Friday, February 10, 2017

STATEMENT ON DISCIPLINE OF REV. ROPOAMA NABIRI

10th February, 2017

The Standing Committee of the Methodist Church in Fiji, in its ministerial session of 27th January, 2017 found that Rev. Ropoama Nabiri, Circuit minister of Nadrau Circuit, Tavua Division to have committed serious breaches of  the Regulations for Ministers of the Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care and the Code of Conduct of the Methodist Church in Fiji.

After prayerful consideration, the Standing Committee has resolved to terminate Mr. Nabiri’s appointment and withdraw his recognition as Minister Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care in the Methodist Church in Fiji.

This was relayed to Mr. Nabiri, the Divisional Superintendent of Tavua and the Senior Circuit Steward of the Nadrau Circuit by a delegation from the Methodist Church in Fiji Secretariat, led by the Deputy General Secretary, Rev. Ili Vunisiwai.

Mr. Nabiri’s status is now as a member under pastoral care. As such he will receive pastoral care from the minister of the circuit in which he resides.

According to the Regulations for Ministers of the Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care of the Methodist Church in Fiji, if a former Minister whose recognition as a Minister has been withdrawn, desires to be reinstated as a Minister, he or she may after 5 years apply for reinstatement through the Leaders Meeting, Quarterly Meeting, Annual Divisional Meeting and Conference. If accepted, he or she is reinstated as a Minister and can be given an appointment.

The specific charges and issues relating to Mr. Nabiri, are, according to the aforementioned Ministerial Regulations, confidential. However I would like to point out that prior to ordination, Methodist ministers, must express belief in the Doctrines of the Church, knowledge and acceptance of its discipline. The probationer shall promise to retire quietly from the ministry if, during future service as a minister, personal views of doctrine or discipline change.

Ordained ministers are also required to be annually endorsed in the ministerial session of the Bose Yabaki / Annual Divisional Meetings as to believing and preaching the doctrine of the Methodist Church in Fiji.

According to our Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, any theological reflection, preaching, teaching, and discussion of the interpretation of God and God’s action and involvement in the world, the church, and in our individual lives is revealed through a balanced consideration of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.

I caution our preachers, teachers, lay pastors, deaconesses and ministers, to ensure that their theological reflections follow the process highlighted above.

I caution our congregation to be wary of any teaching, preaching or pronouncements that do not follow this basic process; that speak out of context from the true meaning of the Bible, profess a direct or unique revelation from God that is not consistent with the salvation history of the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures.

Please remember that all teaching, preaching, praying and reflection must ultimately grow in loving God, loving neighbours, and loving one another as Christ loves us.

I encourage all members to familiarise themselves with the Methodist Church in Fiji’s 2016 Constitution and Regulations as well as the Code of Conduct as part of their contribution to transparency and accountability of leaders at all levels of the Church.

Rev. Dr. Tevita Nawadra Banivanua
President, Methodist Church in Fiji

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The General Secretary of the Methodist Church In Fiji and Rotuma, Rev. Dr. Epineri Vakadewavosa’s address on New Year’s Day.

The following is a transcript of the Raici Jisu Matua Programme, broadcast on Radio Fiji One at 8pm on Sunday 1st Jaunary, 2017

I would like to take this time on behalf of the President of the church, to welcome you all, the beloved members of the Methodist church of Fiji and Rotuma and also extend best wishes for the New Year of 2017 that we have reached today, not forgetting you ladies, gentlemen and children who are listening in this evening, I am extending my greetings to you. 

Let this be a year full of prosperity and blessings. I would also like to extend my greetings to the leaders of our government, the President and his family, the Prime Minister and his family and we hope that this year would be a year of good leadership, as the Lord will guide you in the running of the government. 

To the leaders of our three Traditional Confederacy, Kubuna vua na Turaga na Vunivalu na Tui Kaba, Burebasaga  vua na Marama bale na Roko Tui Dreketi, na matanitu veiwekani na Tovata, I am extending well wishes from the Methodist church in Fiji and Rotuma. 

I also greet the 58 divisions, as a new Division of Wainimala has been established after its separation from the Division of Matailobau as per the decision of the Conference of the church last year, 2016. To the 58 Talatala Qase and your families, the Talatala of each circuits and your families, the church elders and Tuirara Levu, the Vakatawa and all those that serve in the church and not forgetting our beloved members. 

To the other Christian denominations and its leaders, we are extending our best wishes today. Our best wishes also to those on their sick bed in our hospitals across Fiji and Rotuma, our correctional facilities, those who are facing difficulties and those who are still facing daily challenges due to the Tropical cyclone Winston and the flooding before the end of last year. 

May the Lord bless us all in the new year of 2017 that we have reached today.

I was preaching at the Centenary church this morning and my topic was ‘Responsibility’. Yesterday marked the end of the year 2016 and it was a year of responsibility, and we offer great thanks to the Lord for his love that has guided us with every responsibility that has been done in this garden that belongs to God. It was not an easy year of responsibility, but we are able to take on all those responsibility because of Jesus Christ who is the source of our strength. On the other hand we are now standing in the year 2017, and it is another year of responsibility as we pray for our lives, our families, our church members so that we can establish ourselves and strengthen ourselves in our Lord Jesus Christ, in this new year that we are embarking upon. It is our prayer that it will be a good year, a year of prosperity, and a year of blessings, but also a year where we offer ourselves to God, more importantly to offer our responsibility into his just and loving hands, to our father in Heaven.
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There are several messages to be delivered this evening, but I believe it is important for us to firstly welcome our 58th division as I have mentioned before. 

