Deuteronomy 6: 1 -9
Mark 4: 26 – 34
Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
As many of you will know, this year, 2014, marks 200 years since the first Christian sermon was preached in New Zealand and hence it also marks the start of the Christian Church in New Zealand/ Aotearoa. It seems appropriate on Aotearoa Sunday, for us to spend some time considering the implications of that auspicious event especially as some of us will be visiting the site when we go on our Parish Pilgrimage to Oihi this coming Saturday.
The story is a good one. Like all good stories it is filled with drama, danger and adventure.
Two characters stand out: The Rev Samuel Marsden and the Ngapuhi chief Ruatara. These two men who became firm friends, collaborated together to bring the Gospel to these shores.
The sermon that Samuel Marsden preached to a Maori and Pakeha congregation on Christmas Day in 1814 stands out as a defining moment in our history because, not only did this event mark the start of Christian mission in NZ, the partnership of Marsden and Ruatara led to the development of a special relationship between Māori and the Pakeha missionaries which shaped our identity as a bicultural nation.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these two men.
First, the Yorkshire man Samuel Marsden:
Rev Marsden was the Anglican chaplain in the colony of New South Wales. In addition to being a chaplain, Marsden was also a very successful farmer in Parramatta, 35 km inland from Sydney. He was a blunt and plain spoken man who could be touchy.
By no means a paragon of virtue, he had many failings and foibles. He could be a hard man and acquired a dubious reputation for his harshness as a magistrate. However, he was a man of some gravitas and leadership. He was unpretentious and very generous with his time and his money when it came spreading the Gospel and helping others. Most of all, he was a committed evangelical Christian who was both visionary and practical in his commitment to carrying out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, to preach the Gospel to all nations.
While living in Australia he developed a strong interest in New Zealand on account of the friendships he formed with some of the first Māori visitors to Australia. These included Te Pahi, the Ngāpuhi leader and his four sons who met Marsden in 1805 and with whom Marsden was greatly impressed.
Marsden’s God given passion for spreading the Gospel fueled his desire to share it with those who had never heard of Jesus and this desire took him back to England in 1807 where he approached the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) about setting about doing missionary work in New Zealand.
Marsden’s pragmatic vision was in line with the example of tent making in St Paul’s time. He argued that artisan missionaries should be employed to teach skills such as carpentry, blacksmithing and rope making using native flax, as a means of opening up the area for the Gospel. I suppose it was a very early version of ‘needs orientated evangelism’.
Marsden was very persistent and persuasive and so returned from England to Australia in 1809 with two artisan missionaries, William Hall, a carpenter, and his wife Dinah and their son, and John King a rope maker.
Let’s pause there to highlight the second important character in our story, Ruatara.
During that journey Marsden discovered that Ruatara, the young Ngāpuhi leader from the Bay of Islands was on board the ship. Ruatara was in a bad way. He had gone to England to explore trading opportunities and had even hoped to meet the King. When Marsden met him though Ruatara was gravely ill having been badly treated and humiliated on his voyage to England where he had not even been allowed to disembark. Marsden befriended Ruatara and nursed him back to health. Ruatara was always very grateful to Marsden for saving his life and for treating him with dignity and respect.
On arrival in Australia Marsden’s pastoral care for Ruatara continued. He offered him hospitality at Parramatta where he introduced Ruatara to new methods of agriculture including, interestingly enough, wheat growing.
Marsden’s plans for beginning a mission in New Zealand were however put on hold after the incident in which the ship the Boyd was sunk in retaliation for the ill treatment of some Maori sailors at Whangaroa in 1809.
A European reprisal raid resulted in the death of some sixty Māori including Te Pahi who hadn’t even been involved in the Boyd incident.
Given the tension in northern New Zealand the missionaries, King and Hall took up work in Australia until the dust settled. Thomas Kendall, a schoolmaster and a farmer joined them there.
Ruatara eventually returned to Oihi in 1812.
There he shared stories about his adventures in a very different world. He introduced wheat as a crop and showed his people how to make bread using a handmill he had received as a gift from Marsden.
In 1814 the governor of NSW gave Marsden permission to open up contact with New Zealand. Marsden bought his own ship, the Active because it was proving very difficult to procure passages to NZ for the missionaries. This was a major investment and I think in part reflects Marsden’s commitment to his evangelical calling and in part reflects his astute business acumen.
William Hall and Thomas Kendall were dispatched on an exploratory voyage to discover whether it was feasible to set up a mission station in New Zealand.
During this expedition, they read prayers on board ship, sometimes in the presence of the Māori passengers and so impressed their fellow passengers that Ruatara encouraged them to migrate to NZ with their families.
