Tēnā koutou katoa, Bula vinaka, Mālō e lelei, Noa’ia, Ni Hao, Magandang araw, Greetings,
This Sunday will be our first in Alert Level 1! It’s a moment for celebration, a milestone of wellness for Aotearoa-New Zealand, as she has faced the threat of COVID-19.
We should celebrate being the Body of Christ gathered in-person – it is a part of who we are to be gathered and for God to be embodied in our midst. As we hear in Ephesians 2:22 we are being built into a dwelling which God lives by His Spirit. It’s a wonderful picture of what God is building through the gathered presence of his people.
But there is a challenge to go with our celebration. It is right to celebrate this milestone of national wellness, it is right to gather as the body, it is right to experience the joy of simply being together. It is right also to ask God, what he requires of us in this season. There is much that might concern us. Much that might qualify the “wellness” that we celebrate.
A deep global recession is on the way. In just 2 weeks, the first employee subsidy payment scheme will come to an end. We have already witnessed businesses bleeding employees and others closing for good. The Salvation Army reports that in one week it gave away as many food parcels as it usually gives away in a month. Some of these people are in our churches. They’re certainly in our communities.
The COVID19 NZ Values Study commissioned by the Wilberforce Foundation reported (in its first of 3 reports) that New Zealanders’ dominant emotion facing lockdown was Hope. But behind the hope the report also reveals that the top emotion for our young people was anxiety and frustration. New Zealand has led the way, in a bad way, in youth suicide statistics for many years. The post COVID-19 economic reality will hit young people particularly hard, especially those from poorer families. As youth unemployment rates rise, mental health issues among young people also rise. This should be a cause of real concern for us.
This week we have seen the deep questions being asked across the world around race and justice, intensify. In New Zealand, these reflections have begun to shift from expressing solidarity with minorities in the US, to our own context. We may not have a “slavery story” but we sure have a colonisation story. The ongoing cost to Maori cannot be overstated. We also have immigration stories that have shaped New Zealand narratives: Waves of Pacific immigration from the 1960’s that filled our factories in South Auckland and Porirua have provided opportunities for some, but not for all; Merit-based immigration from the 1990’s that may have fuelled the economic engine of the New Zealand, but also revealed that anti-globalist sentiment which has shaken the world, is likewise present here in racist attitudes. The unrest of recent weeks reveals that we do not always know our own stories well enough for them to generate love, humility and justice in Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Ephesians 2:14-17 celebrates more than just being gathered as the Body of Christ. It reveals that the basis for that gathering is a reconciliation that brings hostility and indifference between people to an end.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
What will these words mean for us in our day? What does reconciliation demand of us? What does it mean to pay attention to the needs of those around us, rather than to live indifferently? How will we take the desire for hope and make it real?
Earlier this week, I suggested that we need to learn to weep again. And to follow the example of Nehemiah to mourn, to fast and to pray. Our gatherings this weekend, should embody the celebration of the moment, but they should also give birth to the church embodied. The church that is the embodiment of Christ in our communities. Rejecting the allure of privatised religion and taking it public. Right hearts lea
ding to right action. The needs of the poor and vulnerable, the hearts and minds of those struggling under the weight of anxiety and depression, the cause of those suffering from injustice, the gospel of Jesus Christ that leads to personal and social transformation. This is what we must put our hands to and raise our voices for.
May it be so for the people called Wesleyan Methodist.
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Brett Jones
National Superintendent (Acting)