This is the division of Wainimala as it has separated from the Division of Matailobau and has been known for a long time as the division of Matailobau-Wainimala, and this was decided at the annual church conference last year, 2016. 

The Tuirara Levu at Wainimala has brought to my attention that they have opened the newly built house of the Divisional Superintendent of Wainimala on Friday and everything else that regards the new division of Wainimala. This has shown the growth of the church and growth of the faith of the members of the church, by the separation of Matailobau-Wainimala today.

On behalf of the President and everyone else, we send our best wishes that the new division of Wainimala will be blessed spiritually, and let there be spiritual growth to the members of church and let there be exaltation of the glory of God. 

To the divisional superintendent of the division of Wainimala, the Talatala Takayawa Vodo, his wife and his family, we pray for your blessings on your new journey and to all the Talatala of each circuit, the Tuirara Levu, the church elders, those who serve in the church and to all the members of the division of Wainimala.
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My next message is regarding the transfer of our Talatalas which has been planned for January, starting from the week of the 5th and the days which follow after and I hope that all the divisional superintendent, the Talatala  are listening in intently. 

On Thursday the 5th of January, the Talatala Sakiusa Vakacautadra, divisional superintendent Saivou, will be transferred to become the divisional superintendent Vanuabalavu, Lomaloma. 

The Talatala Kalivati Rokisi divisional superintendent Vanuabalavu, will be transferred to become the divisional superintendent Lautoka. 

The Talatala Akuila Samu Cokailau from the school of Talatala at Davuilevu to the circuit of Yacata, Cakaudrove. 

The Talatala Neori Waqa from the Circuit of Yacata to come to Suva to the Head office. 

The Talatala Penaia Tuiqawa from the school of Talatala to be transferred to Tuvuca, Vanuabalavu. 

The Talatala Aporosa Mataqila from the circuit of Tuvuca, Vanuabalavu to come to Suva.

On Monday the 9th of January, 2017, the Talatala Meli Maisema Selenabaravi from the circuit of Burenitu, Suva to be transferred as the divisional superintendent, Koro, Qalivakabau. 

The Talatala Jone Keteitini from the school of Talatala to be transferred to Mataso in the division of Ra. 

The Talatala Isimeli Malimali Koroi in the circuit of Lami, division of Lami, to be transferred to the circuit of Matawalu, division of Ba.

The Talatala Jone Seduadua from the circuit of Matawalu, division of Ba to go to the school of Talatala at Davuilevu. 

The Talatala Esala Nacuva from the school of Talatala Davuilevu to the circuit of Nadaravawalu, Matailobau. 

The Talatala Manasa Vasilini and his family from the circuit of Nadaravawalu to come to Suva for retirement due to health concerns. 

The Talatala Rupeni Qoro from the school of Talatala, Davuilevu, to be transferred to the circuit of Navitilevu, division of Ra. 

The Talatala Taniela Gonerara from the circuit of Navitilevu, division of Ra, to be transferred to the circuit of Nalawa, division of Ra. 

The Talatala Peni Lagilagi from the circuit of Nalawa, division of Ra, to be transferred to the circuit of Buretu, division of Bau. 

The Talatala Ledua Colati from the Lelean Memorial School at Davuilevu to be transferred to the circuit of Natokowaka, Lautoka. 

The family of the late Talatala John Powell from the circuit of Natokowaka to come to Suva for retirement on that day. 

The wife and familyof the late Talatala Peni Koroi, to also come to Suva on that day. 

The Talatala Serupepeli Sovea, from the circuit of Vatukoula, Tavua to be transferred to the circuit of Natogadravu, division of Rewa.
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On Tuesday the 10th of January, 2017, the Talatala Asaeli Vuaniceva from the school of Talatala to go to circuit of Nakalou, division of Macuata. 

The Talatala Atunaisa Lagilagi from the circuit of Koro, Qalivakabau, to be transferred to the division of Macuata, village of Naduri. 

The Talatala Isireli Temo from the school of Talatala, Davuilevu to go to the circuit of Vanuakula, division of Ra. 

The Talatala Josaia Betomakita form the school of Talatala, Suva, PTC, to go to Queen Victoria School at Matavatucou, division of Bau. 

The Talatala Tevita Niurua from the Queen Victoria School to go to overseas. 

The Talatala Niko Namosikava from the circuit of Lutu, Wainimala to be transferred to the circuit of Lutu No. 2, Narokorokoyawa, Wainimala. 

The Talatala Kaufuti Fifita from the school of Talatala to be transferred to the circuit of Burewai, division of Ra. 

The Talatala Inoke Katia from the circuit of Burewai, division of Ra to the circuit of Tokatoka, division of Rewa. 

The Talatala Lepani Vaniqi from the circuit of Noikorolevu, Veiwekani ni Ceva, to go to the circuit of Nawamagi, division of Vatukarasa. 

The Talatala Takayawa Vodo from the circuit of Matailobau, Wainimala to be transferred to divisional superintendent Wainimala, circuit of Lutu. 

The Talatala Niko Ramalua Vodinagasau from the school of Talatala to go to the Ratu Alifereti Finau College, in the division of Lau. 

The Talatala  Marika Baleidelabale from the Ratu Alifereti Finau College, Lau  to the circuit of Navuloa, division of Davuilevu. 

The Talatala Mikaele Bale from the school of Talatala to go to the Gaunavou divisional school, Lau. 

The Talatala Sekaia Siwata from the Gaunavou Divisional school, Lau to be transferred to the Qelekula divisional School, Savusavu. 

The Talatala Pire Tasugaturaga from the school of Talatala to go to the Ratu Mara College in the division of Lau.
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On Wednesday the 11th of January, 2017, the Talatala Ame Natavebose from the circuit of Nakalou, Macuta to be transferred to the circuit of Labasa, Macuata. 

