Sermon: Social Services Sunday

Sermon July 27 2014 Social Services Sunday
St Mary’s Whitby
Felicity O’Brien

Micah 6:8-12, James 2:14-17, Matt 25:31-45

Today is social services Sunday. This is a staid and somewhat self-righteous-sounding description of what is truly our duty every Sunday, every day of our lives, as Christians. What is social service? It must surely mean serving people. That can never be a dull thing to do. Serving others can led you to all sorts of places you may not have been – wonderful exotic locations like hospitals, mental health care facilities, hospices, rest homes – and these are some I have been in just this last week! You may even be fortunate enough to visit prisons, and private homes!
But hang on, you may be saying. Surely it’s not about the place, it’s about the people! Yes, exactly. We are called to love and serve people, no matter where they are. Whether they are in the most derelict accommodation, or in the swankiest hotel. We tend to focus on the former rather than the latter, but everyone is in need of Christ. Continue reading

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Sermon: The Good Shepherd?

Sermon May 11 2014 St Mary’s Whitby Rev. Felicity O’Brien

Acts 11:1-18, John 10:1-10

Today we celebrate several things – Mothers’ Day, Good Shepherd Sunday, and an important event in this nation’s history – the coming of the gospel. Tradition tells us that this happened on Christmas day 1814, in Oiho bay, and while Samuel Marsden certainly did preach the Gospel first onshore on this date, New Zealanders had already started hearing about Christianity as they encountered sailors visiting their country, and worked on ships going abroad.

We commemorate Samuel Marsden tomorrow, and today’s featured guest is the person who made the whole new Zealand mission in 1814 possible – chief Ruatara, nicknamed Te Ara mo e rongopai, or the gateway of the gospel.He served on various ships between 1805 and 1809, when Marsden met him on board ship, as he was being sent back to Australia, unwell after being abused. Marsden had already met many Maori in Port Jackson, and after being very impressed by them and their potential was planning a mission to New Zealand. Continue reading

Sermon: Doubt and Faith.

Last week we celebrated the great feast day of Easter, when the highlight of the story is Jesus’ resurrection. This week our readings look at some of the witnesses to that resurrection, and their reactions too.

Our Gospel reading tells us simply that Jesus came and stood among the disciples, saying Peace be with you. He appeared even though the door was locked! This is a clue to the nature of his resurrection body – there is something different about it. It is not the same as his earthly body. And yet he was still physical, still made of flesh. He showed the disciples the wounds in his hands and side, establishing that it really was he that stood with them. Unfortunately Thomas wasn’t there, and had trouble believing the story that the disciples so excitedly related to him. Let’s wind the clock back a couple of weeks where we met Thomas before, in the story of Lazarus. You may remember that it was Thomas who urged Jesus and the disciples to go to Lazarus, even though Jesus had just told them that he had already died. Thomas believed that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, at that point. Continue reading

Sermon: Resurrection!

Easter Sunday April 20 2014

Acts 10:34-43, Col 3:1-4 Mat 28:1-10

The last few weeks have been quite a journey, haven’t they?We have followed Jesus and the disciples as he preached and healed around Judea, and we have heard about the murmurings of the establishment, as they grew into a tsunami of opposition. The tension has increased, with or without background music – as on the one hand here was a man claiming to be the very Messiah they longed for, but on the other hand, here was a man claiming to be the Messiah! The people in ancient Israel had a dilemma to face. Was Jesus really who he  said he was?

In our readings over the last few weeks, we have seen more and more clearly that he truly did have the power of God with him, the Holy Spirit that could set people free, forgive, heal, and even raise the dead to life! Surely it should have been obvious to the crowds that Jesus really was the Messiah? Continue reading

