Te Rongopai - Deep Values Shape Behaviour

This material is from a sermon preached as part of a series at Eastview marking the 200th anniversary of Samuel Marsden's Good News sermon at Oihi Bay in 1814. The sermon was well received, so it is presented almost in full here.

Some years ago a Wellington car dealer and thoughtful Christian called Wayne Kirkland came to Auckland to teach local churches about more effective ways to share our faith. He was deeply concerned with the way many Christians portrayed Jesus as the answer to all needs, the solution to all problems and the cheapest way to salvation. In his view, this left out all the Biblical material that calls for costly discipleship, a deep shift of loyalty and transformed lives. His seminar called Signpost, reinvented these days as a blog called Ruminations, often included a little drama about Alan (a ‘born again’ evangelical Christian) and Zoe (a genuine seeker) who meet at the pearly gates after they died. Their conversation reveals that ‘card-carrying Christian’ Alan has lived a life devoid of any real transformation; his business practices, relationships with employees and behaviour toward his wife reveal significant hypocrisy. Zoe had worked for Alan and been turned off by his version of Christianity. She has never responded to an altar call or prayed the sinner’s prayer but has been genuinely seeking God for some time. The audience was invited to discuss
whether either Alan or Zoe (or both) would be accepted by God. An overwhelming majority stated that Alan would definitely be ‘in’ and Zoe definitely ‘out’. Signpost used this to introduce the theme of worldview and teach us how faith and the transformation it brings are much wider than simply believing 'Jesus died for my sins'. They use a diagram of a tree to distinguish roots and behaviour; world view, they said, should influence our deep values and shape our behaviour.

We've been using examples from our NZ colonial history to provoke some thinking this Advent.  We've seen from historian Stuart Lange's excellent new DVD resource Te Rongopai that between 1814 when the Christian gospel came to these shores, and 1840 with the signing of the Treaty, Maori were captivated by literacy. especially the gospel of Luke in Maori which was widely distributed. By 1850, 60% of Maori were practising Christians. Their change of world view deeply influenced their behaviour. They knew the scripture, observed Sabbath worship and replaced the utu revenge motive with a concern for peace and forgiveness. We noted the miracle nature of that conversion and rejoiced that God is still working powerfully in our world today. 

I want to pick up on the story of Samuel Marsden and those who followed him to New Zealand. On Christmas Day we will be marking 200 years since this Anglican vicar came to Oihi Bay in Northland and preached the good news of Jesus Christ. He came to New Zealand at the invitation of Ruatara, a well-travelled Maori chief who had lived in England and who had been badly mistreated by shipmasters on his way home. When Marsden met up with him in 1809 he was very sick.  Marsden took him back to his farm in NSW and nursed him, exchanging language lessons and later teaching him farming and baking. Ruatara was very interested in Jesus and could see that his message of equality and dignity had much to offer his Ngapuhi people. At Ruatara’s invitation, Marsden visited New Zealand in 1814, preached that first sermon about 'Good News to all people' on December 25th, and was welcomed with a haka of joy.  Sadly Ruatara died just ten weeks later but Marsden’s organisation, the Church Missionary Society, sent a series of permanent missionaries to teach farming and faith. As a result of their work – and of Maori themselves taking their faith to other tribes in both islands – tangata whenua took up Christianity in great numbers. 

So who was Samuel Marsden and who was his friend Ruatara? And what was it in their lives that enabled the call of God to take root? Let me take a few minutes to tell you.  
Marsden was sent out from England by the CMS, a missionary society founded in 1799 by a group called the Clapham Sect. Actually it wasn’t a sect at all but a group of wealthy and influential evangelical Anglicans who believed that their Christian faith should have a vital impact on wider society. You will have heard of some of them, in particular William Wilberforce, the Parliamentarian who campaigned for 20 years to abolish the slave trade. These MPs and church leaders believed faith must be lived out in public life, and the Clapham group gave birth not only to the CMS Missionary group but to a movement called the Aborigines Protection Society, which strongly influenced British policy in the 19th century. Remember that when America was colonised 150 years earlier, and later when Australia received its first white settlers, encounters with indigenous people were brutal and demeaning. Indians and Aborigines were seen as uncivilised savages who would soon be overwhelmed by the superior civilisations of Europe. But by the time New Zealand was settled, attitudes were changing. Men like the Clapham saints took the more humanitarian view that all people are equal and therefore to be treated with dignity. They were men of their time, they did believe a British presence would improve the new world, but having abolished much of the slave trade early in the century, these committed Christians went on to advocate for native people exploited by European expansionism. They regarded what happened in America as deplorable, and wanted safeguards put in place to protect indigenous people from losing their land and their way of life. This humanitarian perspective was epitomised by the missionaries like Samuel Marsden, Henry Williams and Octavius Hadfield as well as Governor Hobson. Their world view influenced their values and shaped their behaviour. We Baptists were recently introduced to the notion of  a 'missional order' as a new pathway for forming faith in community; perhaps the Claphamites were such a community.