The Talatala Salanieta Varasikete from the school of Talatala to be transferred to the circuit of Nasiyagi, division of Tavua. 

The Talatala Jemesa Sevuniqele from the circuit of Nasiyagi, division of Tavua to go to the circuit of Vatukoula, division of Tavua. 

Talatala Apenisa Waqalerua from the school of Talatala to be transferred to the circuit of Nakasaleka, division of Kadavu. 

The Talatala Sunia Draunivesi from the John Wesley College at Vuda, to be transferred to the circuit of Tiliva and Vacalea, division of Kadavu. 

The Talatala Peniasi Ciri from the circuit of Tokatoka in the division of Rewa to go to the circuit of Cautata in the division of Bau. 

The Talatala Cema Marama Vakanavue from the circuit of Cautata in the division of Bau to be transferred to the circuit of Saioni in the division of Davuilevu. 

The Talatala Watilaite Ratuvili from the circuit of Saioni, Davuilevu to be transferred to her home for retirement.  

The Talatala Savenaca Rokodinono from the circuit of Nawamagi, Vatukarasa to go to the circuit of Naruwai in the division of Bua. 

The Talatala Netani Daulako Radravu from the school of Talatala to go to the circuit of Ono in the division of Kadavu.
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On Thursday the 12th of January, 2017, the Talatala  Jone Ledua from the circuit of Labasa in the division of Macuata to be the divisional superintendent of Navosa in the division of Raiwaqa. 

The Talatala Sakinasa Rakaria from the circuit of Natogadravu, Rewa to be retired. 

The Talatala Samuela Naveiyalayalati from the circuit of Nakasaleka in the division of Kadavu to go to the school of Talatala at Davuilevu. 

The Talatala Manasa Tuinai from the circuit of Tiliva and Vacalea from the division of Kadavu to be transferred to the John Wesley Divisional School in the division of Vuda. 

The Talatala Tomasi Raituku from the school of Talatala at Davuilevu to be transferred to Lekutu Secondary School in the division of Bua. 

The Talatala Jese Sovatabua from the circuit of Naruwai, Bua to be transferred to the circuit of Burenitu in the division of Suva. 

The Talatala Vereniki Waqabaca requesting transport of his possession from the Circuit of Ono, Kadavu since he is retired.
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On Friday the 13th of January 2017, the Talatala Sairusi Ketenacagi, divisional superintendent at Raiwaqa, Navosa, to be transferred to the division of Saivou as the divisional superintendent. 

The Talatala Wesele Moiere and his family, Naduri, Macuata to come to Suva for retirement. 

The Talatala Tevita Lidi from the school of Talatala to go to the circuit of Tawake in the division of Biaugunu. 

The Talatala Isikeli Qalocabeikadavu from the school of Talatala to go to Nausori in the division of Navosa-I-Yata. 

The Talatala Anare Somumu from the circuit of Nausori in the division of Navosa-I-Yata to be transferred to Nasivikoso in the division of Magodro. 

The Talatala Epeli Deyama from the school of Talatala at Davuilevu to go to the circuit of Komosi in the division of Nawaka. 

The Talatala Jope Navuki from the circuit of Komosi, in the division of Nawaka to come to Suva to wait for a boat to Matuku. 

The Talatala Sitiveni Tagilala from the school of Talatala at Davuilevu to be transferred to Namosi-I-Vanua in the division of Namosi. 

The Talatala Salesi Savou from the circuit of Namosi-I-Vanua to be transferred to the school of Talatala at Davuilevu.

I will end the transference of the Talatala here as of Friday the 13th of January, and will continue with the rest of the transference on next week Sunday. 

Just a reminder to those that will be moving this year, you are requested to contact the head office with regards to the numbers of family members and you belongings so that its monetary  side could be calculated. For any further information please contact Mr. Solomoni Kacilala by calling the Head office on Tuesday this week.
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The next message is for all the Tuirara Levu from the division of Macuata, you are requested to meet at Nasekula on Tuesday 3rd of January, 2017. You are asked to bring along whatever we have discussed. This is a message from the Tuirara Levu of the division of Macuata.
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I am going to conclude our air time tonight with a short message of spiritual enlightenment. From the gospel of Luke 9:23, it reads; Then he said to them all, “If anyone desires to follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”. From the gospel of Mathew 25:23 its reads; “He said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of the Lord’. I would like to remind us again that we, as of yesterday we have passed the year 2016, and we thank the Lord in abundance for all the responsibility that was done.  

Things may not be achieved in one way, but only in the Leadership of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Paul’s the apostle letter to the Philippians in Philippians 4:13 sums it up perfectly by saying; I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me. But here today we have stepped into the first day of this New Year, the first Sunday and also the First month of the New Year. Nevertheless it is still a year of responsibility. I would like to point out that it is our way of life and that is to take responsibility. It is the center of our journey to life of a human being. 

It is well said by our savior Jesus Christ in Luke 9:23. The meaning of our Lord Jesus Christ words is that we can only do our responsibilities fully if we listen unconditionally to him all the time. “If anyone desires to follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”. We must let him be the decision maker in our life’s journey in this year of 2017. This is also what was meant by Paul the apostle; You must seek Jesus diligently, he is the beginning of your journey in faith and he is also the end of your journey in faith when life ends on Earth. 

It is important for me to share our responsibility, for us the members of the Methodist church and it is well described in the Constitution of our church, that is, the responsibilities that I would like to share tonight. This is the responsibility of a ‘Siga Dina’ and is summed up into six points. These are different from those responsibilities bestowed upon the Talatala, Vakatawa, Tuirara levu and so on. 

