Hiroshima Sunday Reflection

Hiroshima Sunday 5th August 2018

Paul Barber
St Andrews on The Terrace, Wellington 


The image of the dove with the olive branch  is a widely recognised peace symbol. You will also see that symbol on the sign on the front outside wall of this church [St Andrews on The Terrace] that declares us a peace church.

The rainbow is also a symbol of peace and an emblem of inclusion for the LGBTI community, as you can see on the other sign on the outside wall of this church that declares this church to be an inclusive church, including people of every creed, race, class and sexual orientation.

For the Christian community the biblical story from Genesis of Noah’s Ark is the source of the dove and the rainbow symbols of peace.

As we heard in the reading from Genesis this morning, the receding of the flood signalled by the dove returning with an olive branch in its beak, and the bow in the sky, the rainbow, are enduring signs that God does not wish to punish and destroy. They are a promise of new beginnings, of peace and hope.

For this promise of peace, this hope to become real it needs us here and now to be the ones to live out the practice of peace.

The one-line gospel reading today may have almost escaped your attention in the readings – but it comes from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew. It is one a of a several of Jesus’ rabbi-style summaries of all the law and the prophets – in everything do to others what you would have done to you. That’s it he says, that is what all the Torah, the rules, the teaching are really about – you can boil it all down to one simple phrase.

We call it the Golden Rule and it is echoed across all the great faiths of humanity it is a shared moral foundation for all humanity. And it is a guide for action – what you do to others counts – it is not about your political views, your beliefs, your creeds, your ideologies – but what you do – to others.

So if we want to have peace, we must be practicing peace, taking action to make peace, to defuse conflict, disarm aggression.

We have been practising being a peace church here for 35 years – and that declaration on 7th August 1983 came in turn out of the work of previous years – our tradition of working for peace goes back a long way…

peacemovementaotearoa-whiteAt the end of June, I represented St Andrews at the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee to speak to our submission in support of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.

Our Minister, Rev Susan Jones would have been there if the Select Committee hadn’t changed its hearing date at the last minute. St Andrews on The Terrace had added its voice thanks to the very good work of Peace Movement Aotearoa in alerting us all to the opportunity to comment as Parliament considered this issue.

This time last year I spoke to you about the excitement of the nuclear weapons ban treaty being signed by New Zealand along with 120 other countries.

This week, on Tuesday evening 31st July 2018 New Zealand formally completed the ratification of the treaty, the 14th country to do this. The ban will come into force when at least 50 nations have ratified it, which it is expected will happen in the next couple of years. Things are moving!! (Note this is ‘lightning speed” by the standards of normal UN and international decision-making processes!!)

There have been over 2,600 nuclear detonations since 1945, including 500 in the atmosphere before 1980.

The Bomb has already brought enormous suffering to this planet – first and foremost to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were the civilian victims of the only times the bomb has been used in active warfare.

But the thousands of tests have brought ongoing suffering to people in many parts of the world – the Pacific has been used as a testing ground by American, British and French governments and the people of the French Polynesia, Marshall Islands and other places where tests have taken place suffer from the cancers, mutations and other illnesses generations after the testing was stopped. There is also the problem of radioactive waste that is not securely stored and in danger of leaking into the environment and causing further contamination.

The bomb is outrageous, obscene and un-Godly and immoral – and the world about to set in international law the immorality of these weapons and ban their use in any way at all. We can look forward to building overwhelming pressure to rid our world of this threat to our very existence.

The world is saying – there is no justification for nuclear weapons, there is no just war that can involve their use.  As the President of the International Red Cross describes it in the contemporary reading today, the ban on nuclear weapons is a “light for all humanity”.

ANZAC Day 2018 Moderator’s Message – find the alternative voice

In his ANZAC Day message this year that was sent out to all parishes via email, the national leader of our church, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Aotearoa NZ, Rt Rev Richard Dawson asked the question “whether military force is able to be a part of a Christian solution to the political and social realities of human life. Can force ever be said to be a Christian option? Do we have to settle for violence?”

His answer to his own question was yes.

Even admitting, as he says that “the outcomes are extremely limited and often, in themselves, full of injustice. Innocent people are killed, violent people are exalted and the states which are left are often not much better off than before”

But he asks – “would the alternative have been preferred?”

Well I am here today to stand in the tradition of peace that Jesus taught and say: Yes – the alternative is better.

