29 March 2020
Waitangi Day Celebration
But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
This morning, I want to reflect on how we celebrate the good things in our lives. On Friday we celebrated Waitangi Day. Some of us celebrate it as the foundation day for our country. Others are very unsure that they want to be a part of that. The debate continues.
But in December we celebrated Christmas. Just seventeen per cent of us celebrated it as Jesus birthday. Some thought it was a celebration of family. Others didn't want to know about it at all. People were beginning to question how relevant Father Christmas was to their celebrations.
We can celebrate New Year at different times of the year. We celebrate family events, births, birthdays, weddings, deaths, graduations, new jobs, retirements.
On all these occasions we have been caught up in celebrations. Our lives would be greatly impoverished if we didn't have such occasions. So it is a good idea to ask: What is going on here? What makes for a good party? Why is it that sometimes we feel satisfied but other times we are strangely unfulfilled?
Celebrating is one of the things we do that make us truly human. We are people who work with our hands and make things. We are workers. We think things through, solve problems, wonder about great questions; so we are thinkers.. But then we are dancers. We have a great capacity to enjoy life. We take opportunities to make whoopee. We have a capacity for festivity
And we are dreamers. We can go to the Lord of the Rings and be drawn into a totally different world where we see things in new ways. We are inspired by visions of good. Its all a story but we would be mud-bound creatures if such stories could not lift us to dream. We create a fantasy world that allows us to hope more fervently in the face of harsh realities, because we have seen an alternative world and can ask "why not"?
Dancing and dreaming are the twin constituents of celebration. Thirty five years ago, Harvey Cox wrote a book called The Feast of Fools, all about celebrating life. I have valued the way he talks about festivity and fantasy, ever since I first read it, so I am going to build on what he says this morning.
1. We hold celebrations in order to remember the past and anticipate what is still to come. We celebrate birthdays, wedding anniversaries, days of historical significance, events that shape who we are personally and as a people together.
Lets think about Waitangi Day. We remember Waitangi because it is a decisive moment in our history that tells us who we are. We are a nation founded on a promise. From the beginning we have been two peoples - now many peoples and still one nation. The Treaty recalls us over and over to work on how to live with each other in a bi-cultural society where no-one rides rough shod over the aspirations of others, no-one is denied their dignity as citizens, no-one is excluded.
The time never arrives that we can relax and say: "Now we have got it all together. We can now forget where we have come from and what was promised." We constantly re-appropriate the promise of the Treaty and seek fresh ways to build a strong life together.
So we celebrate Waitangi Day as the foundation day which tells us who we are a unique nation, proud of who we are and where we have come from, looking confidently into the future and dreaming dreams of justice and well-being.
2. A good celebration arises out of a gutsy event. It allows us to say "yes" to the whole of life by recalling one moment that was good and hopeful. You can't create days of celebration out of nothing. They need to have a history and the stronger and more challenging the better.
Even in the presence of defeat, we find that we can celebrate which is what Anzac Day in part is about. Or why we have parties that are consumed with gales of laughter when a person full of life has died. Celebration says "yes" to life even in the face of death. We are not resigned in the face of death's inevitability, or so oppressed by grief that we cannot see life whole.
So when people don't think we should celebrate Waitangi Day because it is divisive or because it reopens old wounds of injustice, or because it reminds us too well that becoming one nation is a a continuing dream to be worked at, they are simply running away from who we are. We have a much better celebration when we face where we have come from and grasp the legacy it hands on to us and enjoy it on the way.
3. The second thing about celebration is that it is a moment when we live it up. A day of celebration is not just like any other day. It stands out as being different. It is an excuse for a good party. For a party we dress up, we eat well ? and often too much. We bring out the best wine. The beer flows and we have a jolly good time.
Christmas is the best example or a family wedding. Christmas says "yes" to life more than any other moment in our days. This is the time when God so enjoys human life, that God chooses to come and join in himself. God enters human life in the baby Jesus. It is a story told with huge dramatic sweeps. The child born under deliberate oppression. The outsiders crowding in to see the new baby. The dramatic visitations. The angel to Mary and the entire heavenly choir to the shepherds. The star, the journey and wise men who were truly humble. It is a great story powerful, dramatic and full of flamboyant gestures. But what else can you do to tell the world when heaven and earth meet at the stable. It takes the entire drama of earth and heaven to come together for this resounding "yes" to be told. You don't want it to be reduced to some pedestrian feel good spend up.