The first of these responsibilities is to confess that our Lord and savior is Jesus Christ. The words confess means that we have to show every day that Jesus Christ is indeed our Lord and savior. To show people when they see us, this very important responsibility that Jesus Christ is our Lord and savior. 

The second of our responsibility is for us to confess our faith as Christian. For us to learn the bible in our faith as Christian and it is also written at the back of our Fijian hymn book and I hope that we will take time to read it before Covenant Sunday. This is for us to read and made clear in our minds that our faith as Christians is strengthen only if we know all this things. 

The third of our responsibility is for us to respect our spiritual responsibilities or the discipline of the Methodist Church. The respect of the Methodist church in the eyes of people or the world depends on the honoring of its disciplines by us who are its members. 

The fourth of our responsibilities is for us to go to church, have Holy Communion at the right time and to also attend other church affiliated gatherings when the opportunity arises. For us, to not be late for church. This is the fourth of our responsibilities. 

The fifth of our responsibility is for us to engage in the work of spreading the gospel, in our respective churches. For us to spread the importance of Jesus at all times so that we increase the numbers of our believers in Jesus Christ. There are three ways we can show this; the first is the way we speak should be done to spread the gospel, the second is our Christian life should show that we are true believers of Jesus Christ and lastly in our service wherever that may be, whether you are working for the government, in a company or wherever, or digging on the road side of if I’m at the village, it is important for us to show that we are men, women and youths of the Christian faith. 

Moreover the six of our responsibility is to give our gifts, our possession and money to fast track the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth. This is the sixth responsibility for tonight. These are the six responsibilities that we must prepare ourselves for, as we become ‘Siga Dina’. 

This I hope is the responsibility you have under taken from past years until last year, but consequently this is also the responsibility that we must uphold this year, 2017, and we must do it diligently as the church of God and God himself has hoped for us to do this year. I would to challenge each and every one of us today, for us to hold great importance for our responsibilities this year, the six responsibilities as I have discussed before, and I hope we will hold them in greater regards then last year. We must pray so that God will help us with them. They are not hard to do, the six responsibilities. They are very simple because they are the responsibilities that Jesus Christ has bestowed upon us, therefore it is our responsibility to  carry them out. Just like he said “If anyone desires to follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”, the  cross meaning our responsibilities, and when we carry them we will be able to see Jesus through eyes of spiritual wisdom and he will give us the strength to carry them out. “If anyone desires to follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”. We must carry them and follow Jesus. We will be strong in our responsibilities as we follow Jesus Christ. “I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me”. So look for Jesus diligently because he is the beginning of your faith and he is also the end of your faith when our lives end here on earth.


I would like to conclude my message tonight by saying that, the Lord gives us spiritual blessings only if we are faithful in carrying out our responsibilities. He has already prepared your share, only if we are faithful in carrying out our responsibilities. If we listen to what the Lord says in Mathew 25:23; “He said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of the Lord’. May God bless us through his word that we have heard and may you also be blessed the members of the church in this New Year we are embarking upon, the year 2017.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Methodist Church Response to “Rosi Ni Viti” Issue on Social Media

02 December, 2016
SUVA

The Methodist Church in Fiji does not make a habit of responding to claims and comments made on social media. However due to a number of requests for comments on the “Rosi Ni Viti” claims and accompanying issues  by local news media, the Church issues to make the following statement:

The Methodist Church in Fiji leadership has been made aware of these recordings and I have discussed this with them. We are also investigating the issue of the minister associated with these claims. 

The Methodist Church would like remind its members and the general public that as per our Code of Conduct, the church remains apolitical and will only speak to issues of concern rather than get involved in party politics.

We urge our members and the general public to be cautious of what they read on social media.

We also urge the media to be responsible in reporting claims and comments on social media as to do so may give undue validity to those claims and comments - that is not news, investigate, research and then report.

On the issue of alleged dreams and visions - it is important that people not be carried away - it is possible to give too much importance to what happens in a dream. Although God can speak through dreams, that doesn’t mean that everything that happens in our dreams comes from God. The psychology of dreams is complex and confusing. The interpretation of dreams is not an exact science, by any stretch.   

We remain concerned for the psychological wellbeing of the young woman who has made these claims. As she is a minor, we urge her parents and guardians to provide care for her.

Finally, as we are in the season of Advent, we call on our communities of faith to focus on working in hopeful anticipation of peace and justice in our society. We all need to spend more time and energy on responding to God’s grace through practical love of God and of neighbour.

Rev. James Bhagwan, Secretary for Communication and Overseas Mission
FOR METHODIST CHURCH IN FIJI


ENDS

STATEMENT ON DPP WITHDRAWING CASE AGAINST SENIOR CHURCH EXECUTIVES

“We have considered the Nolle Prosequi filed by the Director of Public Prosecutions; and while we are glad that this saga is over, we are concerned that this was justice delayed.

The fact that those accused suffered physically and emotionally as this case dragged on for seven years, and that two of our leaders who were charged are not alive to see their names cleared, saddens the Church.

Nevertheless, the Methodist Church in Fiji remains committed to extending its hands in fellowship and partnership to all who would work with us to make Fiji a truly peaceful society with law abiding citizens who are not afraid to speak the truth in love. “


Rev. Dr. Tevita Nawadra Banivanua
President


ENDS

Sunday, December 11, 2016

HAIL MARY: RECEIVING AND RESPONDING TO GOD’S GRACE AT CHRISTMAS

Christmas Message By Rev. Dr. Tevita Nawadra Banivanua
President, Methodist Church in Fiji
President, Fiji Council of Churches

I was recently writing a letter to the Fijian Methodist community in Perth and concluded with a short message where I reflected on the Angel Gabriel’s word to Mary. Known in the Church as the Annunciation, this event is found in Luke 1:26-38.

