Let there be peace shared among us

Sermon Sunday 30 September St Chad’s, also POT Friday 28 September

John said to Jesus, teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

This is the opening line of today’s Gospel reading. It’s not about casting out demons. The work that the other follower of Jesus was doing is not relevant here – John is not rejoicing that other people outside the first circle of disciples, and the next group of followers, have been understanding who Jesus is and what he is all about, and acting in his name.

No, John is complaining about the work of the other person, but rather smugly I think, saying that they tried to stop him, expecting Jesus to pat him on the head and say, well done, we can’t have amateurs taking up the message.

John, like so many of the disciples, so much of the time, has got it wrong. He may not have been prepared for what Jesus said next. ‘Don’t worry about it – if they’re not against us, they’re for us.’

He points out that the very act of invoking Jesus’ name to deliver someone from a demon meant that the person had faith in him, and was not about to turn around and attack or denounce him.

The disciples were being taught a lesson about the message, about the Good News. The were being shown that they were no longer in control of it! In our context, you could say that the Good News had gone viral! It was being spread without the disciples being in control of it, and that made them uneasy.

The kingdom of God has the power to make us uneasy. It can convict us where we don’t act according to its values – where we are not who we claim to be.

Jesus goes on to teach about the new believers – he calls them the little ones. It’s a tender way of referring to them, with all the care and love that should be lavished on children. Maybe the disciples were expecting to be told to get out there and if not stamp out the teaching that hadn’t come from the core group, to at least make sure it was right on the nail, that there were no inconsistencies or heresies creeping in.

But Jesus is aware of their desire to challenge the newbies. That’s what he meant by a stumbling block.

Some years ago my husband attended his first Cursillo course, while he was a student at Bible college, and wrestling with details of theology on a day-to-day basis. At Cursillo, various people had to give a talk about aspects of faith. Kevin was bemused to discover that there was a very wide understanding of theology, from the more-or-less what you might expect, to the downright wacky. But what really struck him was that God seemed to be able to work through all the talks, through all the speakers, touching hearts and lives even if the theology was a bit off. Kevin came away with a deeper understanding of the power of the Holy Spirit, in spite of people’s fumblings for meaning and understanding of this thing called faith.

Let’s have another look at the text. In verses 43-47 Jesus talks about how if a part of your body causes you to sin, to stumble, you should cut it off, because it’s better to enter heaven incomplete than go to hell with all your parts intact.

Have you seen the add for Specsavers, where people are asked how much money they would sell their eyes for? The subjects get really upset at the thought of losing their sight, and realise that sight is priceless. And yet here Jesus is telling the disciples to get rid of an eye if it causes you to sin! This passage is one of the reasons why we don’t take all of the Bible literally.

Jewish rhetoric and storytelling had a long tradition of exaggeration. ‘I have told you a million times not to exaggerate’ – was probably a Jewish joke long before I heard it.

Jesus uses colourful language so it will catch, so the lesson won’t be forgotten. It worked – Mark included it in his Gospel, and it has entered our language as a figure of speech, both as a complete idea, and in a short form.

Have you ever heard yourself saying “cut it out” to someone? I have said it to my kids, and my neighbour says it – often – to her dog.

What we can really take from this idea is that if something in our life causes us to stumble, to falter in our Christian walk, that thing needs to be removed. If looking at a certain website might tempt us into sin, we need to keep away from it. Or at least put on an ad block – I had to ask my daughter how to do that when I got sick of being offered a Russian woman! I’m sure you can think of other examples.

It’s a good habit to bring the day to God in prayer before you go to sleep. A sort of re-run with freeze-frames, and time to see things in another light. Often, if we listen the Holy Spirit will point out when we could have handled things better, we could have made better choices. But it’s not all about correction – it’s not like the last ten minutes of Masterchef which I always seem to find myself watching as I wait for the next programme to come on. God also gives us nudges in the right direction, and, most importantly, loves us, unconditionally, and tells us that, if we take time to listen.

After Jesus has finished the picture about removing parts of our anatomy, he tells the disciples that it is better to go into heaven with something missing than to be cast into everlasting fire, to Gehenna. This was a real place. On the south western corner of Jerusalem there was a large rubbish dump, smouldering with fire, where the city’s waste was dumped, and by Jesus’ time it also stood as a metaphor for hell-fires. Jesus foretold that the whole city would end up like that, if they didn’t follow his way of peace. This takes the story back to the passage before it, where the disciples were squabbling about who would be the greatest.

Jesus knew that they needed to be at peace with each other in order to show that peace to the world. He uses the image of salt – we are encouraged to have salt in us. Well, we do, our blood and our sweat contain salt, and we need to eat a little every day to keep healthy. But again, it’s not literal. You can get into so much trouble with the Bible of you take it all literally. By salt Jesus is referring to its properties – salt does many things. It adds flavour and makes bland food taste better. We can make bland lifeless days better by being the salt in them. It also preserves food by keeping out the bacteria – if we are being salt in our communities we are keeping out the bad, fighting for justice and help for those who need it. By sharing and doing and being the Gospel, by being real live examples of love in action.