A brief mention of Ruatara’s background too. I lived in Northland for nearly 20 years and many times heard local Kaumatua speak of their ancestral belief in a supreme god Io – the parentless one who created the earth including the pantheon of lesser gods like Rangi and Papa. I have learned that this is not universally accepted by historians, but apparently it does reflect similar sacred stories from Tahiti and Rarotonga. So I do believe that Ruatara and his people were open to the story of Yahweh and Jesus because they already knew there was one supreme god, who had made himself known to Maori priests and prophets down the centuries. So perhaps the coming together of Marsden and Ruatara was a joining of compatible world views, perspectives that saw human dignity and divine knowability combined in the Christmas story of the incarnation.  

We know that after the signing of the historic Waitangi Treaty, a pioneering equal partnership between peoples, things did not go well. (we will watch a DVD clip to illustrate that). But first let me describe a sea change that took place in European thinking as the 9th century unfolded. By 1853 half of the land was in settler hands. Colonial Office policy had shifted from the humanitarian view of the missionaries to governance based on two other philosophies.
1. The 'wastelands' philosophy regarding land rights. John Locke’s theory of labour and property viewed  indigenous people’s itinerant lifestyle and intermittent use of land as uncivilised and inferior to British ways. Land not being lived on was seen as idle waste and sold to settlers; eventually only 1/10 was reserved to Maori and that was mostly swamp. 
2. Vattel’s approach to sovereignty; he argued that 'civilised' nations had an obligation to assert sovereignty over native peoples who did not use their lands for intensive cropping to feed the settlers. The word kawanatanga used in the Maori language version of our Treaty meant only some chiefly rights were ceded to the Crown, but the English wording signified much more. You can see why access to forest and fisheries is important to Maori today.
The video clip we watched showed how colonial settler powers replaced the humanitarian view of the first missionaries with a more patriarchal and militant order of government. By re-categorising the mainly-peaceful Maori as rebels, Land Wars resulted in much bloodshed and confiscation of land. That is not to say all missionaries were altruistic; some failed miserably in their personal lives and others took up the hierarchical settler view. But we learned that: 

God has been at work in NZ doing good
UnBiblical world views have influenced NZ for its detriment; theologically this is brokenness
(And can I suggest) God can use us and our faith to do even more good; the Advent theology of  hope.

Jesus is alive. And because Jesus is alive we are called to align our attitudes and actions with his values, Kingdom values. Values like respect and dignity and equality and hope. As we mature in the Christian life we need to attend to the roots of our tree, and realise that deep transformation takes time and commitment. 

One of my family works for Google, where she is is currently on the team that is testing Google glass. I’ve tried them out. It’s a head mounted computer. Its weird. You can ask a question, make a call, set an appointment, navigate a trip or take a photo with what is basically a smart device on your head. The weird thing about it is that you have to learn to look in a different way. Sort of up and in. You see your contacts list, your calendar or the google search engine. Weird!

Being a Christian is like google glass. You have to look at things differently. You are aware of another whole world you can choose to attend to. You learn to look at both at the same time. I’m suggesting its like the branches and the roots of our world view tree. We can choose to attend to both. Ruatara saw both in the Maori and Hebrew stories of a Creator who was vitally interested in human beings.  Marsden did too when he looked at tattooed natives doing haka and saw people of dignity whom God loved. Governor Hobson did it when he looked at the Treaty, and saw a future when two peoples lived in harmony. Kate Sheppard, a committed Christian, did it when she campaigned for equal rights for women. Peter Savage did it when he designed a social welfare system that he called 'applied Christianity'. (examples of Eastview people added in here...) 

Remember Alan and Zoe? I think 'Alan' failed to do it, he only saw the surface stuff, but maybe 'Zoe' the seeker had begun to devote attention to the roots of her worldview tree. And maybe that kind of openness is what God will bless.

How did you feel when I told the story of Alan and Zoe? Did you feel discomfited by the thought that your deep values are not shaping your behaviour as much as Christ might want them to? How is your world view reflected in your life? How could it be reflected better? This Advent let’s use our worldview glasses as we look at all the fuss about shopping and food and consuming and Santa, and see at the same time a little baby sent to restore precious human beings of all races to relationship with God. 
 "In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house 
will be the highest of all.
It will be raised above the other hills, 
and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. 
 People from many nations will come and say, 
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, 
to the house of Jacob’s God. 
There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” 
(Micah 4)

To Chew Over: As we celebrate 200 years since the coming of the gospel to NZ, ask yourself if you see it through Jesus glasses today? Do you see a flawed history marred by broken people or do you see an exciting future steeped in God’s deep values of equality and dignity and relationship and respect?  
He aha te mea nui?
He tangata he tangata he tangata. 
What is the most important thing? It is people. It is people. It is people.