Living with the Land.

Posted: September 9, 2020 in Uncategorized

Matthew 18: 23-34

Living with the Land.

In recent times we have been repeatedly informed and awakened to the state of the land on a global scale. There have been numerous articles published about the state of the global environment.

In part and in many forms the articles have said: “Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of the earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.  They have gone on to say that the provision of food, fresh water, energy and materials to meet the needs of a growing population has come at considerable cost to the complex system of plants, animals and biological processes that make the planet habitable” 

Such warnings were and are not new. And, they continue to be debated, and challenged by scientist, politician and by nearly every government on earth. They have risked the advent of the tall poppy syndrome, the bury the head response, and the lets get real challenge and they have prevailed. They are now supported by the pandemics ability to travel the globe at an alarming rate despite being challenged by the not as bad as or little worse than brigade. Rationalist and statistician have been empowered. But do we really see and heed the warnings? Or do we dismiss them because we don’t believe the science. Or do they just massage us, washing over us, because we feel too powerless to go beyond simple acts? Do we really have faith in the individual action?

Today we continue our journey into the Season of Creation. The Season of Creation is an addition to the Lectionary. Traditionally the church calendar or Lectionary is shaped around three years. Each year has seven main seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Lent. And the rather long general time, called After Pentecost or Ordinary Time.

Having said that I am aware that not all that many people bother with the lectionary or see it as just the tool of preachers who use it to be careful not to get caught up on pone’s own hoppy horse and end up preaching one’s own bias or prejudice. I want to spend a little time justifying a lectionary approach, both as a helpful discipline and as a concern for a collective liturgy or teaching structure to each week. One could say that a lectionary approach to the global dilemma re environment might be helpful as a way of keeping the debate resourced and the collective responsibility for action alive.

This additional season of Creation to the liturgical year claims some of that After Pentecost time by designating the Sundays in September (the southern hemisphere Spring) as the Season of Creation.

I wonder if the following might help. The main seasons are as said above and including Creation, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Creation and Lent. In thinking about the lectionary approach I have explored the possibility of naming the seasons with a less traditional and more contemporary way. Advent being Looking for the possibility of the new, Christmas being establishing the basis for Cocreation, Epiphany being Awareness of the challenges, Easter being taking Responsibility, Pentecost being Inspiration and the call to be inspiring, Creation being the physical dimension and Lent being the human dimension and Economy.

The year would look like a call to reflect on the seasons of Enlightening, Collaborating, Awakening, Responding, Inspiring, Creating and Distributing.

To add to this is the idea that Each season could have a number of designations as subjects for use such as the four Sundays of Creation being given a theme. This year’s themes are: Forest, Land, Outback and River and in St Andrews case Outback has become Rainbow Sunday.

Today is Land Sunday.  A time to reflect on the land on which we walk, live, grow things,
plough and mine, are usually buried in, and unfortunately, often pollute.

For some time now we in New Zealand have been made aware of a different understanding of land. It is an awareness which comes from the Maori people and it and has been deep religious links with the land. In a very deep and real sense land belongs to the people and the people to the land. One can see the very communal and collective understanding of the relationship with the land and its subsequently very difference from individual ownership of the land.

As an explanation of their myths and historical stories tell us: “The great ancestral creative beings, who journeyed across the great oceans, established the land boundaries between different groups and the sacred and tribal sites.  Carrying out ritual obligations at these sites and performing religious ceremonies are the way by which Maori feel bound to their land and protective towards it. Like the Aboriginal people of Australia Maori people do not live on the land. They live with the land. They are bound to it by spiritual as well as practical links. The Whare Nui (The big or main home)is the place of the tribal relationship with the land the tribal womb, the place of the Tangata Whenua (created people) and the Marae is the place when the relationship is cherished, taught, heard and maintained by rituals that reflect the culture of the tribe and its relationship with the land.

And we also know that behind the so-called Maori wars the policy of terra nullius, or ‘empty land belonging to no one’, was in effect and precipitated the Treaties that were an attempt to marry the two essentially different understandings of ownership and collective responsibility that existed.

There is still much we should know and do and work towards. justice, fairness and equality of people in New Zealand as more and more people are disenfranchised by prevailing attitudes and the exercise of power. Value systems that are based on exchange value and the maximization of individual profit need to be debated, Politics caught up in the partisan at all costs dilemma and the equality verses equity discussion is vital in the interests of harmony cooperation and collaboration in a rapidly contracting social era. The fluctuations in the housing debate mirror those of that – governments and people – have over ownership of land’ and our history of state verses private.

