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Moana: Oceans of Justice

This is the full text of a sermon delivered by Archbiship Winston Halapua, Primate of the Diocese of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, at St Augustine's Church, Hamilton, Brisbane, on Sunday, November 16, 2014.

The sermon was part of the global Anglican 'Oceans of Justice' campaign, calling on the G20 nations to do more about the issue of climate change.

I am deeply grateful to be standing before you today. The invitation to give this address came from the headquarters of the Alliance in London – it was a surprise invitation. I am grateful to the Alliance and to the Church of Australia.

Thank you for the hospitality of this Parish of St Augustine.

A Story of Pangaimotu

I begin with the story of a father and his young son.  There were 10 mouths to feed and the father took his son fishing to provide for the needs of a large family.  Often father and son walked for two hours to fish or gather shell fish on the beautiful island of Pangaimotu that could be reached at low tide. In company with his father the boy learned to love the island and the clear waters that surround it.

The boy was called Winston. He was born in 1945 when peace was declared in the Pacific. The father was Fine who became the first Polynesia consecrated Bishop. I followed in his footsteps fishing on Pangaimotu. I followed in his footsteps – fishing in the mission of the Church.

Last year after Easter, I returned to Pangaimotu taking with me the Bishops of the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.  Last year I returned to an island dear to my heart. The island still holds much beauty, but sadly there were coconut palms which had lost their fronds. Towering trunks stood naked against the sky. Sea water had seeped into the land that held their roots.

On the sand of Pangaimotu surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, we studied the bible and shared our insights and concerns. At the Eucharist we gave thanks for the wonder of creation - we shared the bread of life. In the background of our Holy Communion were the devastated palms. They spoke of the damage to a small and beautiful island caused by climate change and rising sea levels – caused by forces at work beyond the shores of the Kingdom of Tonga, global forces impacting on a small island far from the great centres of economic and political power.

The tropical island of Pangaimotu is a gift of God’s creation. It is bearing the scars of 21st century, scars of the generation who prides herself as modern technology, scars of humanity’s 21st century violent abuse of creation. Pangaimotu is a living voice of humanity’s crying for justice.

Oceans of Justice

We know all too well that there are many parallels to the plight of Pangaimotu.

Where do we locate the plight of Pangaimotu and the many parallels as we reflect on Scripture passages we have heard today?

The theme “Oceans of Justice” is taken powerfully from Amos Chapter 5:24.

In the Revised Standard Version – the verse 54 reads

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” .

The translation we heard today

Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

I have read the text of Amos 5 many times – but I find myself deeply stirred by the fresh expression of the words of Amos.

In the Pacific Islands, in Australia, we know something of the power of the Oceans which surround continents and islands. We know something of the ceaseless rolling waves as they break over reefs and on to beaches. We know something of the great space and great depths of the Ocean.

I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it.

The words of Amos spoke to his time and speak in our time and context of a God of flowing care and engagement – a God who hates calculative denial and empty words and superficial worship.

God is a God of loving kindness and God’s justice is like the waves of the ocean that cannot be contained or reduced to a mere commodity by certain dominant groups. The God of creation – the God who made the constellations, the God who brings the dawn and pours the waters of the ocean is a God of LIFE. Our God of life is deeper than an imposed god of survival. Seek God and live are the words of the prophet. Amos speaks against the violent abuse of life: the exploitation of the poor, the taking advantage of the powerless.

God’s people are blessed by God and called to be a blessing to others – this is a strong message running through the Scriptures.  God’s blessings are not for selfish accumulation at the expense of others.

The Need for a New Language

Rowan Williams in a book just published “The Edge of the Word”  writes about the enormity of the difficulties and challenges encountered today and he advocates that the Church needs to find new language in order to name accurately core difficulties and contextually (my own interpretation) find a way forward.

A language that has been emerging from Polynesia is the language of “Moana”. Moana is the ancient Polynesian word for Ocean.

We live in a world where there is an overwhelming need to learn to relate to each other and the world around us. Our failure in intentional relationships contributes to poverty in many forms but there are enough resources in this world to go round and to be shared. The violence to our world, as it depicts in the absence of the urgency of the critical issue of climate change in the G20 Meeting, calls urgently for a prophetic pathway out of the doom of our own creation. The G20 meeting is in the Pacific as we view it from Pacific Ocean nations.

In the book Waves of God’s Embrace: Sacred perspectives from the Ocean I set out to explore the use of Oceanic language because I argue that it has the potential to speak to the depth of our common humanity

The Moana – the Oceans which consist of the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, Arctic and Antarctic covers 73 perc ent of planet earth. The Moana gifts life. In the Pacific Islands we are so aware of the gifting of the Moana – the fish and resources it provides – the way the waters link the islands. The Oceans of the world gift life to the whole planet in terms of climate, oxygen, food and resources. It cools down the heat of the sun so that we live.

