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A Sermon for Parihaka (All Saints Day at Wadestown Presbyterian)

November 4, 2017

1 Peter 2: 19-25

For what renown is there if, when you sin and are thrashed, you endure it? But, if you instead endure when doing good and suffering, this is a grace before God. For to this you were called, because on your behalf the Anointed suffered also, leaving behind a model so that you should follow his steps: “Who committed no sin; neither was guile found in his mouth”; who, when reviled, did not revile in return; who, in suffering, did not issue threats;  who delivered himself to him who judges justly; who himself, in his body, bore our sins upon the tree, so that, having died to sin, we might live for justice – “by whose scarring you were healed.” For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have turned back to the shepherd and overseer of your souls. [David Bentley Hart’s Translation]


I have chosen today these text of non-retaliation (texts of non-violent resistance) because of Parihaka. I think of Parihaka as New Zealand’s great Jesus moment. I don’t think, as a church in Aotearoa we can let this day pass without stopping for a moment and reflecting.

For the first 300 or so years of Christianity, the church believed that following Jesus involved rejecting the sword, refusing military service, committing themselves to communities of peace which were really unsettling to the sensibilities and the order of the empire around them. They honoured people who in the ancient world were not considered to be people. Slaves become brothers of Roman citizens and the poor and insignificant, those with no rights whatsoever were treated with a dignity never before seen in the ancient world. But the key point is that they rejected the sword.

And they did so not merely because the Roman Empire and its military were bound up with idolatry and Emperor worship. If you look at their reasoning it has everything to do with simply a determination to take the explicit teaching of Jesus seriously, to love their enemies and not return evil for evil and so on. It had everything to do with following his example even to die and the hands of the violent powers. They didn’t feel like they needed to take control of history (like Jesus at his temptation). They trusted that their small witness would be vindicated by God. For them, Jesus was Lord of the World and not Caesar. So they lived accordingly.

And then an Emperor become a Christian. . . Before that happened you risked your life being a Christian. After that you risked your life if you didn’t become a Christian. After that Christians started serving in the military. They were invested in the empire – invested in securing this new Empire that they thought God must be using. They looked at history… they thought they knew where it was going. So they decided that this must be God’s purpose and they had better get with it. History equals progress . . . they thought.

For fifteen hundred years the heritage of this decision profoundly shaped the Christian church. There were remarkable exceptions like the Anabaptist part of the reformation. But for the most part over these 1500 years, Christians had formed a kind of alliance with the violence of the powers that ruled the world.

What moves me about Parihaka is that 1500 years after Constantine became Christian, when the representatives of British Empire (the most recent Empire to have been adopted by Christianity) marched up to the gates of Parihaka,… it was a Maori chief who was the one quoting Jesus to his people. It was Te Whiti of Rongomai who said (in 1879):

Go put your hands to the plow. Look not back. If any come with guns, be not afraid. If they smite you, smite not in return. If they rend you, be not discouraged. Another will take up the good work. Te Whiti o Rongomai, Parihaka, 1879

Te Whiti of Rongomai got it! When the Christians of Europe had long forgotten it.

Te Whiti had seen a lot of killing in his life. As a child, his father and many of his people were slaughtered in Ngāmotu by raiding warriors from Waikato. He grew up with his people drinking deeply from his Maori tikanga destined to be a leader and a wise man in Te Ao Maori. As a 10-year-old he went to live in a mission house in Waimea and learnt the Bible and became a Christian. The Rev Riemenschneider (a Lutheran minister) taught him the gospel of peace. And yet when push came to shove the representative of the church was unwilling to stay and stand in solidarity with the vulnerable Maori. The Colonial land-grab was in full swing. And in opposition a new Maori spiritual way (mixing Maori and Christian ideas) called Pai Marire was popular. They talked the language of peace but unfortunately, in practice, Pai Marire and the Hauhau movement were known for their violence. Te Whiti heard the talk and joined the movement for a while. But in contrast to them, he took the commitment to peace much more seriously.

So in the 1870s he and his fellow chief Tohu Kākahi called their people to abandon their weapons and build a village of peace.

Ka kuhuna te patu, e kore, e kore rawa e kitea. Put away your weapons, they will never be seen. People came all around the North Island to listen to Te Whiti’s oratory. Often there were several thousand at the experimental village of Parihaka to hear Te Whiti speak.

He said things like….

