Mustard Seed Sunday

by Megan Means

(Based on Mark 4:26-34)

‘Aotearoa Sunday’ was passed in the 1980s by the Anglican General Synod. It is a day of prayer and thanksgiving for the work of the ‘Bishopric of Aotearoa’.

Kia ora, nau mai, haere mai, tēnā koutou katoa.
E te whānau (family)
Nau mai, haere mai (welcome)
Ki tēnei whare karakia (to this church)
Ko te Atua te pou manaaki, te pou atawhai, te kaihanga o ngā mea katoa.
    (God is our support and carer, the creator of all things)

The Sunday before Advent in the UK is called ‘Stir it up Sunday’, a name which comes from the Book of Common Prayer and possibly dates back to 1549. The words of the Collect that have usually been said on this day are, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. As traditions go, somewhere along the way the metaphor of stirring up the Christmas pudding or cake became a timely fit for the Sunday before Advent.

This play on words has prompted generations of families, particularly in the UK, to stir their Christmas pudding/cake in readiness for Christmas on this Sunday every year. Are you of this tradition? Or is today now a reminder that you might need to start thinking about your Christmas pudding and Christmas cake!

I do like the term ‘Stir it up Sunday’!

Often Anglican Sunday services are very well planned and led. They are consistent. We usually know what is going to happen. Sometimes churches do things slightly differently but it is all really quite ordered, predictable and safe.

But, ‘the Bishopric of Aotearoa’ could be a bit of a ‘stir…up’! What is it? I googled it …

From Wikipedia (the fount of all people’s knowledge): The Bishopric of Aotearoa, Te Pīhopa o Aotearoa, was a post created in 1928. It is usually occupied by the most senior bishop of Tikanga Māori (although at present this is not the case) and this person is also the Primate and archbishop who heads the Māori Anglican Church throughout New Zealand. The office is currently held by Archbishop Donald Tamihere, who was installed in April 2018 at Manutuke Marae, near Gisborne.

Donald Tamihere

The Bishopric of Aotearoa has within it five hui amorangi/dioceses, each with its own unique identity and pīhopa/bishop, just like tikanga pākehā.
The idea of a Māori diocese with its own bishop was a response to the formation of the Rātana Church, which threatened to draw Māori away from the established churches. For three years there was deadlock within Pākehā bishops, who insisted that the first bishop of Aotearoa should be Pākehā, and Māori Anglicans were adamant that this person should be Māori. The eventual solution was a classic Anglican compromise: the creation of a so-called bishopric with no territorial jurisdiction. On 2 December 1928, Frederick Bennett was consecrated as the first Bishop of Aotearoa in the Napier Cathedral. He was an assistant to the Bishop of Waiapu, and ministered to Māori throughout the country but under licence from the pākehā diocesan bishops (an arrangement maintained until 1978).

Frederick Bennett

Jesus said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God …? It is like a mustard seed.”
The allegory of the mustard seed is an invitation for anyone living in a world of choices to acquire discernment, courage, flexibility: surely all elements within the story of the Bishopric of Aotearoa, that can also relate into each of our own lives.

Jesus says things like: The kingdom is here now. The kingdom is within. The kingdom is among you. Seek the Kingdom.
“Thy kingdom come – on earth as it is in heaven.”

This “kingdom” is here … right now! And this parable is for anyone who lives with the desire, the call, to do something good and beautiful with their life, or to do something that makes a difference in the world for God’s creation and beloved community.

The growth of any seed is a picture of encouragement and an invitation to make a kinder world possible right now.
There is a lot of goodness in a mustard seed: It is used for medicinal purposes. It is used to enhance taste. It is a useful seed that becomes a bushy plant (one neither elegant nor majestic).

Jesus said the realm of God is like someone taking care to plant a useful seed in prepared ground and then tending to it and watching it grow.
Seeds can grow into unexpected results. The mustard bush is a stubborn plant, which develops into a tough little shrub, and then grows to become a tree that birds can make their nests in.

‘Stirring up’ this allegory, the Bishopric of Aotearoa is a persistent, tough native plant that started growing into something that was not expected. Yes, I think it did start to grow into something unexpected and was overtaken in some ways and controlled by colonial expectations. Today it continues to establish itself and connect with whānau and friends and remind all Anglicans that we are a bicultural church.

And stirring it up more, why have ‘us’ pākehā only used token amounts of Te Reo in our services? Along with poor pronunciation? I think that Pākehā led ministry units have made a pretty poor Christmas cake for some time.
Our prayer book and constitution, however, have been ahead of the times with their bicultural equality liturgical approach. Today our Anglican church is positioned well to continue to support the country’s revival of taha Māori by the way our liturgies uphold te Tiriti o Waitangi principles and the way that we provide a balanced voice to the original stories of the arrival of the gospel in Aotearoa.

God’s kingdom is with – and within – us all.

So, what is being stirred up within us today? What seed is wanting space to grow? What might we change, improve about ourselves over this next week and into our futures? What might we stir up this Advent and Christmas season? A tiny seed will remain just that unless we do something about it.

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