Mary was someone who found favour in God. Our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers have a prayer known as the “Hail Mary” in which Mary is referred to as being “full of Grace.” I understand that this first part of the prayer comes from the Annunciation.

As we think about Christmas and the birth of Jesus as God being among us, let us also spend some time reflecting on the process of God being incarnate in this world and how God chose the vessel of His coming. He chose a young girl called Mary or Mariam.

The Humility of Christmas
From what we know of her, Mary was not someone of noble birth. She was not born to be a “Marama,” she was from a family of high status. She was an ordinary girl. One could say she was almost a peasant.  

And yet, God chose her because of that humble background and her own humility. God always chooses people of humility to do the greatest things. Throughout the Bible we find this pattern of God choosing people at that moment of humility.

Abraham and Sarah, two senior citizens without children, found favour and were chose to be the parents of the Israelites. Abraham is often referred to as “the father of faith.” In our i-Taukei communities in Sunday School, children are always asked who is, “Na Tama ni Vakabauta?” Their response is “Eparama,” “Abraham”.  They were an ordinary humble couple chosen by God as symbols of God’s Grace.

When we look at the story of Moses, we find God choosing him, not as a prince but as a fugitive wanted for murder; an outlaw, living as a shepherd. Yet God chose him to be the Law Giver.

Even when we look at David, the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons, we see this again. When Samuel the Prophet came to anoint one of Jesse’s sons on behalf of God, David was found tending his father’s sheep. We hear that shepherds are humble people, caring for the sheep.

There are other examples of course.

Mary was chosen by God to be the vessel of His Word made flesh, the incarnated Logos, because of her humility.

In today’s world, in the new shifts we see happening in the world, in the new leadership we see in nations of the world, in decisions that shape the world such as “Brexit,” the recent US presidential elections and the recent political crisis in Italy there seems to be, in my mind, the opposite of humility. Far and near we find pride and arrogance embodied in leadership, instead of humility, instead of grace.

As we think of Christmas, let us think of our Fiji. If God was to come to Fiji to choose a vessel for His message, a vessel for His Kingdom, for His Love, for His Grace, who would He choose?

Christmas is a time when God made a choice of who are to be the vessels, the instruments, of His peace. He chose a humble vessel, a humble person. He chose humility as the criteria.

That poses us a big challenge for us today.

We have people who are great: people of status; people of influence; people who have made a name for themselves; people who are successful; people with money; people who have climbed the ladder of success; people who have power. Yet what makes them truly great is if they can balance their power, their wealth, their success and influence – with humility.

With people of position, status and power – people of greatness – available, God still chooses the one who has humility.

This humility, was not only a defining character for the vessel, it was a defining character for the Word made Flesh, for Jesus. I can imagine how Mary’s raising Jesus in humility led to His human nature affirming His divine nature. We can see this in the teaching and actions of Jesus. He teaches his disciples about humility: “the least is the greatest,” “the last will be first,” “do not seek the place of honour.”

There are many passages in the Gospels and the New Testament which speak of humility. In Philippians chapter 2, verses 5 to 8, Paul writes of Jesus’ “kenosis”, his self-emptying humility:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mind-set as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Jesus took humility as the way of God and the way for the children of God which he calls us to follow.

This Christmas, be mindful of pride and practice humility.

The Grace of Christmas
Mary is found to be in favour with God. There is a deeper dimension to the Greek word for favour: charis. Almost everywhere in the New Testament, this word is translated “grace.” Grace (and favour) is essentially a gift. God’s grace is His unmerited favour. It is undeserved.

Mary was someone who was filled with God’s grace – with His goodness, His love. Grace is receiving access to the very presence of God. God’s grace is also His operational power, the force of His nature. He gives us this grace to empower us to become like Christ. All these are part and parcel of God’s unmerited gift of grace.

Mary was someone who was ready to receive from God, the free gifts that God has for all of us. She was ready; she was open to receiving and, just as important, to responding to God’s grace. And her life was lived in response to God’s grace.

We have so many people in Fiji who have opened themselves up to receiving God’s grace and responding to it.

The first Sunday in December was Disability Sunday and I attended and preached at a service at the Wesley Nasinu Methodist Church which has a ministry to people living with disabilities.

Experience a person who is visually impaired to be able to read the scriptures so well in braille and persons who are hearing and speech impaired to share the gospel through sign-language and other persons who are differently abled are endowed with God-given gifts of grace that they have been open to receive and to which they are responding, is truly life-affirming.

Yet if those of us who consider ourselves abled-bodied people, and assume that we are better off than persons with disabilities, took time to get to know the differently-abled, to engage with them, we would perhaps be able to understand and reflecting with humility, we would realise that it us who are lacking in grace, us who are lacking in favour – because we are not as open to receive or we are not as responsive as we could be, to God’s grace. 

The Responsibility of Receiving Christ at Christmas
Mary’s holiness lies in her totally offering herself completely to God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answers to the angel. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38) As a result she became aware of the difficulty of fully accepting God’s gifts and God’s grace.

Joseph was not happy when he found out that Mary was pregnant. He was contemplating leaving Mary when the angel appeared to him and confirmed what Mary had told him about her situation. Mary perhaps had not considered all the difficulties she might face when offered herself to God to be the theotokos, the “God-bearer.”

The totality and wholeness of giving yourself to God must be done without concern of the consequence. It is a response to the initial prevenient grace we receive from God.