“What I said and wished to convey was that the two races should live side by side in peace, the Maori to learn the white man’s wisdom, yet be the dominant ruler. Even as our fathers thought and expected, the white man to live among us—not we to be subservient to his immoderate greed.”

And the government got increasingly uncomfortable this Maori upstart who criticised the greed of the Pākeha and their thirst for more land. He taught his people peace, not merely as a strategy but as the way of God. He taught them to resist, but to resist without violence.

And so as we all know, on Nov 5th 1981 the police force of the British Empire responded by marching in, ignoring the hospitality offered them, reading the riot act to Te Whiti and Tohu, arresting them and their men, taking them away to build the streets of Dunedin or to be imprisoned in Christchurch. They burnt down most of the village. They raped the women. They occupied Parihaka and spend several weeks slaughtering the livestock.

November 5th, 1881. The celebration of Guy Fawkes the terrorist was also the day of Te Whiti the prophet of peace.

What does St Paul mean when he writes to the Corinthians: “For though we walk about in flesh, we do not go into battle according to the flesh – for the weapons of our campaign are not fleshly…”?

Last weekend I went for a Marae stay for two nights with my Maori class. On the Saturday we went out to Titahi Bay and were taught how to use a Maori club (a patu). We started with karakia, as we always do, and then we mimed the hand to hand warfare of a Maori warrior. Our teacher reminded us that these were not cutting weapons. His motto was bash, break, bruise. It was a kind of macabre liturgy which required us to imagine beating the skull of an opponent to a pulp.

Te Whiti was a radical not just in relation to the so-called Christianity of the British Empire. He was a radical in his own world.

According to Paul the battle of our life is not fleshly… and you expect him to continue to say that it’s a spiritual… and otherworldly… but he doesn’t he says that our unorthodox weapons are ‘powerful’ – powerful to overthrow fortresses – we who are overthrowing argumentations, and every high rampart reared against the knowledge of God.

It changes this world. Paul thinks that the love of Jesus undermines the mental infrastructure of every empire and of every philosophy and of every lifestyle designed to hide us from the knowledge of God.

Love your enemies… pray for those who persecute you… in doing so you set them free.

The Letter of Peter says: Follow the model… Jesus who bore the blows of our sin on his body, who did not retaliate and revile those who reviled him. Leave the old weapons (flesh). Die to sin, live to Justice.

The Christian believes that there is a much more patient and powerful response to all that the world can throw at us… more powerful than every fleshly weapon, from the visceral patu through to the nuclear bomb or the smart bomb dropped from a drone.

That’s a pretty hard belief to commit yourself to, isn’t it? It’s not merely a judgment of practical effectiveness, though. If we commit ourselves to it, we do it in faith and hope that God is at work also, that God will redeem.

A few weeks ago I joined a group of people to protest a Weapons Conference for arms industry companies to show their wares and do business. Companies like Lockheed Martin who make nuclear weapons and others who make killer drones

I thought quite a bit before I joined the protest. It’s one thing to follow Jesus in his vulnerable path and quite another thing to call the rulers and corporations of the world to follow suit. In the end, I decided to do it (and to wear my minister’s collar – dress-up season for me) not because I expected the corporations to suddenly bow before the authority of Jesus, but because it presented an opportunity to bear witness. That was all… witness to another world. A world that God would bring about even if we couldn’t.

In the end of the day being a Christian is a simple thing. A Christian is a follower of Jesus . . . but in the properly serious sense. Anyone can see Jesus had great attributes and teaching and admire that. A Christian is a person whose life is committed in some absolute sense to the way of Jesus. For a Christian following Jesus and loving or following God the Creator amount to the same thing. It’s a God thing. It’s about following Jesus along the path that he followed his Father. It takes the whole of Jesus life as having its own peculiar logic to the bitter (or glorious) end.

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)

Jesus had a way about him. And Parihaka Day, in particular, shines a light on the way of Jesus. It shows how the way of Jesus might translate itself from one side of the globe to another, to an enormously different cultural world… albeit one with interesting parallels to Jesus own world (empires and vulnerable oppressed people). Parihaka captures in our own near history a glimpse of the logic of God. The logic or (as John’s gospel puts it) the logos of God becoming flesh.

And just as Jesus inspired Te Whiti so both Jesus and Te Whiti were an inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi and these three, in turn, inspired Martin Luther King  Jr.

In this way we too, although we may be Protestants 500 years after Luther, we too need the saints on all saints day. Those who like Paul can say to us: Imitate me as I imitate Christ.


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