Waitangi Day Sermon for Eco-Church (Sunday 6 February 2022)

preached at St Paul’s Hills Road, Cambridge

Watch this online https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1288961155?t=0h37m15s



Let us pray.

Dear God, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

When I was invited to preach here this Sunday, I realized that it would be Waitangi Day back home in New Zealand. This public holiday commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in Waitangi, New Zealand on 6 February 1840 between representatives of her Majesty, Queen Victoria, and numerous Maori chiefs.

It is a Treaty that remains controversial due to it having radically different interpretations. Did the Treaty intend to prevent, slow, or permit the colonization of New Zealand? Did the parties to the Treaty understand what they were doing? Were the intentions of the parties stated honestly at the time? And since then, to what extent has the Treaty been breached by the Crown and successive governments? Without agreement on how such questions are answered, the Treaty, will, I suspect, remain controversial for many years to come.

A part of the Treaty protects the taonga or treasures of the Maori people including their culture. This includes the environment and their way of life dependent on the resources of the land. Nevertheless, colonization transformed the ecology and the lives of the indigenous Maori people, who suffered population loss through disease and war, and land loss through the government seizing their land, pushing many of the remaining Maori people far from their ancestral lands into cities.

New Zealand is a settler colony. My ancestors traveled to New Zealand from Scotland and England seeking a better life in New Zealand. With other settlers they transformed the forested landscape into what they thought was more productive land use – pasture for the production of wool and protein products for Great Britain. That was New Zealand’s role in the British Empire, and then Commonwealth, until Britain entered the Common Market in the 1970s.

A major but often forgotten factor in the colonization of New Zealand was ecological colonization; the turning of New Zealand landscape into a new British landscape. In many ways, the settlers wished to make this antipodean land look and feel and smell like ‘home’. Yet, the Treaty of Waitangi was supposed to protect Maori from this devastation of their way of life and the dispossession of their lands.

From one perspective, the history of New Zealand can read like Deuteronomy 7 – go to the promised land and occupy it driving the people out.

To this day, there are New Zealanders who wish that their ancestors had taken the advice of Deuteronomy 7:2 “Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.” For settlers, the Treaty of Waitangi stands in the way of progress based on the completion of the settler colonial agenda of white supremacist domination of both land and people.

For many Maori, the Treaty is a sacred covenant. This view is based on the fact that it was Anglican and Methodist missionaries who translated the Treaty of Waitangi into the Maori language. It was missionaries and their recent Maori converts who convinced the Maori to sign this Treaty with Queen Victoria, Supreme Governor of the Church of England. For these reasons and more, Maori believed that the Treaty is a sacred covenant.

The Treaty is still viewed in this way, and is interpreted to provide a way of protecting their land and environment, restoring their dignity, and being able to practice their culture. Yet, almost since it was signed, the Treaty was dishonored by the successive governments, leaving Maori in a position as if there had been no covenant at all.

What has been the outcome of settler colonization for the ecology of New Zealand? Quite simply, the quest to reproduce England in the antipodes has been an ecological disaster. Take, for instance, the introduction of hedgehogs into New Zealand. Last year The Guardian reported on a study from New Zealand on how the hedgehog, far from being the lovable Mrs Tiggy Winkle of Beatrix Potter’s tales, was a killing machine.

Hedgehogs were introduced into New Zealand to remind settlers of the gardens of home and to “contribute to the pleasure and profit of the inhabitants”. But with no predator, the hedgehog thrived and there are now more hedgehogs in New Zealand than in Britain. Little known is how destructive hedgehogs are to native wildlife, eating the eggs of endangered birds, lizards, and insects.

This is just one example of the ecological imperialism of settlers in New Zealand. While this might seem distant from Cambridge in time and space, there are lessons here for all of us.

Our ecological crisis is largely the result of human activity that seeks to remake the world for the pleasure and profit of its inhabitants. This was not something only done to colonized lands, this approach to the altering of landscapes is a part of human history. With industrialization and a larger population, we have taken this to a new level. And we should not deceive ourselves that things done for our “pleasure and profit” will be beneficial to other human or creatures, based as it is on our distorted desires.

