Road trips

Neh 8:1-10, 1 Cor 12:12-31, Luke 4:14-21

Let’s take today’s readings and look at them in chronological order. First we have Nehemiah. The people are gathered together and the Law of the Lord, as given to Moses, is read out, and, importantly, explained, by the Levites – the clergy of their day. The people are being brought back to the basics, to the foundation documents of their nation, their faith. And these are also foundations of our faith, and of the legal system of our nation.

The people were greatly moved by all they heard, and began to weep and be sad. Why was that?

Maybe their conscience was being convicted of all their failures to follow God’s law. Maybe they could see that God was so loving that God had a great plan for them, and they had somehow failed to grasp it, and hence were no longer living in the beautiful fullness of life that God had marked out for them. Continue reading

Sermon: Seeds

Genesis 25:19-34, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Sermon 13 July 2014 St Anne’s Porirua
Rev Felicity O’Brien

The story of Jacob and Esau could be a story from today. There are two boys, one is beloved by one parent, the other one favours the other boy. Now, we who are parents know that it’s not a good idea to have favourites. Sometimes my kids accuse me of having a favourite – usually when I have had to tell off the other one. It’s not fair, they say. He’s your favourite. or She’s your favourite. You never tell him or her off!
So then I tell them that I don’t have a favourite, but I have a least favourite, glaring at them. And there are often several least favourites.
Many troubles in families arise when parents play favourites. Isaac loved his outdoorsy, hunter son Esau. There was something about their personalities that just clicked. I’m sure he loved Jacob as well, but we just get on better with some people than others. On the other hand Rebekah loved Jacob, the quieter boy, who loved to grow things and tend the field. Maybe she felt protective of him around his more vigorous, rambunctuous brother. I’ve often felt the need to protect my weaker child against the stronger too. Continue reading

Same-sex relationships and the Anglican Church in NZ

Archbishops’ letter       Motion 30

Over the last week our General Synod have been sitting, and debating, amongst other things, the response that the Church should be making to same-sex couples. While it is still early days for a real change, some very significant things have come out in the report.

the Church is “both affirming the traditional doctrine of marriage, exploring the recognition of those presently in life-long monogamous same-gender relationships, and seeking a process and structure to enable the possibility of a rite for blessing life-long monogamous same-gender relationships for those who wish to offer this rite.”

The Church is also apologising to those of the LGBT community who have been unfairly treated in the past by church decisions.

Well this is good, but just as pulling nails out of a piece of timber doesn’t leave it pristine, so apologising can never erase the hurts. Forgiveness can though, and there is a fertile field for this here. Continue reading

Short talk: Flesh and Bood

John 6:52-59

Short talk for Rest Home.

Eating flesh and drinking blood? You can imagine what some of the first-century people thought when they heard these words. It sounds quite gruesome really, and some people accused Christians of literally eating and drinking flesh and blood.

But, like so many other things in the bible, it’s not meant to be taken literally. Jesus spoke in parables so much of the time, that for this one to be taken at face value would not make sense.

Jesus is using the term flesh to mean himself. Eating his flesh means taking part in him. If we are what we eat, we can be assured that whatever we take into our beings, both physically, mentally and spiritually, with nourish us and affect us, whether for good or ill. That’s why it’s not a good idea to eat too much chocolate, and why we shouldn’t watch horror movies if we are having trouble sleeping!

Jesus tells us to take him on board, to let ourselves become so filled up with the person of Christ, that he will transform us. If we do this we will become one with him! What does that mean? I think it means that we will see others with the eyes of Christ – when we see suffering we will have compassion and love. Even if we see evil, we will not hate, only have sorrow, and pity.

Jesus also tells us that if we share in him in this way, we will have eternal life! That’s a wonderful promise isn’t it? Living like Jesus lived, seeing others with his eyes, and becoming more like him throughout our earthly lives will mean that when our bodies finally wear out and cannot support life, the rest of us, our soul, will go on, in the presence of God! That’s a wonderful promise to look forward to. May we all be comforted will the hope of eternal life in Christ.

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: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.

Noah’s Flood

My daughter has recently been performing in Benjamin Britten’s Opera Noye’s Fludde (Noah’s Flood) which is a community opera based on a mystery play. This was a charming and moving performance – not least for seeing her cast as a rooster!

