A sermon delivered at First Presbyterian Church, Dunedin Sunday 25th March 2007 by Emeritus Professor Peter Matheson, celebrating Dunedinís heritage. The Mayor of Dunedin Mr Peter Chin , members of our City Council and our local M.P the Rt. Hon. David Benson-Pope were present, along with a large multi-cultural congregation. The entire service was designed to help us see heritage in inter-religious terms, and to help us appreciate more profoundly Dunedinís diverse religious heritage. Two members of our Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group, Mrs Ruth Groffman and Mr Steve Johnston spoke during the service about the history and contribution of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Dunedin.

Look to the rock from which you are hewn.



Itís great fun to dress up, to hear the skirl of the pipes, to wear, as I am today, a 100 year old gown. To remember the old days. To honour the old folk. What a sad lot those folk are, who take all the hard won gains of the past for granted, confuse slick technological innovation with progress, have lost touch with the great songs and stories of the past. Whether as Cook Islanders, Samoans or Europeans this is something we often talk about in First church. Our responsibility to pass on our heritage.

And yet, and yet, there can be few subjects about which more nonsense is spoken than heritage, tradition, home, homeland, traditional values. Kilts, haggis, bagpipes, Rabbie Burns and Bonnie Prince Charlie. What an Irish stew , if I can talk double-Dutch. Heritage, traditional values are so often the happy hunting ground of the sentimentalist, the nostalgic, the social and political conservatives who want to dodge present day issues of truth or justice. None worse than the National Socialists in Germany who dreamed up a wholly fictional Teutonic past of blond giants in dark forests. With the terrible results we know of. Or the Communist regimes who rewrote history with every new turn in the power game.

Heritage is a tricky business. Ancient Israel knew this well. Indeed it is from our Jewish inheritance that I inherited the most passionate insistence on remembering. Remember. Remember: your parent was a wandering Aramaean. So, donít take your prosperity for granted. Look after the newcomer, the exile. the outsider. You were lonely and confused like that once. Remember the Exodus. Remember you were a slave in the Egyptian furnaces. Stand up for justice. Remember the Shoah, the Holocaust. You enter a concentration camp and look at the photos on the walls; of the victims and of the tormentors. And you ask: what are we human beings? Without memory as Solshenitzyn has said, we are one-eyed freaks. Monsters. Dangerous to ourselves and others.

The prophets remind us, though, how often our memories are conveniently selective. Jerusalem the Golden. God will always safeguard it. Or us in a high tide of emotion singing at the Proms And we would build Jerusalem in this green and pleasant land. Not so quickly, said the prophets. Wait a moment.

Look to the rock from which you are hewn. Prophets like Isaiah snapped open peopleís eyes to what was really going on: calamity, injustice, And they proclaimed with the passion of Martin Luther King the need to think quite new thoughts, a new age, one of universal peace and brotherhood. Not because it was there. Because it wasnít ... How long O Lord?

The prophet Isaiah, remember, is speaking from an utterly devastated Israel. Think of contemporary Baghdad if you want an analogy. Devastated by invasion and foreign occupation, kidnapping, torture and death. Yet heís saying, and as the previous chapter reminds us, just about got lynched for saying: Remember Abraham, remember barren Sarah. Remember their despair. Thatís the rock from which you are hewn. Thatís your turangawaewae. Donít give up. Thereís hope around the corner. But itís coming from where youíd least expect it. A foreigner. A Persian King.

I am a historian. It is always those who look back to the rock from which they are hewn who lead the great renewal movements in history; Hold up the founding vision for they alert us to the tawdry compromises of the present. So that today we can do a new thing, as the same prophet Isaiah proclaims. True heritage is about the future.

Look to the rock from which you are hewn, then. Trouble is, we ask, which rock? Those who built this church were sure they knew, the rock of a certain sort of Calvinism, which had its serious strengths many of which we could sure do with today, but in fact they represented only a sub-culture even within the Scottish society from which they came. The Free Church. Knox Church down the road was far too liberal. not to mention the Anglicans, the little enemy or the quite unspeakable Catholics.

Which rock? What is the role of religion in modern society? Many are so disgusted with religious conflicts that they want to do away with religion altogether. Can you understand that? I can. But the word religio actually means a bond, what binds us together. And without bonds, without boundaries there is no belonging. We all need to belong.

So where do we belong?

For weíre hewn from a variety of rocks. This is eminently true of Dunedin. Weíre Cook Islanders or Samoans, but weíre also - equally passionately - New Zealanders. The other day I had a meal with a very distinguished Dunedin man, Dr Paul Oestreicher , whose father just fled the death camps in Hitlerís Germany in 1939. In the nick of time. He is German and a Dunedinite, a Christian and a Jew, Anglican and Quaker. The rock from which he was hewn was a whole mountain range. This has enabled him to do extraordinary work in bringing for example Coventry and Dresden, both bombed severely in the Second World War, together.

