The celebration of Matariki coincides with Winter Solstice [June 22nd] which is the seasonal beginning for the European New Year. Both Maori and European cultures share this time.
Matariki is about stars – the Pleiades actually – 7 sisters/goddesses – stars who are among the nearest to earth. The name Pleiades came from Ancient Greece, and this time of year marked the start of the sailing season. The poet Hesiod advised mariners to stay on land when the Pleiades disappeared from view and their guidance was lost.
In Māori culture Matariki is a time to firstly remember, as the old prayerbook used to say, ‘those who have helped and influenced us’. Our dead. Our stars. That could be a parent or grandparent, but it might be an elder, a mentor, a boss, or a neighbour. We remember them because they have gone yet still, particularly in our dark times, shine like stars in our night – encouraging and guiding. E nga mate, haere, haere, haere ki te po. [To our dead farewell, farewell, farewell to the night].
This morning I’ve invited you to bring a picture of someone who has helped and influenced you to be the person you are. We are honoured to have a photographic symbol these people in our midst today.
Secondly, Matariki is a time of coming change. A turning of the seasons. And the coming of light. So, it’s a time to prepare, to plant without seeing the results, a time to fly a kite into the unknown, a time to dream it then do it different.
And lastly, Matariki occurred at the end of the harvest season. So, it was a time of giving thanks for our whenua [the land] and Papatuanuku [our mother earth] who have sustained us. This thanksgiving was marked by pleasurable pastimes – like games, kite-making, and feasting.
It is very apt that today coincides with a visit from Talia, the coordinator of the My Backyard Garden programme at the Glen Innes Family Centre which we support. Planting, harvesting, giving away and giving thanks are part of her kaupapa.
Matariki is the time for dreaming and doing it different.
The Bible reading from Mark 6 is an interesting one. The normative understanding of ‘mission’ in Jesus’ day was to stay in one place. The wise teacher/healer (read Jesus) would set up a base – like in Capernaum or wherever – and his disciples would do the daily running around and crowd-control. So, for an inquirer to get to see the great teacher/healer he or she had to go through his disciples (giving them a financial tip), before they got entrance, and the advice or therapy they sought. The wise teacher was the dispenser of goodies; the disciples the go-betweens; and this was all normative.
It was similar to a farming metaphor (and note that the gospel writers often use this metaphor for mission). The resourced farmer would buy land, and his sons, daughters, employees would join him in working the land, and then all getting a share of the benefits as people came to buy produce.
Both the mission and farming understanding was that you stayed put. People came to you. And you amassed both influence and wealth by staying put.
Yet, Jesus did it differently. He was on the move, itinerant. People seemed to have direct access – without going through the disciples (and Jesus’ reproved the disciples when they acted as gatekeepers – Mark 10:13-15). Jesus didn’t work from an operational base. He didn’t amass wealth, and nor did his disciples. He only took with him a few possessions he that could carry. It was a precarious existence that depended upon the generosity of others whom he met on the road. Being on the move he was hard to find, until he showed up. This was not how one built up a strong, dependable, enduring movement.
But it wasn’t only the lack of a base that marked Jesus as different. In the text from Mark 6 today we have Jesus telling his disciples to do what he does. Like: Teach a bit of wisdom. Tell people to turn from their selfish ways. Cast out the demons of fear. Be a source of healing.
He doesn’t tell his disciples to sell people tickets to come to see the great Jesus on this date, on that hillside. No, his disciples are not preaching about the great Jesus who will save you. No, his disciples are doing the saving!! They are preaching and living and being what Jesus called ‘the kingdom of God’. They are empowering people to get up and to get on board this kingdom thing.
And note, the disciples are not setting up bases of influence. They too, like Jesus, are itinerant, carrying little, dependent on those they meet. Weak. This was not how one built up a strong, dependable, enduring movement.
The farming metaphor that Jesus used to describe his vision was the mustard seed. This is seed was the oxalis of the ancient world. Once in your garden it was devilishly difficult to get out. It was a big nuisance. And it got in your garden not by planting but by being windblown.
The scandal of this parable is that Jesus is likening his kingdom movement to this windblown nuisance. His disciples would be the nuisances and nobodies, itinerant, going where the wind blows.
And of course, if you are expecting a mustard shrub to grow into a great tree with branches and birds think again. It will be short and stubby. The farm that has mustard running riot will be seen as a failure.
Small, weak, with few resources, going where the spirit wind blows. An alternate understanding of kingdom. Really a totally upside-down understanding of kingdom. Where the nuisances and nobodies are doing the healing and saving, and the ‘king’/wise leader is off somewhere else.
Some scholars think Jesus in this regard followed the pattern of Diogenes and his followers (called cynics). There is a lot that can be said about Diogenes and his debates with Plato are both amusing and instructive. In short Diogenes believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory (not dissimilar to how I understand theology – God is a way you live rather than a creed you believe).
Diogenes used his simple lifestyle and behaviour to criticize the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt, confused society. He was a protestor. He had a reputation for sleeping and eating wherever he chose in a highly non-traditional fashion (like a large ceramic jar!). He declared himself and a citizen of the world rather than claiming allegiance to just one place (a bit like how I’m cynical about the supposed virtue of nationalism, often in my thinking nationalism is a guise for self-interested protectionism).
Of all his stunts I love the account of his meeting with Alexander the Great in Corinth in 336 BCE. Here’s Arrian’s account:
When also in the Isthmus Alexander met Diogenes, lying in the sun. Standing near him with his shield-bearing guards, Alexander asked if he wanted anything. Diogenes replied that he wanted nothing else, except that Alexander and his attendants would stand out of the sun. Alexander is said to have expressed his admiration of Diogenes’s conduct.
Diogenes did not seek power or wealth. And Alexander, though driven by the thirst for both, could see that Diogenes was content though Diogenes had neither.
And upside-down way of thinking indeed! And some 300 years later Jesus taught and lived and encouraged his disciples similarly.
Dreaming it different, doing it different.
I like kites. I like watching them soar. Kites have long been a symbol of the connection between our grounded selves (what is) and our hopes and flying dream (what might be). Matariki is the season for kites and kite flying.
What are the hopes and dreams we have inherited from those mentors and elders who have gone before us? And where are their stars leading us?
What do we need to prepare the ground for, and plant, in this dreaming time? Prepare and plant without seeing any immediate results?
Jesus and Diogenes in their days did it different. We don’t have to emulate what they did. But we do need to think of how, given our values (our kaupapa), we might do it different today.
This morning we are going to make kite prayers. Firstly, you write a hope or dream (or you could draw it) on a piece of A4 paper. (Talk to your neighbour and if they have a good idea pinch it). And then following a very simple design, make the A4 into a kite. Then we are going to put our kites all over the table here. These kites will be our prayer.