The Oceans of the world have a unique contribution – they have diversity and yet they flow into one another to give life to the earth.  The language of the Moana speaks of diversity but a flowing together for the good of the planet earth, our home. This new language flows from the depth of the concept of Moana - is life giving in ‘flowing together’ for our call for discipleship today. In this robust relationship, we encounter the human face of our Triune God in Christ. In Christ we move together. There is a need for working together not only among the Christians for climate change but with UN, civil society and governments. We in the Pacific have taken this step in the Pacific Islands Development Forum.

In Pacific hymns, the Moana - the Ocean has been used as poetic language to describe something of the wonder of God – as mysterious and living, as vast and deep, as conceiving and carrying, as embracing and giving life – it has come to express something of eternity.

Today our theme is Oceans of Justice – Moana of Justice and we are challenged to widen our hearts and minds wider to the greatness and goodness of the God of all creation.  We are challenged to be open to God’s loving embrace of humanity and all creation.

Just a week or so ago, I picked up the urgent call for action from the UN Secretary General. It is for all the world leaders and leaders and all of us here to act following the latest stark warning regarding climate change from the scientists. Humanity’s greed and merciless abuse of the planet earth, our only common home, is causing immense damage.  Climate change is impacting on the sea level rising, and causing  unpredictable storms, uncontrollable floods . For some of us from the Pacific Island States, the truth is as plain as writing on a wall, our land and livelihood are drowning while others refuse to see.

How can we say to our grandchildren, the home you were to inherit and were told about is destroyed. Where is justice for them and for others?

The New Fleet of Vaka : A Call for Gobal Action

At the time when Abraham set out on a journey of faith and gazed and the stars – so our ancestors set out in ocean going canoes across the vast Ocean. They navigated by the stars and they found new homes.

I have been associated with  the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo which is modern ocean going canoe At  the beginning of the week, four vaka (canoes) which had voyaged across the Pacific Ocean  arrived in Sydney for the World Parks Congress with – A Pacific Call for Global Action and a Promise.

The message of the Vaka:

Appreciate and value the global significance of our Pacific Island space –in a climate challenged planet, our hope lies in protecting and managing our large natural spaces that provide life-sustaining ecosystem services. We need extraordinary partnerships and commitment to sustain the Pacific Islands for future generations and for the health of the planet.

Join us to protect and nurture our environment in harmony with our cultures. Nature in turn will help us restore our planet – that is our Pacific Promise.

Journeying Together

Today we need to journey together with many others inside and outside our canoesWe need to journey together as people with concern for the wonderful gift of creation with which we have been entrusted.

We need to journey together with courage – we need to set sail on the waves of God’s justice and be blown by the wind of the Spirit

We need to find a language which will stir the hearts in seats of power and help towards the realisation that as the Oceans are interconnected – so we on planet earth are connected to one another.  The rising sea levels speak loudly of an urgent call to care – care for humanity and care for the environment. God’s gift of creation has been entrusted to us.

We are called to protect and share God’s precious gifts.

A Prayer from the Pacific

Loving and Embracing God,You are God of the Universe and all creation.
You create and give life and see that your creation is good.
We praise you for your gift of the Moana [Ancient Polynesian word for ocean] which covers most of the surface of your planet earth.
We thank you for the Oceans of the world.

We thank you for the flowing of the Oceans into one another and around the continents and islands. 
We thank you for the life giving of the Oceans, for the oxygen, food and resources they continually provide.
We thank you that the Ocean is home for most species, small and great.
We are people of the Moana (Ocean).
Our ancestors navigated by the stars and crossed the waves to find new homes. 
The voice of waves breaking on the reef speaks of your constancy and your love and your care for creation.

May we hear the cries of sea creatures endangered by the selfish greed of humanity. 
May there be deep listening to the voice of waters rising to engulf land. 
May ears be open to the groaning caused by refusal to honour creation.
May ears be open to suffering caused by a love of power which destroys.
We beat a lali-drum alerting people around the world to the danger of  climate change which threatens nature and human life. 
We blow a conch – calling for the worship of a life giving God of immense goodness. 
Our forbears set out across the Ocean. We set out on a venture to protect our home – the planet earth; 
Help us to challenge short-sighted greed. 
Help us to address unjust structures and practices and to change our relationship with creation to one of care.

We affirm our guardianship of the precious gift of creation.  
We have a vision, we have courage, we have your guidance. 
We have the presence of the Risen One whose power of love is greater than all the power of destruction.  
Grant that together we may bring peace to our Planet Earth – to its many creatures and its many people.
We lotu ( pray) in the name of Our God – Creator, Redeemer and Life-Giving Spirit.