Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we are getting used to a new public holiday - Matariki - a Friday, varying a bit around the mid June to mid July period, offering opportunity to celebrate the (re)appearance of Matariki or, in other language contexts, Pleiades. This is just our second year of having this holiday.
For Maori, this represents the turn of the old year into the new year.
For Christians in our islands, I see a warm embrace of this new interest in an old custom, with opportunities (at least as I have experienced them) for reflecting on the God of creation, Christ the light of the world, and doing so out of respect for our Treaty of Waitangi partners.
Matariki is referenced specifically three times in Scripture: Amos 5:8; Job 9:9; and Job 38;31.
This year I also noticed a case advanced for considering the "seven stars" of Revelation (e.g. 1:12-20) as a reference to Pleiades/Matariki. (There is a bit of a challenge here since the count of brighter stars in this cluster often counts up to nine and not just to seven. See further, here.)
The larger challenge here, noting, for example, the reasonably widespread endorsement of the spirituality of Matariki (e.g. on advertisements on TV), in a manner scarcely similarly endorsed at either Easter or Christmas, is how we as Christians respond to something new (or newly emphasised) in our culture.
Overall - my musing is thus - Christians are seeking to find in Matariki (the stars, the event of their appearance, the talk of their meaning) all that is consistent with the revelation of God the Creator in Jesus Christ the Light of the World.
A different musing this weekend. For service this morning in one of our parishes, where I knew a sermon-with-some-discussion would be appreciated, I responded to the readings, Romans 8:1-11 and Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23, in the following way:
The assertion of the Christian gospel is that humanity can change, that we are able to receive a message from God – the gospel or good news, hear it, receive it, digest it, possibly reject it, or, hopefully work with it and for this message to work within us to change our minds, change our attitudes, change our behaviour and, bit by bit, change the world.
It is an extraordinary claim because it is a claim that something deep within us can be reached by God working within us in a way that cannot be reached by (say) education, or punishment according to a state judicial system.
This is not to say that education or appropriate punishment cannot have good effects – they do and we rightly pay taxes to ensure their benefits are widely shared in society.
But, and we see this being played out in our society today, highlighted by media headlines and spotlighted by politicians seeking election, we have some deep, seemingly intractable problems in society.
Something deeper by way of changing people and fixing social breakdown is needed. Something more powerful to transform us than what is currently on offer by any politician or media pundit.
Our passages today are chalk and cheese in many ways. The gospel reading is an earthy parable about the way crops are planted and successfully grown or otherwise. The epistle reading is very spiritual – literally so because there is a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit.
Yet both passages are about the assertion of the Christian gospel that humanity can change through the receiving into the depths of our being the good news message of God.
The seed in the earthy parable is a word of God which falls into people’s lives. Some are distracted, etc, the word does not take root. Some are not, the word brings good consequences, fruitful change in their lives.
Romans 8 is at the end of a sequence of arguments and proposals by Paul relating to the plight of humanity. Beset by sin, can humanity be made righteous – put into a right relationship with God? Yes, Paul says, because of what Christ has done for humanity, through his sacrificial death and his rising to new life. (Romans 1-4)
Humanity Rightly relating to God, nevertheless is beset by sin: can humanity – more precisely, you and me – overcome the tendency to wrong-doing rather than be overcome by it?
This is the subject of chapters 5-8.
Paul’s answer is guarded. Yes, we can be overcomers – God’s power is available to help us, through the Spirit of God working within us, we can change – but we need to work with God on this, consistently saying Yes to the prompts of the Spirit to live godly lives, and consistently saying No to the prompts of our sin-tending natures.
Chalk and cheese, two very different passages, both seeking to persuade readers/hearers that God’s powerful love seeks to empower us to change for good.
What is our response to be?
A fascinating discussion followed this reflection and concluding question!
Please note that due to travel this week I may not be able to respond to comments, including posting them, with my usual speed.