On a Sunday when the theme is ‘Land’ thoughts on reconciliation between peoples need to be pondered some more, and continuing dialogue and such things as truth and reconciliation and compensation, encouraged recognizing that the presenting issues are reflections of a deeper understanding.

Perhaps there is an echo of all this in Matthew’s Lectionary story we heard this morning In the difficult story/parable of the ‘Unforgiving slave’. But we will not hear this echo if we spiritualise it, or fail to hear it as a story about power! Rex Hunt’s reflection on this text  suggests that the ‘slave’ or high-ranking bureaucrat has power over other subordinates. He is responsible for collecting tribute from them, as they are from others. And he has done this very well, using calculating and cunning tactics.

Like-wise the bureaucrat’s ‘ruler’ or master, in a pure display of unfettered power, threatens to totally destroy him because he has overreached himself and can’t pay what is immediately due the master. This scenario is then played out a second time. But between the bureaucrat and one of his subordinates.

Having been shamed before the master he must gain some prestige by exerting power over a subordinate. That’s our story. There are several ‘twists’ or surprises in this story. The first ‘twist’ comes when the master, in quite an extraordinary act for any agrarian ruler,
waves a debt of unimaginable proportions.

A second ‘twist’ comes when the bureaucrat, in a similar situation, does not act as his master does and therefore brings shame on his master who now must act to save face. For all the strength shown in the master’s earlier decision, the ‘system’ which supports all of them, is unable to show mercy. So, the ‘system’, says the parable, is not the place to look for a hopeful solution. Which I guess, is a different interpretation than that usually offered this parable!

However, another ‘twist’ reflected in the story is the storyteller himself and the story’s openness.  Loyal Rue, professor of philosophy and religion at Luther College, Iowa, in his book Religion is not about God, suggests that religion is not about God but about us.

He argues that successful religions are narrative or myth traditions that influence human nature so we might think, feel, and act in ways that are good for us, both individually and collectively.

Rue writes: “Religious traditions work like the bow of a violin, playing upon the strings of human nature to produce harmonious relations between individuals and their social and physical environments.  Religions have always been about this business of adaptation, and they will always remain so” (Rue 2006:1).or

In this day and age when religion is not considered as a helpful approach one has to ask where this work be done now? But back to our story and we don’t find it much different. The third ‘twist’ is the storyteller doesn’t invite the hearer (then or now) to take sides.  To blame someone. Instead that storyteller seems to have Jesus drawing his hearers (and us?) into wrestling with the larger social and economic inequalities that embrace us all.

We may be willing to ‘bash’ the Banks and business for their aggressive push for profits. But are we also able to recognise how we so often live off the poverty of ‘sweatshops’ and cheap labour?

Here is I think the reminder that we are to act in ways that are good for us both individually and collectively. So, maybe we just need to ponder this story a bit more.

Most oppressed or disadvantaged people feel the ‘system’ does not fill them with hope in the matter of ‘land rights’. Eve after extensive and often divisive legislation change in New Zealand communities and some individuals have had neither the resources nor access to the judicial process, to assert their claims in the courts. I personally found this in a claim for natural justice within the church recently when then church system and its legislation failed and the high court system was caught up in protecting law as opposed to providing justice.

Because, as we heard echoed in Matthew’s story, justice questions come from below, not from above. They are raised by communities and individuals who do not have
social power or a voice within the social system.

If the matter of ‘land’ is to be resolved it seems clear that solutions will not come from a legal decision, but from a political one, initiated by the people and collectively.

I can remember when saying ‘Sorry’ was certainly the hardest word of all to say for many who were reluctant to agree to the moving of their  perceptions of power – both political and economic. I remember the changes in the churches, where one addressed the justice issues by distributing the power over resources on an ethnic basis, another gave power of veto to a minority and another establish a committee with autonomy within the conciliar system. All differing ways of maintaining primary power in the dominant system.

But fortunately for the church these approaches to justice were made so as to reflect as best as was able that grace is the only basis for reconciliation as we saw and experienced a helpful response. It is only dad that due to the significant decline of the church concern for survival dominates issues of justice.

Justice, honesty and genuine reconciliation is the result when we have respect and honour for one another and for the land. Amen.

Gondarra, D. 1988.  Father, You Gave Us The Dreaming. Darwin: Published privately.
Hill, M. 1993. Australian Aboriginal Culture. Canberra: AGPS.
Rue, L. 2005.  Religion Is Not About God. How Spiritual Traditions Nurture our Biological Nature. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

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