From Nancy Jean Whitehead...

Dear Friends,
Last weekend was Labour Weekend and if the noise and volume of traffic passing through Amberley is anything to go by, a great number of people went away for a break.

Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim this right when, in 1840, the carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington. Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day.

The Labour Day Act of 1899 created a statutory public holiday on the second Wednesday in October, first celebrated in 1900. The holiday was 'Mondayised' in 1910, and since then it has been held on the fourth Monday in October. This was a time of industrial reformation which we still acknowledge today.

At this time of year the church marks Reformation Day, commemorating the work of Martin Luther and others like Calvin, Zwingli and Knox. Luther strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with monetary values. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. In fact he nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral! Luther’s refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor. Luther taught that salvation and subsequently eternity in heaven is not earned by good deeds but is received only as a free gift of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Another of the leading lights of the Protestant Reformation was John Calvin. He promoted a church which was tightly bound by rules and regulations and where anything that was fun or gave pleasure was banned. Social activities frowned upon, and one’s life was ruled by the church. The rules included severe regulations concerning admission to the Lord’s Supper and required from all citizens of Geneva a profession of faith approved by the Town Council. Anyone who refused was exiled. Calvin also claimed to be the supreme authority to decide what was true Christianity. There were also harsh penalties for those who did not conform to the rules. Calvin would definitely not have approved of laughter in church or chocolate fish! Calvin’s God was a distant powerful God of anger, judgement and harsh punishment.

However, part of our heritage is Celtic spirituality. The Celts believe that life is good, creation is good and they are inextricably linked. They believe God is part of all things in life – a God of love, grace and forgiveness.

The Presbyterian Church proudly describes itself as reformata, semper reformanda – reformed and always reforming - yet we still have these extremes within our Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand today. There are those who want strict rules and control and the exclusion of anyone they deem unacceptable and there are those who want to be open and welcoming; those who see everyone as a sinner and those who see everyone as part of God’s good creation.

For far too long the church has been in the business of making people feel bad about themselves. We endured long prayers of confession which were largely irrelevant and then there was our almost grovelling approach to communion which emphasised our unworthiness. Words like “miserable offenders” and “unworthy” were regularly used in worship and subtly the idea that we are all sinful and wicked became ingrained into us. No matter how much I study the Gospels I cannot see Jesus treating people in this way. The only people Jesus treated harshly were the Scribes and Pharisees who were the ones enforcing rules and regulations that were making the ordinary people’s lives a misery. As far as Jesus was concerned there were two commandments: Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22).

We are created in the image of God and God saw that it was good. We were given freewill so we have the ability to choose our paths in life. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t, but no matter what we are still forgiven, loved and valued by God. May we have the grace to accept this forgiveness and live our lives in the Spirit of Christ Jesus.