The alternative voice, the alternative path of peace is undeniably better. The good news of God’s love is that love overcomes hatred and death.

We do not spread love when we ‘liberate towns and cities by obliterating themWe do not bring peace by indiscriminately slaughtering tens of thousands of civilians as was done in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

prayer flagIn everything do to others as you would have them do to you” Jesus said…

It does the Gospel and our church a dis-service only to draw on the dominant narrative in the media for the analysis of conflicts.

When messages to the church from our leadership repeat what is fed to us through mainline information sources, the opportunity is missed to access the Christian community’s alternative worldview inspired by the spirit of peace, and which we of course sharewith many non-Christians as well!

In that worldview, we hear about the tricky negotiations, the risky meetings, the courageous communities standing up, the daring and unconventional actions that disarm conflict and give young people hope instead of driving them into the arms of radicals.

On Peace Sunday we need to remember (and the church needs to hear):

about the enormous amount of non-violent, peace-promoting work being done by churches across the world. In our prayers today, the Christian World Service asks us to pray for the mediating and reconciling work that the church in South Sudan is actively pursuing in that conflict ravaged country. In their weekly e-news today, the World Council of Churches shared the stories of 12 Faces of Hope –12 Palestinians and Israelis who share the vision of hope for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land.

“I feel lucky that for me the current context does not only include what we hear on the news, but also include daily experience of thousands of Jews, Muslims and Christians coming together, overcoming prejudices and negative attitudes, and building true friendships of mutual care. Seeing this happening again and again not only brings me hope but also teaches me that it is much more natural for people of the Holy Land to be friends than to be enemies…” Yehuda Stolov  Executive director of the Interfaith Encounter Association

On Peace Sunday we need to remember (and the church needs to hear):

peaceful protest movements are far more successful in achieving lasting change across many cultures around the world. study of more than 300 major violent and nonviolent campaigns over the past century, showed that the non-violent movements were far better at mobilizing supporters, resisting regime crackdowns, creating new initiatives, defeating repressive regimes and establishing lasting democracies.

Tibetan prayer flag

On Peace Sunday we need to remember (and the church needs to hear):

that, if just a tiny fraction of the trillions spent on the military machine were turned to peace-promoting social and economic development, we could wipe out poverty and inequality in the world – arguably one of the deep drivers of conflict in all forms.Total global military spending rose to US$1,739 billion in 2017 and the now the NZ government has announced plans to spend $2 billion on 4 new planes equipped to fully participate along with the US military in attacking other countries

There are more than enough cheer leaders and excuse-makers for the military, for war and for violence.  The Presbyterian Church should express its sorrow at the horrific costs of war and militarisation and call on all of us to seek paths of non-violent conflict resolution at all levels.

In 2014 General Assembly passed a motion supporting an education campaign throughout the church and then nothing happened.   Who is responsible for making sure motions agreed at General Assembly are put into action?  We call for this initiative to be enacted in this, the last year of the centenary commemorations of World War I.

There is a letter to the Moderator about this at the back of the church which you are invited to add your signature to after the service.

Week of Peace

Pacificism is not a passive activity – it involves a lot of hugging!!

The beginning of November this year marks 100 years since the end of World War 1. For the past couple of months, I have been talking with our Minister Susan, Parish Council and the social justice group about the idea that we make the week that includes Parihaka Day on 5th November and Armistice Day on 11th November a Peace Week here at St Andrews.

Let us open the doors and invite all those in our community who wish to work for peace to share their vision and hopes in whatever way they like.

The week will begin with us hosting the National Peace Workshop organised by Peace Movement Aotearoa over the weekend on 2-4th Nov and including a Parihaka commemoration of some form to be agreed with the people of Parikaka.

During the week we will invite people to use the church as a space to display of art, music, information and there will be time for voices to be heard over the lunchtimes or early evenings.

On Sunday 11th November we will end the week with a vigil to mark Armistice Day – perhaps as a public event beginning here with worship and continuing across town to a place of significance for peace and reconciliation.

We will be inviting others to join in this week and will share more information soon. The week will be a celebration of the work of peace that we share with many others and a chance to grow and strengthen the collaborations.

Today we break bread and share in holy communion – breaking bread with others is a pivotal act in building peace.

As happens on the marae, it is shared food that completes the process of challenge and welcome and seals the bonds of relationship and peace.

In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus said.

So may it be.

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