Sermon: The one who sent Him is true

John 7:1- 30
The One who sent Him is true.
Today’s gospel comes from the part of the passion story where the action is really speeding up. If it had music, like a film, maybe we would hear the high violin notes of psycho, underpinned by the low bass rumbles of Jaws! The tension is getting high – in our story Jesus wants to go tot he temple to take part in the Festival of the Booths, and is criticised for showing his face in public, when it is widely known that he is a wanted man.
The main problem for those who saw him was confusion – they knew he claimed to be the messiah, and many did in fact believe this. But others knew his background, and couldn’t believe that the authorities would acknowledge him to be Messiah. Still others found it hard to believe that the authorities would believe in Jesus, and wondered why they didn’t arrest him there and then.
There are two audiences for Jesus’ teaching – the pilgrims who would come from out of town for the festival, and may not have known about Jesus’ notoriety, and the local people, who knew exactly who he was. When they heckle him, saying they know who he is, Jesus turns it on its head when he agrees that they do indeed know him, but then he points out that they don’t know the one who sent him. Telling the people that the one who sent him is true is hinting at God being his source. Jesus is still not clear, rather allowing his words to resonate in his hearers’ hearts. ‘The one who sent me is true.” That is a phrase that would stay with the hearers long after the events of the week to come. Let it stay with you too, that the one who sent Jesus to the earth is the truth.

Sermon:Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11

Temptation. This is traditionally the theme of today’s reading. There are many things that are tempting in life, but let’s pause and consider why they are a problem. If we are tempted to follow the fleshly path, such as desiring food, safety, power, as Jesus was tempted, these things can become idols. Yes, it’s important to look after our bodies, but putting needs like food, safety and power at the top of our list can become a bit compulsive if we let it. If you have ever been on a diet you will know what I mean – when I was trying to lose weight many years ago, on a strict regime, all I could think abut was food, and how I would spend the extra calories I was allowed each week. I would plan all week, which cake to buy at the bakery. It had become an obsession, an idol for me.

No, Jesus tells the devil. God’s word is more important than those other needs. If we are tempted to worry too much about the world of ourselves, we can follow Jesus’ example and go back to God’s word in scripture.

As we get older, our physical needs change. We may no longer be tempted in ways that we were earlier, but the desire to have functional, painfree bodies becomes important to us. This scripture challenges us – and it is a hard challenge – to trust God for those things, and not to think of looking to the flesh and the devil for solutions. Maybe this means not being tempted to unhealthy ways in order to distract us from pain. One of the temptations as we age is to try everything in order to regain mobility and function, and there are many ads on tv for various supplements and vitamins that promise all sorts of benefits. What’s the harm in that? you may ask. Good question, and it’s fine if you can afford it. But that’s the problem. Many of these things are unproven and are very expensive – a single trip to the chemist for a small bag of potions can cost upwards of a hundred dollars! People who spend this money risk losing their financial security as they spend money they need for other things, like food and heating.

Jesus’ message for us here today is to trust God, no matter how tough things get. No matter how hungry, lonely, or hurting we are. Jesus had to trust his heavenly father to care for him in the wilderness, and we can trust him too, to be there for us, no matter what is going on in our bodies and our lives.

If it causes you to sin, cut it off!

Sermon Whitby Rest Home 21 Feb 2014 Matthew 5:21-37

Today’s reading has the very familiar idea of getting rid of part of your body that causes you to sin. This was never meant to be taken literally – Jesus used exaggeration a lot in his teaching! But it certainly got the attention of the first audience, and it gets ours too.

What can this mean for us today? If something about us causes us to sin, get rid of it.

That could apply to habits. if you have a habit that leads to sin, it can go. Maybe that’s not such a problem as we get older, but habits such as grumbling and gossiping are not limited by age or health!

Maybe it could relate to relationships. Sometimes we can have unhealthy relationships – you know the sort when a friend is more trouble than an enemy. We can cut those off from our life too. But the main thing that jumped out when I was thinking about this was attitudes. If there are attitudes we have that cause trouble, these can go. Maybe you have been brought up with attitudes about people of different races, or different social groups. We all are – we all absorb what our family values are. But in the kingdom of heaven, there is room for us to love everyone.

Maybe you have harboured resentment about something that happened a long time ago. This can be cut out too, because it will hold you back. Are you stewing over an offence you suffered in the past? Did someone offend you? Are there broken relationships in your life? These are the sorts of things Jesus is referring to.

But it’s not that easy is it. I cannot imagine it would be easy to pluck out an eye, or cut off a hand either. It would need help. No, don’t try it at home.

The sort of help we can always reach out for is God’s help. If you sense that God is telling you that there’s something you need to let go of, lift it up to God, ask him to take it away and set you free.