In light of this, our Hosea reading provides a theme that needs much greater emphasis today: the land suffers because of human sinfulness. The land mourns and the creatures languish or even perish.

Our climate crises and the current mass extinction events are testimony that something is very wrong in our world. Interpreted through such prophetic texts we can only conclude that human wickedness is to blame for the state of our environment.

Ours are not straightforward ecological sins, such as not recycling or chopping down trees to make pasture for sheep. No. There is more to it than that.

If we pay close attention to the prophet, the sins mentioned by Hosea are all relational sins done against other people. Swearing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery are all things we do to do someone or in disregard to someone.

Telling a lie might not seem, on the face of it, an ecological sin. But when we learn that corporations and governments have been lying to us for years about the effects of fossil fuels, then it is easier to see.

Adultery? Is it any surprise that if we can discard our spouse for another, that we have no difficulty believing it is OK to discard tons of waste from our cities every day.

Murder? In Colombia, South America, 65 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2020 alone. That’s more than one a week.

And in the case of colonization, “bloodshed follows bloodshed”. The murder of indigenous people to seize land for development continues to cause untold harm to people and land, such as in West Papua, site of the Grasberg mine the world’s largest copper and gold mine on land stolen from the West Papua with the approval of the world’s major powers.

We know of the state of the climate: global warming is real, the climate is changing and politicians seem captured by agendas other than working for the common good, which has to include providing a climate in which human and other species loved by God in their right, can flourish.

Actions by individuals do not seem to be doing enough in the face of states and corporations wishing to increase their power and control in our capitalist society. Direct action by communities has a lot of potential, but activists have not been able to match shifts in public thinking on climate change with commensurate meaningful action on climate change.

Can humans save themselves from climate change? Where is God in all this? Must we simply sit with Hosea’s condemnation?

Tomorrow night I begin teaching a short online course on “Preaching the Good News into the Climate Crisis”. What is this good news you may ask? I have been wondering that myself.

One answer is that there are no answers – yet. Some might say that we are now living in a new era – the Anthropocene. With our question and answers, including those from the Bible, predating this new era, it is argued that they cannot save us. We need new ideas for our new time. Must we, therefore, wait on a new savior, one we have not encountered before?

Another approach is to say that to live by faith in Jesus is to trust in God that God has already given the answer to such questions.

Let’s turn briefly to our gospel reading (the Lectionary Gospel reading for today) to see a different understanding of God’s ecology and economy. The focus here is on the miracle of the plentiful fish. With Jesus in control, the world is a place of life, abundance and not scarcity.

Whereas the fish in Hosea are swept away or taken away because of human sin, in Luke we see the nets straining under the weight of abundance.

Sin leads to fish being scarce; obedience to Christ leads to fish being plentiful.

Today, some might pause here to ponder the meaning of creation serving our needs and the problem of overfishing in our oceans, but my point is different one. We are called to obedience to Jesus and to be his followers.

Simon, the fisherman, trusted God, even before the miracle of the fish. His obedience and trust in Christ transforms him and his friends.

Jesus is calling us to follow him as he did Simon – even to the point of leaving the world one knows behind and to enter into an unknowable journey with Christ. For us facing an unpredictable and uncertain future as we go deeper into a climate crisis such a radical change of direction may be what is needed.

If God is calling us to do that, to leave behind our economy and way of life (even at its most profitable point, as it was for Simon), we must have faith that Christ will bring an even greater abundance as we shift our desires to align with his.

This requires great faith in God that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can sift our scriptures and traditions to find resources for the journey ahead to an ecological way of life in harmony with other creatures and each other.

In the age to come, we must have hope to believe that there is hope.

Despite the long, brutally harsh condemnation of Hosea, the prophetic voice is not just one of condemnation. The prophetic is also a call back to repentance and faithfulness and harmony between God and his people, people with each other, and with creation. This message is also Christ’s gospel for our climate crisis.

I shall end with the vision of Hosea chapter 6:

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
    let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
    he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.”