The consequences of Mary’s giving herself completely to God in this way were difficult. Imagine what life would be like for her in her village of Nazareth, viewed as a teen pregnancy, someone pregnant but not married.

Then there was of course the very difficult 9-day journey to Bethlehem with her husband, for the census, during the final stage of pregnancy; struggling while in labour to find somewhere, to not only shelter but to also find someone to assist with the birth; finding no help, no support; giving birth in a stable.

These difficulties, these problems, these struggles are also part and parcel of saying yes to God. These were unexpected side-effects, for Mary, of saying yes to God.  So people who say yes to God have to be ready for their lives to take an unexpected direction with unexpected and often difficult experiences.

Mary possibly went without many of the celebratory aspects of marriage, of pregnancy and even childbirth. She faced suspicion, she faced criticism. Being a participating recipient of God’s grace is not a free ride.

And yet, ultimately, Mary delivered. She delivered on her responsibility. She delivered the awaited Messiah, the Saviour of the world. We do not know what the impact of our saying yes to God will be.

The Position of the Vulnerable at Christmas
Our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers give prominence to Mary in their theology and liturgy. Mary’s role as the vessel for the Messiah and Jesus’ own constant elevation of women gives testimony for the true position of women – there is a prominence of space for women according to our Christian faith.

As we reflect on the Mary story and the place of women in the Gospels and our current social situation, with so much violence and abuse perpetrated on women and children in our society today, we can only accept that we need to do more.

The church, the vanua, and the government, all of us – we need to do more.

Throughout the bible, the women are rightly chosen by God, in many ways, to be part of God’s salvation history.

For example, the story of Moses, who would be God’s hand of deliverance for the Hapiru (Hebrew), is full of women as protectors, guides, partners:  the midwives who disobeyed Pharaohs’ orders to kill the newborn males; Pharaoh’s daughter who rescues baby Moses; Miriam, Moses’ sister, who watches over him as a child and is later a prophetess, and Zipporah Moses’ wife who saves him when God attacks on their way to Egypt.

Mary can be seen as a culmination of these prominent roles of women in God’s plan of salvation. Yet in this 21st century, violence against women and children is so prevalent. Instead of the prominence of women it is the prominence of gender-based violence and child abuse that is in our news and everywhere we look. We have not learned from what God intends for us human beings and other creation. We violate and abuse the environment just as we do women and children. We regard all of them as lowly from our perspective. We forget that what we regard as lowly, God finds favour with.

Yet we forget what God’s grace and favour are meant to represent in this world.

In Mary’s song, the “Magnificat,” we hear the prophetic words of what the Kingdom of God is like:
“for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” (Luke 1:48)
“he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;”(Luke 1:51)
“he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;”(Luke 1:52)
“he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53)

For us in Fiji, this Christmas let us go back to Mary and look at how it is the lowly that God uses for His will in this world.

We need leaders who are not full of pride, who are not arrogant, who are not violent in thought, word or deed, who will not abuse the authority we give them. We need leaders who are humble and have a preference for the lowly, the marginalised and the vulnerable.

This is the example that Jesus sets and the challenge that He gives all of us.

His disciples argue over who will sit at His right or His left, but Jesus is a centrist. He is the centre that works to pull the right and the left together so that there is balance. In the past the world was pulling to the left. Now it is pulling to the right. Jesus brings things to the centre.

This is position of being a Christian, to bring those with differences together - right wing, or left wing – to reconcile them and bring harmony and restoration between humanity and to nature. To make this world a better place.

Pride and arrogance can be seen in our approach to Christmas today. The media is flooded with advertisements which urge consumption at Christmas. The commercialisation of Christmas is corrupting our understanding of this very special and spiritual time. We sing and we hear the carols expressing ‘joy to the world’.

Yet those who have less or who have nothing feel their lowliness the most at this time. They feel out of place. The lowly are not rejoicing. And in our celebration, many of us forget those for whom the first Christmas was so important: the outcasts, the different, the poor, the refugee, the vulnerable.

We treat Christmas as a once are year event, an excuse to eat more, drink more, spend more.

But the first Christmas was the inauguration of God’s Kingdom of love, of compassion, of peace, kindness, selflessness, of truth and of justice; of God’s grace.

How will your Christmas measure up to the first Christmas?

For Christmas to be realised; for Christmas to be really be Christmas; it must be full of grace. We must be full of grace. We must be open to receiving this grace. We must be open to share that grace with everyone; whether we think they are deserving of it or not.

We must not only seek to be treated with humility, we must live with humility and teach our children humility.

These are the true Christmas gifts we can receive and give to others.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.






Friday, December 2, 2016

Kairos, God’s Plan and Wilderness Formation in the New Exodus

2016 Graduation Address at the Davuilevu Theological College
By Rev. Dr. Tevita N. Banivanua
President, Methodist Church in Fiji

Bible Texts:
Exodus 13: 17-18 and Deuteronomy 8:2-3


We have come to the end of another year of ministerial formation. For returning students, it is a break before the studies and formation process continues in the New Year. Today our third year students receive their Diploma in Theology and prepare for three years of ministry in the circuit as their formation takes on a more practical nature.

Some of us thrive during these six years of formation. Some of us struggle. But that is how formation works – we begin from our own places and contexts, and our own reasons for entering ministry – we end the process – reshaped into servant leaders, priest-prophets, guides for our community in their journey of faith.

We are at the end of the second year of the Methodist Church in Fiji’s New Exodus, our Lako Yani Vou. Our graduating class of 2016 will take into the field, not only the Gospel and the theological toolbox that they have collected over the last three years.

They will also take the mission of the New Exodus of the Methodist Church - the Lako Yani Vou of the Lotu Wesele e Viti to their new appointments.