Heritage today means something different. The Palestinian Edward Said and the great Jewish musician Daniel Barenboim agonized over the endless conflict between their peoples in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip. What did they do They actually formed, as their contribution to peace and reconciliation, a joint Arab and Israeli orchestra, and in the struggle and exaltation of playing music together the young musicians learnt to see 'the otherí as another part of their own humanity. These days we all belong together. There are no pure heritages any more, if ever there were. We are hyphenated people. The slick word for that is cross-culturalism. Living in a multi-religious society.

But thereís nothing slick about the reality. It is hard. Because we have lost the old belonging, the old religion, the old social capital. And havenít found a new one yet. Weíre at a tipping point. It is a huge challenge to our politicians. For we know now that itís not enough to up GDP and services, increase the dollars in peopleís pockets. That doesnít make people happy. Many of our young folk, as a sociologist said on the radio last week, have become grazers. They pick at life. At food, at relationships, at beliefs, When you donít know where you belong anything goes. When home and society no longer provide any boundaries it is cruelly hard. So get your kicks where you can. Some drift into gangs, to try to find belonging there. Rowan Williams in the introduction to an influential new book on Theology and Politics warns that the countdown to social dissolution and the triumph of infinite exchangeability and timeless, atomised desire is almost upon us. People no longer think they matter. So we really need to get behind our City Councils and Regional Councils and members of Parliament when they seek to foster this so intangible but profoundly necessary sense of belonging.

On the macro level you can see the same phenomenon. We have never been so globalised. There are many good things about globalisation. But itís also creating enormous megacities like Mexico City of unbelievable poverty in the developing world. Enormous slums. Enormous stoked up anger. The environment is being trashed. But above all the destruction of identity, knowing where one belongs. So in reaction to globalisation there has been a very frightening, atavistic reversion to tribalism. When Yugoslavia broke up we saw it at its worst, Catholic versus Orthodox versus Muslim. But weíre becoming tribal everywhere. Often , this has been accompanied by reversions to fundamentalism, Christian, Islamic, Jewish ones.

What Iím trying to say, help me! is that weíre forcing ourselves into straitjackets of 'false belongingí, false scape-goating, to fill a yawning gap in the soul. We need to belong, to know what our religion is, what binds us together, what the boundaries are for our children, what will survive of us when we die. Seek righteousness, Isaiah says, We need values.

So all the commentators are saying that religion is back, not only in the crude sense of its unmistakable importance in the crisis areas like the Middle East, but because there is a growing recognition among all concerned about our society and our world that without a transcendental basis there will be no belonging, no justice, no peace, no environment. For the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity, Islam calls us to reaching out beyond our own career, our own village, our own family, our own traditions, to the other. One God, one world, one humanity.

One of the great Islamic scholars of our time, Chandra Muzaffar in Malaysia, believes the main hope for world peace and justice lies in Jews, Christians, and Muslims , as the great Abrahamic religions of the world coming together to be a light to the nations. Not that he is arguing that we Christians drop our faith in Christ, or Jews drop their reverence for the Torah, or Muslims sell out to modernism. There is no leverage at all in some sort of vague universalism. No , on the contrary; the reality is that as we get to know the profound convictions and the spiritualities of other faiths we learn to cherish and deepen our knowledge and praxis of our own faith This is already happening in a small way in Dunedin, where the Abrahamic group is bringing the three faiths together to listen to one another. Steve Johnston and Ruth Groffman are here as members of that group this morning.

Letís face it. We are so lucky here in Dunedin. This is a tolerant place. The Mosque regularly opens its doors to enquirers and visitors. We know the debt our libraries and art galleries owe to what has always been a relatively small Jewish community. We are not at one anotherís throats here.

But this is not a luxury for a few. We live in a world where some are still obsessing about a war on terror, often with the assumption that this means hostility to Islam, or talk about a clash of civilizations, again with the complacent assumption that ours is the superior one, when what is needed is a crusade for understanding. For as the Jewish philosopher Levinas says, we are all children of Abraham.

My heart felt prayer is that this Heritage Week gives us a chance to rethink what it means for us in Dunedin to belong in a multi-religious, cross-cultural society. Pursue justice, says Isaiah. Be a light to the nations. We in little Dunedin may have something quite special to offer. Letís take a risk, this heritage week. Find out more about our neighbour, who happens to be a Muslim; what it means to be human, what it means, now and in eternity, to belong. Look to the Rock on which we stand. And that Rock, mentioned 33 times in the Hebrew Bible, is God.