, ‘Come unto me within this storm.’ What this can mean is that we have permission to challenge what is not right, to make a new and righteous path, and to show the way of truth and righteousness.
- He says to focus on him, and do not doubt. Do what is right and what is just and what is good. If you keep this focus, then you will be given strength and courage and love to ‘weather the storm.’
- Jesus held out his hand and caught him. Even when we doubt, or trip or fall off the path, he is there to pick us up again.
For Indigenous peoples, there has been a generational focus on what is right and just. Challenging and striving for justice for Indigenous peoples and for all of creation has been a life-long calling.
The most significant striving has been in making space within the Anglican Church for Indigenous voices in areas such as the environment, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the Anglican Consultative Council. In all of these areas within our church Indigenous peoples can make a significant difference.
The focus for Indigenous ministry and mission has always been on our calling to serve the church, the people and our Indigenous communities, all of creation, and God.
The boat as a symbol of the church
A boat is a significant symbol in Christian history. It can symbolise the church. What does the boat in this scriptural passage then say about the church?
- Inside the boat is a place of safety, of salvation, of calm, of community, of faith, with Christ within and outside. However, is the safety of the boat too comfortable? Are we too safe in the boat?
- The boat is navigating a stormy sea. There are challenges of faith, of what is right and good, and questions about the relevancy of faith for people within our contemporary times.
- Like Peter, are there others who are willing to step out of the boat, to challenge the orthodoxy or tradition, and find a new way?
Indigenous Peoples have stepped out into faith to challenge, but also strengthen, the structures of the Anglican Church.
In 1991 the Anglican Indigenous Network was established to bring together Indigenous Anglicans from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and Hawaii.
The Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia established in 1992 a 3-Tikanga church acknowledging and giving authority to Tikanga Pakeha, Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Polynesian people within the church.
In the 2017 The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia approved a motion to establish a 3-Tikanga Climate Change Commissioner.
In 2019 The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada voted to approve steps to enable a self-determining indigenous church within the church.
In light of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, believes we do need to rethink the portrayal of Jesus as white. One headline read, “Was Jesus black or white?”
All of these examples of Indigenous voice are examples of rocking the boat, and stepping outside of the boat, in the Anglican Church.
As Indigenous peoples, we have weathered many storms. We continue to weather the many elements but we are steadfast in our calling to serve God, our people, and all of creation.
Let us pray:
we give thanks to You for the beauty and abundance of the Earth.
May all the peoples of the Earth be blessed with healing,
and may joy embrace sorrow like a friend returning home – that all balance may be restored and peace return to the hearts of all.
Thank you, Creator for hearing our prayer – may we carry your healing peace within us that our love for all that you have made may help us bring healing to all your peoples.
In Christ’s name.
by Rev Dr Paul Reynolds, New Zealand