In my address to this year’s conference I spoke not only on the theme of God who accompanies us in our difficulties, which was the Conference theme, but also on the idea of the signposts of the New Exodus, the markers and beacons in our Lako Yani Vou – the pillars of cloud and fire in our journey as the church.

I spoke on the need for us to be a church that follows Kairos – God’s time, not our human and limited time, Chronos.

When the cloud rose and moved, the Israelites rose and moved. When it stopped and descended, the community stopped and waited for the next move.

Although the drua is still being prepared to sail, we have already begun our journey for the journey begins with the vision of where we as the people of God must sail towards.

That vision, like many others before it for the people of God, took place in a time of oppression, as God’s people under pressure envisioned a new way, and sought God’s intervention and guidance.

The result was the 12 pillars and the connectional plan – which we refer to as the Lako Yani Vou – The New Exodus.

The Exodus is a pattern of how God deals with his people, signifying formation of a relationship.

Just as the original Exodus began and led to covenant-making and nation forming in the wilderness - the Lako Yani Vou, has been endorsed, launched and is now being implemented – the takia is being reshaped into the drua.

The crew is being assembled and trained for the voyage on a larger vessel, across bigger and sometimes rougher seas.

Navigators are being prepared to read the signs of the times and discern God’s will.

The church continues its journey of reformation – sometimes moving with a spiritually-charged momentum, sometimes plodding along as we deal with the reshaping of our Takia ni loloma into the Drua ni loloma (Drua ni Grace/Hope?).

Sometimes we crawl forward on our hands and knees, pleading with God for His Grace to help us push this heavy canoe into the water, as others watch, waiting to climb aboard only if we can prove that the Drua will float.

The texts I have chosen today as my reflection, focuses on the Exodus journey through the wilderness – a journey that was longer than expected, a journey that was designed by God to protect and reshape these slaves known as Hapiru into the Israelites – the people of God.

We see the first stage of this wilderness journey in Exodus 13: 17-18:
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Sea of Reeds. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle.

The easiest route is not necessarily the best route. The shortest, and apparently the easiest, route for the Israelites to have pursued would have been the coastal route, the road the caravans would take which runs along the Sinai coast around the Great Sea to the Gaza strip, a place so much in the news in our own day.

This was the direct route that any sane person would have taken.

Did we not learn in geometry "That the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?"

The distance along this line was not more than about 320 kilometres, and might have been accomplished in between a fourteen and forty days.

As an interesting side fact, this area of the Sinai Peninsula is part of the Northern Area of Operations for the Multinational Force and Observers – where Our Fijian peacekeepers are usually based.

"God led the people through the way of the wilderness." What's the point? Why not the more direct route?

God’s plan took the Israelites not on the direct route to the Promised Land but through the wilderness. After crossing Yam Sup, or the Sea of Reeds, God turned them south, to avoid the Philistines.

In your ministerial formation, just as in our New Exodus, we must make every effort to discern the reasons for the detours we encounter. What is God’s wisdom behind every twist to our story?

As we at the head office reflected on the impact of Cyclone Winston and other factors on the funds coming in for our work – as we tightened our belts and began to look at the changes that needed to be made in the way we operate – a process of restructure to make us more efficient in our work emerged. 

A restructure – a re-formation that is needed in the Church for the Connexional Plan to work and the Lako Yani Vou to continue.

Discerning God’s Kairos and God’s wisdom – remain the key elements in our reformation and are essential in your own ministerial formation.

For those about to receive their first posting and finding themselves in unfamiliar contexts – culturally, geographically or even in terms of the Church culture – take time to discern why God has placed you in this place and in this time.

What life lessons, what faith lessons does God want you to learn? What difficulty is God protecting you from?

With God there is no time that is wasted time in the process of formation. Please keep this in mind whenever these 6 years seem too long.

The following text from Deuteronomy 8:2-3 place us in the context of the 40 year formation of the Hapiru into the Israelite Nation, the people of God as Moses makes several important points about Israel’s suffering in the wilderness.

“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone,
but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (ESV).

First of all, Moses highlights Israel’s wilderness guide. Israel wasn’t lost, Israel was being led by God. God didn’t leave his people to find their own way, instead he went before them with the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

God was taking Israel through the wilderness for a reason and therefore the wilderness journey wasn’t a mistake.

Second, Moses identifies the purpose of these seemingly wasted years with a simple phrase, “that he might humble you.” God orchestrated the circumstances to keep Israel close to the ground and he kept Israel in that situation for four decades.

Humility is that important to God.

Third, Moses continues, “testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” The external expression of a humble spirit is obedience.

God was conducting Israel’s obedience classes in the wilderness.

Finally, God was humbling Israel by making them rely on strange food called manna. Instead of going out and gathering whatever they wanted, Israel had to gather and eat what God had provided.

The objective of the manna lesson was dependence: “that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

God wanted his word to be Israel’s life and sustenance. 

There is a cycle of rebellion that saturates the period of wandering. Examples include the golden calf, the rebellion of the Levites, the acceptance of the pessimism of the ten spies and the endless complaints about food and water.

“A people can be taken out of Egypt but Egypt may remain in the people”.
  
At root are pride and impatience, and unwillingness to trust in God, despite the mighty signs of his presence and care for Israel.

A positive way to view this period is a cycle of refinement, with the father teaching his errant son. Israel learns the consequence of sin – as Pharaoh did – and though the consequences are dire for some individuals, the nation is saved.

In this sense the wilderness is God’s training camp – it is the dusty womb in which the Hapiru are reborn into God’s covenant people; reborn from slavery to community.