What can we take from this text?

First, that the Good news will spread if we let it, and in ways that we never imagined, and that we shouldn’t try to stop it, or to control it.

Second, that we need to remove things that are harmful from our lives, to ‘cut it out’.

And finally, that we can bring it all to our loving God in prayer. And then, we will have the Holy Spirit with us, helping us to be the salt in our city, and to be at peace with one another.


The Lord is maker of all

Sermon Sept 9 2018 St Chad’s Linwood

Today’s readings are all familiar texts. None of them are obscure, with weird names that are unpronounceable. Yet such familiar stories can often wash over us.Yes, we say, I know the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. I know she had a clever reply for Jesus.But let’s have a closer look at this story. Continue reading

A Prophet is without honour.

Have you ever had to stand up and give a speech in front of a home crowd? Maybe you were asked back to your old school as a guest to the assembly, or asked to speak at a family wedding. Maybe you spoke at a funeral.

We are always under the most scrutiny from those who know and love us the best. But it’s much easier to represent yourself as you want to be seen to a new audience. I remember my first day at university, feeling a tremendous sense of freedom, that I could be whoever I liked and that no one knew me from my days at primary school. Not like when I started at secondary school and a girl who knew me from before reminded me of the time I came to school with my shorty pyjama pants on under my uniform! It’s hard to stay dignified and authoritative when people see you as a disorganised child. Continue reading

God sees your heart

The kingdom of heaven isn’t like a human kingdom. It doesn’t depend on worldly wealth or power, on who has the largest army, or the most nuclear weapons. It doesn’t depend on who is the most charismatic leader, or the cleverest, or the richest. It’s not like earthly power structures.

God can see through the outward appearances – when he sent Samuel to anoint a new king, after Saul had proved disappointing, the obvious choice was rejected. Sure, Jesse’s first son Eliab was tall and good-looking, but he wasn’t the one. He may have had all the worldly attributes, and being the first-born has gone a long way to promoting someone’s chances of ruling. No, Samuel was instructed to look at the other promising boys, until he had gone down the line of all 7 of them. Imagine asking someone who has 7 kids if there are any others? It would be a bit odd wouldn’t it. But that’s all about God’s provision. Just when we think that the possibilities are exhausted, God has something new in store. Is there another also? Yes, but he’s working. Tending the sheep. I wonder why he wasn’t included in the original roll-call. Maybe he was too young and of too low a status to be considered. Maybe his mother was a concubine or slave, and he was relegated to second-best. He wasn’t even deemed worthy to come and join in the sacrifice. Continue reading


Sermon May 13
Rev Felicity O’Brien
Today’s Gospel is a remarkable passage. Jesus is praying extensively to his Father, not for himself and the journey he knows he has to undertake, but for his followers. His concern and compassion is for all those who have been listening to him and believing in him.
Jesus makes it clear that the disciples he is praying for belong to the father – They are yours, he says. Jesus is future-planning for the disciples – he knows that he is going away, and on Thursday we celebrated the ascension, when Jesus left the earth, as his disciples watched his feet disappearing into the clouds. He knows that the disciples will face huge challenges in the time to come, and asks God to protect them. He has a reason for that protection; ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are One. Continue reading

The sound of silence

Sermon May 16

The sound of silence

This week we are preparing for Pentecost, when we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, and everyone else around them. There are many images for the Holy Spirit, and those in today’s readings are all based on natural phenomenon such as wind, fire, storms and earthquakes. First, we heard about Elijah fleeing from King Ahab’s wrath, and hiding in the desert.

A great wind came by, so powerful that it broke rocks. But God was not in that. Then an earthquake, and a fire, but God was not there either. The very fact of their inclusion in this story tells us how God might be expected to show God’s glory – in really dramatic gestures. Continue reading

The Loving Shepherd

Sermon April 22

The Loving Shepherd

Today’s readings are all about love. The disciples offered healing in Jesus’ name because of love. Jesus loved us so much that he laid down his life for us. Jesus is a Good Shepherd who loves us like a shepherd loves his flock. But hang on, you may ask. The reading talks about hired hands who run away when danger approaches, because they don’t love the sheep. In New Zealand our way of looking after sheep is very different from that of first century Palestine. Instead of 20 or so sheep that we know from birth, and tend to personally, sheep are farmed in huge stations, spread on top of high mountains and vast paddocks, and only see people a few times a year when they need to be dealt with. We certainly wouldn’t expect a hired worker to abandon their job because danger is near. Continue reading