So we eat too much, drink too much and spend more than we can afford. We give generously, sing with joy and have a great time because Jesus is born among us.
But what do you do when you don't believe all that religious stuff. You think it is all a fairy tale that real people ditch when they grow up. There is no reason to celebrate and so the feast turns to ashes in the mouth. There is no dramatic affirming of life. Everything is reduced to a family party which simply cannot take the strain of too much being spent, too much being drunk and too many fights to want to do it very often.
The reason for the large and generous gestures is that we are caught up in something that is bigger than we are. When that larger vision is lost then we are burdened by too much hype.
Which incidentally is why there is a crisis over Father Christmas. St Nicholas, as you know was an Orthodox saint in Turkey. When you are Dutch you know where he fits in to your traditional celebrations. But if you have reduced him to a figure of fantasy not rooted in any tradition, sooner or later the fat man will be unable to sustain the degree of commercial pressure that he is made to carry.
After all, giving at Christmas relates right back to this amazing gift that God makes of his Son coming to share our lives. That is Christmas' supreme gift. If you cut commercial giving loose from its sustaining root, sooner or later people will become very cynical about the silliness of what is being pretended instead of sharing in the gifting that the season celebrates.
4. The third mark of celebration is that it is different from the everyday. We gain a vantage point from which we can see the mundane more clearly. That's the reason Christmas comes but once a year. New Zealand takes just one day to stand back and reflect on who we are. These days are exceptional. We simply stop what we normally do and stand back and have a look where we are at and how we are doing.
There is a sense in which a day of celebration, by suspending the on-rush of everyday responsibilities, allows us to cherish the moment. We do not always have to be so future oriented that we have to be worrying about tomorrow. We are able to be fully present now, in this moment and enjoy its intensity and difference. It is only when we stand back and give ourselves time to disengage that we begin to see things in a larger perspective. We see fresh ways that could open up for us, different ways of moving forward. It is not a wasted day at all. It enriches the rhythm of our lives by being different. Which incidentally is why Sunday needs to be different, for rest, refreshment and time to regroup and see over.
5. There are two warnings attached to celebration. First true celebrations are not superficial. They really are resourced from strong events that have the capacity to renew our lives. Which is why Waitangi needs to be our national day and not some of the other very silly suggestions often made commemorations that have no enduring substance to them. And why Santa Claus is feeling the strain of the silliness of his irrelevance. When we deal with life and death issues - the birth of the child and the death of the Saviour - they have the power to rekindle faith anew in every generation. They do not die from age and forgetfulness. When we ask who we are as a nation we return to the moment when it all began and derive fresh impetus for responsible action. We re-appropriate the Treaty afresh for our own historical time and move forward together.
The second warning is that celebrations are not frivolous. We are not trying to pretend that serious things are not afoot. We face death, not pretend that it is not with us. We recognize that new life is full of risks and do not try to be sentimental. We struggle with building a nation in justice and peace and do not pretend that we can forget the road we have come. We do not try to deny our history with its shames and injustices as much as its achievements and successes. We do not try to reduce life and history to a joke.
The Church itself is a community of celebration. Every Sunday we meet on the first day of the week to celebrate the victory of our God over sin and death as God raises Jesus from the dead. We do things differently and don?t try to apologise. We dress up and eat and drink and are geniuses at hospitality. We hold as precious the gifts of life and death and live in hope of life beyond death. We speak strongly out of a conviction of the truth. We ensure that our society has strong roots which can renew its life. We do so against the childish superficiality of much of the inanities we are surrounded by and the silliness of those who are adrift from their life restoring roots. We are communities of true celebration. It is one of our central roles as we bear witness to the word of grace that in Jesus, God has come to share our life.
Let us pray:
Living, gifting God, we celebrate your presence among us and the life we share with you in Jesus Christ. We rejoice in the promises you share with us that we can live together in justice and harmony. We are glad for every remembrance that life is good and is to be cherished. Above all we celebrate your triumphant "yes" to life, when you faced death and embraced its darkness so that you could for us all, rise into the fullness of life eternal. Grant that we may live confident in your strong affirming of life, now, in the moment of our dying and in hope of life beyond death where we may share your life in glory for evermore. Amen
Rev. Graeme Ferguson
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