The Hapiru in the Exodus left Egypt with exuberance, but their hopes were also dashed as they began to experience the barrenness and harshness of the wilderness.

In Egypt, they were desperate for freedom, but shortly after they left, it became clear that geopolitical freedom was illusive without the liberation of their minds. The Hapiru believed that, once they leave the physical bondage of Egypt, they would be liberated.

In fact, the slavery that seemed external re-emerged as the Hapiru’s own consciousness and the wilderness wanderings became a pedagogy of struggle to reclaim their subjectivity and agency. In this way, the wilderness experience was a “post-physical bondage” decolonial conceptual tool for decolonising the Hapiru mind.

Simply put the wilderness journey was a total liberation that began with the body in a physical removal from Egypt, which continued as a decolonisation process of the mind and concluded with a transformation of the very souls of the Israelites.

In his book Exodus and Revolution, Michael Walzer writes that the Israelites do not, simply go wandering in the wilderness”:



“The Exodus is a journey forward—not only in time and space. It is a march toward a goal, a moral progress, a transformation. The men and women who reach Canaan are, literally and figuratively, not the same men and women who left Egypt.”

While Walzer interprets Exodus thinking, from the political perspective, where “the movement across space is readily reconstructed as a movement from one political regime to another,” the notion of progress, of movement from one paradigm to another – from one way of life, one way of faith, one way of ministry, one way of church to another is part and parcel of the Exodus wilderness journey.

Therefore it must be so in the New Exodus.

What are we being formed into on both this ministerial formation process and the journey of the New Exodus?

The simple task of the prophetic and priestly role of clergy is to share the message and the practical nature of God’s grace – being a lamp to our people and showing them the Way of Love – calling them to love God and love the stranger, the friend, the enemy as a neighbour.

You are being prepared to teach, to manifest and lead our people to respond to the prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace of God. To prepare ourselves and our faith community to be light shiners, love-sharers and peace-builders.

Your formation is not in isolation. You are not far removed from the reality of church life – from the journey of the community of faith to which you belong and in which you will serve.

For the first time in a long time your formation is part and parcel of our Church’s reformation. There is a larger wilderness journey here.

Lako Yani Vou is a wilderness journey.

In 2014 we celebrated our Golden Jubilee, reconciliation and restoration – a new path, a new journey and a reimagined community of faith – it was all very exciting.

Two years on it is still a journey, but the excitement has given way to the hard work. It is hard for some to visualise the journey and the destination while they are still carving the wood which will be used on the drua.

And on our voyage to the Kingdom – there will be storms and wind, but there will also be days of no wind. We will pass islands and negotiate reefs, but there will be days of only the ocean on the horizon.

There will be cloudy days when we cannot read the stars. Yes there will be difficult days, when we will doubt the Spirit of God which hovers over the water with us, when we doubt the skill of the Wayfinder – the traditional navigator.

There will always be complaints and grumbling – even on this, NEW Exodus.

But let us never forget that we are on a voyage to the Kingdom. Let us remember that as a community of faith, we of the New Exodus know the destination and we can discern the direction, for we have God’s guidance.

At the same time we must remember that there are some of us who will not complete this journey. The New Exodus is not a 5 year plan but an epic half century voyage of reshaping a community of faith.

Already, even as we began in 2014, we lost our first navigator. Often, I think of Moses speaking to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, knowing that he would not cross into the Promised Land. However, unlike the first Exodus, all those who travel on this spiritual New Exodus will reach the Kingdom, if they stay the course on their leg of the voyage.

Some of us will disembark from the drua. That is an unavoidable fact.

I am reminded of the final speech of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, given on 3rd April 1968 in Memphis, Tennesee, the date before he was assassinated. He said:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.

But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.

And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over.

And I've seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

Today we acknowledge not just two people but a family, who have dedicated a part of their lives to doing God’s will here at Davuilevu.

God has allowed them to envision the promise land – God has allowed them to feel the weight of the Uli, our steering oar of the Methodist Church in Fiji, which is the Vuli Talatala.

This is the final  graduation ceremony for the Neals, who will complete their mission attachment with the Methodist Church in Fiji next year. Rev. Dr. Jerusha Neal and Rev. Wesley Neal, as well as Mercy and Josiah – we of the Methodist Church will never be able to repay the energy, the love, the tears, the sweat and the prayers that you have given for the Vuli Talatala and the Lotu Wesele.

As your time on this drua comes to an end, as you prepare to sail your own canoe back over the horizon, look around you – look at the stars, the markers of the Lako Yani Vou that you have helped form, polish and shine.

When you return to your other home – tell our story to your people there.

Continue to remember what you have seen on the mountain top – and pray for us.

And whenever you feel like it come back and sail with us, even if only for a short time. 

I also acknowledge our other fellow voyagers – Rev. Dr. Cliff Bird, representing Uniting World, whose support has enabled one of our female graduates to complete her studies.

Last Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, Rev. Dr. Bird reminded the congregation at a Break the Silence Sunday service that we must weave both the season of Advent and the 16 Days of activism against gender based violence as we recognise that violence, including gender violence, is a sin, and that Jesus came to affirm life and we as a church must affirm life.

In a connection to our New Exodus wilderness journey, he also shared that in the Incarnation of Jesus, God tabernacles with us in the wilderness… in other words God is aboard our drua ni Lotu (?)

To our graduates, to our friends who are completing their time with us and all of the Davuilevu community gathered here along with well-wishers and supporters:

As we continue our wilderness voyage – let us allow God to be in control, discerning God’s will. Let us learn from every experience to be a better child of God. Let us always remember that we are called to do no harm, to do good and to stay in love with God, as we journey to God’s kingdom.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – AMEN