In August 1814 the missionaries returned to Australia feeling very positive about going to NZ. On board their ship were Ruatara, the great Ngāpuhi leader Hongi Hika, Korokoro and other Māori traders.
While in Australia these men were introduced to aspects of European life: blacksmithing, carpentry, spinning, weaving, reading and writing, brick making, gardening and farming practices, the “English Sunday”, the magistrate’s court and they even got to meet Governor Macquarie.
In November of that same year,Marsden set sail on the Active from Australia with:
5 Māori chiefs Ruatara, Hongi Hika, Korokoro, Tuhi and his brother and 3 other Māori;
Thomas Hansen, the ship’s master, his wife Hannah and son Thomas;
3 Church Missionary Society missionaries and their wives: Thomas and Jane Kendall, William and Dinah Hall, and John and Hannah King, and five children;
2 Tahitians, 4 sailors, John Nicholas, 2 sawyers, 1 blacksmith, and 1 stowaway convict.
The ship also carried three horses, one bull, two cows, a few sheep and some poultry.
The missionary / Māori party arrived at Oihi Bay and Rangihoua Pa on the 22 December 1814.
We gain glimpses into the exchanges that were taking place on both sides as Maori and Europeans were learning about each other from written accounts of their arrival.
For example, when they landed horses and cattle the people were bewildered at such extraordinary looking animals. Apparently Marsden, ever the showman, impressed his Maori audience by mounting one of the horses and riding up and down the beach.
Ruatara’s stories about big dogs that could be ridden no longer seemed so preposterous!
Conversely, later that day, Korokoro and Ruatara not to be outdone staged a large mock battle on the beach for the missionaries’. The fighting parties in turn impressed the missionaries with a spectacular haka.
Ruatara was a natural leader. His evangelistic role in this first encounter of the Maori with the missionaries is significant and has a Biblical ring to it in that he prepared the way for Marsden and the missionaries by introducing them to his people. In this way he reminds us a little of Andrew who brought Philip to Jesus. Ruatara was determined to protect these missionaries. He is described as “The Gateway for the Gospel” Te Ara mo te Rongopai.
His support for the missionaries can be seen in that on Christmas Eve, 1814, Ruatara, on his own initiative, prepared a space where the church service was to be held as an open air church, he made an improvised reading desk, a pulpit, and lined up old wakas to serve as pews.
On Christmas Day, Ruatara and Korokoro, acted as Masters of Ceremony indicating to Māori the protocol of when to sit and stand during the service.
The Māori critique of Marsden’s service based on Luke 2: 10 was blistering. They said that they could not understand what he was on about. Ruatara famously replied that “they were not to mind that now, for they would understand by and by; and that he would explain the meaning as far as he could”. He went on to precise what had been said in te Reo. This is significant for it meant that the Māori were to hear Marsden’s sermon through Ruatara’s translation. They were hearing the Gospel in their own language from one of their own leaders.
Marsden’s sermon and the service on Christmas day at Oihi in 1814, gave rise to a complex story which historians still struggle to unravel. Not all of our nation’s history has been positive, but framed by the Gospel reading of the mustard seed read to us today we see that from the early seeds sown by Ruatara and Marsden, grew a great big metaphorical tree called the Church which spread branches. On these branches generations of New Zealanders from all nations have been able to find a place of safety and spiritual nourishment.
Looking at the characters of those early missionaries, their mixed motives, conflicting interests and very human failings, I am struck by the second parable in today’s Gospel. Jesus says that people scatter the wheat seed on the ground. Night and day, whether they sleep or get up, the seed sprouts and grows though we do not know how. God makes it grow and turns it into a harvest. The seed of the Gospel was scattered by fallible people. In spite of their foibles and failings, the Holy Spirit used their efforts and enabled the seed to take root and blossom in New Zealand. This was no different in Biblical times. Moses David the prophets were all fallible people yet God used them nonetheless for kingdom work. Just so today God uses us with all our faults and failing. He calls us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it will be his Holy Spirit that will ensure its continued regeneration in this land.
Interestingly it was literally the wheat that Marsden showed Ruatara, that in part fueled his interest in the missionaries and it was the bread that came from that wheat that laid the foundation for them to hear about Jesus, the bread of life.
These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long
This is our time, it is the time for the Church of 2014 to stand in the tradition of the early evangelists in this land, to be missional, to pass on the baton of the Gospel to the people of New Zealand. 200 years after Marsden’s arrival, the Christian message still needs to be preached if New Zealand is to continue to be a hope-filled, Godly place in which to live.