Greetings Te Haahi Weteriana, tena koutou katoa,
It is with sadness that we learnt earlier this week of the sudden death of Whaea Paewhenua Nathan. Paewhenua for close to twenty years has been the Maori chaplain at Wesley College and prior to that was Kaiarahi of Te Taha Maori serving alongside Te Ruakawhena Winiata.
We write this blog following having attended today a most moving karakia at Wesley College.. At the end of the karakia, Wesley College students paid tribute to Paewhenua with a rousing whole school haka before her whanau took her home to her Marae Te Piiti, Omanaia, in the Hokianga.
Paewhenua, over her period of service at Wesley College has supported, guided, challenged and loved the students at the college. It was apparent from the tributes today that her aroha was not reserved only for the Maori students, but for the whole Wesley family. Today we witnessed the impact of her loving service and care. Many students paid tribute to her. She encouraged young people to be proud of their culture, of who they are and to stand tall. She had an open door policy and a listening ear. She supported staff. She offered hospitality to many young people. We also heard of her strong faith and how that has influenced and impacted on the lives of many students and staff, past and present.
We stood alongside Te Taha Maori and Wesley College in honouring this leader from amongst our midst. A woman who was not afraid to speak her mind, but always in love. We grieve with Te Taha Maori and Wesley College and offer our love and condolences.
We extend to her whanau our love and thanks for gifting Paewhenua to Wesley College. As you take her home, we pray that you will find strength and peace as you say your goodbyes and know that she is held in high esteem by the Methodist Church of New Zealand. Our love and prayers are with you all.
We bid Paewhenua Nathan farewell with the final verses of her favourite Psalm. Pslam 23. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
We thank God for the life of service and love of Paewhenua Nathan. Haere atu ra ki te ringa kaha o te Atua, hoki atu ki ou matua tupuna, e moe, moe mai ra.
'Ofa atu fau, Nga mihi nui.
Setaita and Nicola
We also acknowledge and thank Rev Dale Peach for her reflection this week. Thank you Dale for your challenge to us all.
Genesis 21:8-21 - Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, 'Do not let me look on the death of the child.' And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, 'What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.' 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
When it comes to the history of Israel the story of Hagar and Ishmael can legitimately be called a distraction, and yet there is something different about the way the plight of Hagar and Ishmael is recorded. How often do we come across women in our Bible and realise that we don't even know their name, let alone what they think or feel? We may know they are someone's daughter, or wife, or mother, but that is often all we do know.
This is not the case with Hagar. It's almost like Hagar's story has come from a different tradition compared to much of the ancient misogynistic patriarchal narrative of the Old Testament. We have this Egyptian woman, someone who appears to be outside God's plan for God's chosen people, who is presented as a person with her own story and value. Hagar is no subplot to Abraham and Sarah. Hagar is the beginning of another story – one that will echo throughout history.
In this Genesis narrative Hagar is in the wilderness twice. The first time is when she runs away because Sarah is abusing her (Genesis 16). In both of these wilderness experiences God sees Hagar and acknowledges who she is. In fact God gives Hagar greater status than Sarah ever gives her - God calls Hagar by her name. Sarah only ever refers to Hagar as her 'slave girl' or 'slave woman'. We only know Hagar's name because the narrator of the story uses it.
By the end of Abraham and Sarah's story we are meant to conclude that Isaac is God's chosen one. However, when we read these accounts of God's interaction with Hagar, we get another picture. Just because the descents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are God's chosen people does not mean they have an exclusive claim on God's care or on God's presence.
The stories of Ishmael and Isaac are not stories of God deciding which one God will bless – which one God will give a future to – which one God will make into a great nation. God does not play favourites but blesses Ishmael and Isaac the same. Their stories are both stories of a God who cares, and whose descents become a great nation.
When reading the Bible it is easy to find passages supporting an exclusive claim that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the Israelite God alone and all must come to God within the framework of Jewish understanding. The Hebrew Scripture is also full of claims that all other nations are not acceptable to God, and so must be destroyed, totally.
However, when the Bible is read with open eyes a reader will find themselves coming across passages that contradict this world-view. All non-Jews are bad – and yet Ruth, the Moabite, was the great-grandmother of Israel's greatest king, David. And the mother of King David's great-grandfather, Boaz, was the prostitute Rahab, from the pagan city of Jericho.
The Bible debates with itself. Who is it that God cares about? Is God the exclusive God of the Israelites or does God care about other nations as well? We see this in the story of Jonah who is sent to save Nineveh – the capital city of a nation that was the biggest threat to Israel's security.
And so, what do the writers of the story of Hagar and Ishmael want us to understand about God? What glimpse of God do they want us to see in this event?
Could it be that the Hagar and Ishmael story is in the Hebrew Scriptures to challenge the triumphal assertion that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of the Israelites alone? Could it be that the Hagar and Ishmael story is in the Hebrew Scriptures to state that the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, is also the God of Abraham, Ishmael and Esau (Esau married one of Ishmael's daughters)? Even though Jewish history sidelines Isaac and Jacob's older brothers, could it be that God does not? And if we dare to state that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also the God of Abraham, Ishmael and Esau, then what we are claiming is that the God of the Israelites, is also the God of the Arabs. Islam makes this claim.
At the heart of this is the rejection of any claim that one group of people, 'chosen' or otherwise, has a monopoly on God's love and care. We Christians, who are the cousins of those who claim to be God's chosen people, also cannot claim exclusive rights on God. If we believe in the good news of the first creation poem in our Bible, Genesis 1, then we know all people are made in the image of God, and so all people are under God's care, whether they realise it or not.
The God who sees and hears, sees and hears all, and cares for all. There is no person overlooked by God, and God's priority has always been for those who are marginalised, rejected, or subjugated. As the Black Lives Matter protests have reverberated around the world we are reminded that the God who met an outcast foreign woman in the wilderness is the same God walking with people of colour who struggle to receive respect and the same rights many of us take for granted. The God we follow has always prioritized the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised. This is the God we need to model our lives on.
The story of God's care for Hagar and Ishmael challenges us to remember that the neighbours who are 'other' to us, are not 'other' to God. Jesus told us a parable about that.
West Christchurch Methodist Parish
Prayer for this week
God of the other, the stranger, the misfit
Forgive us when we make exclusive claims about you
and limit our vision so that we do not see where your Spirit is working.
Open our hearts to accept that you already love the 'neighbour' we have chosen not to know.
Open our ears to hear the cries of people who are suffering and marginalised.
Challenge us when our attitudes and actions exclude and reject others.
We pray for people who exclude themselves because they do not think they are worthy.
We pray for freedom for all people –
for the right of everyone to be equal and welcome at the table.
Show us how to be your loving and accepting heart, hands and feet
so that your Kingdom on earth may become a reality for all people.