What struck me was the juxtaposition of the Old Testament story with hymns interspersed, to be sung by the audience with the cast. The first Hymn was “Lord Jesus, think on me”. At first I found it quite anachronistic to have Jesus mentioned in the same story as the Genesis tale of Noah – I was wanting to keep it all chronologically pure! But then the audience had another hymn to sing – “Eternal father, strong to save”, which was incredibly moving as the Noah family and the animals prayed for safety in the ark. I started thinking about the response of the original audience to the mystery play. Rather than seeing Noah’s Ark as a stand-alone story, having these hymns as a sort of response to it puts the whole story in context for Christians. Praying to Jesus to think on us is completely appropriate then. I wonder how many other times we put old testament stories in a separate compartment, and neglect to integrate them into our story?

The final hymn sung by everyone was to the tune of Tallis’ Canon – and the last line of words we all sang was ‘the hand that made us is Divine”. What a wonderful line to have running around in your head as you leave the performance! I’m sure works like this have an impact on all involved, whether cast, families or audience, as these timeless words resonate.

I wonder what other Old Testament favourite stories could be used like this? The Miracle plays were a way that uneducated people could engage with these stories and fit them into their faith, and I think they could be useful again.

Foundations and forgiveness

Sermon Whitby 23 February 2014

Lev 19:1-2, 9-18, Matt 5:38-48

When we read the Leviticus reading, so much of it leads to the reaction – “of course, of course I will not defraud my neighbour or steal, as for leaving some of the harvest around the edges, well, that’s just being generous with what we don’t really need isn’t it? ” It’s a bit like giving our loose change to the collectors. Our needs are met so we can afford to be generous to those less well-off, without putting ourselves out.It’s interesting that these attitudes are so ingrained that we take them for granted. Sometimes you might see commentaries that we now live in a post-Christian society. Some may twitch at that, seeing it as an admission that the church no longer holds the same power and place in society that it did in days of Christendom, when the political and religious power was aligned. But let’s look at the term – post – something means after it. And it also means affected by it. Just as ‘post-apocalyptic’ means ‘after the effects of an apocalypse’ – and I have to admit that this is one of my favourite sorts of movies – so post- Christian should mean ‘having been a affected by Christianity’.

And why can we claim that our society is post-christian? When we go back to the laws of Leviticus, they are so ingrained in the judaeo-christian legal system that all countries which have had this background at any time in their historical past have inherited laws based on these principles.A secular person living around the corner here in Whitby, who has nothing to do with church, will know that it is the decent thing not to steal, or not to be partial in judging between the rich and the poor. If there is ever a hint of bias because of someone’s background, it soon shows up in the newspapers and on talkback radio.Yes, post Christian is not a bad thing. It means that the God-given ethical standards for life have had a real and permanent impact on the world! That’s cause for rejoicing!

Where our society is in need of change though is in the larger picture. We may all know that ethically it’s wrong to steal, and that we should tell the dairy man if he gives us too much change. But how about on a larger scale? On TV this week there was a documentary about the growing gap between rich and poor, and one of the problems mentioned was those who avoid paying their taxes. It was a huge sum – 5 billion dollars! Our country is being cheated and robbed of this money. Maybe they don’t see it as stealing because it’s not personal, it’s business, it’s economic principles, or many other excuses. But when one group flourishes at the expense of others, it is stealing. This is not the way God wants us to live. Have a think then – are you in a position to influence decisions made about business practices? Are you in charge of a large business? Are you a client of one? We are all connected with the rich and powerful in New Zealand – it’s like a re-invention of feudalism, where the few have power over the may. But we can do something about it. We can pray for God to speak and for people to listen!

Coming down to the next part of the reading, the Israelites are told not to hate any one of their own kin.Is this so well-ingrained in our society as behaving lawfully? I think not.Week after week I meet people who have some sort of disconnect in their family. Maybe the kids all got on well with their parents when they were young adults, but marriage took them into the realm of another family with different ways, and tensions sprang up. This is so common it almost seems the norm. This sort of tension can lead to many problems, including people threatening not to let grandparents see their grandchildren if they don’t behave the way the younger couple want. Is this blackmail? Yes.There are many causes for disconnectedness within families – partly I think to do with the way we join up these days. A hundred years ago or so our new spouse would probably be known to our family of origin, in the same neighbourhood, and there was more homogeneity. You weren’t entering uncharted waters by marrying someone.Nowadays, people meet their partner in so many ways, and often the very difference from their own family is very attractive. This is an area where marriage preparation is so important for future happiness. Unfortunately, by the time many couples marry, if they do at all, they have been together for some years, and many of the underlying tensions and differences between families have not been explored.

God wants us not to hate in our heart anyone of our kin. This is a serious injunction, and one that is needed in so many places.However, when I suggest to my children that it might be better if they didn’t tell me how much they hate their brother/sister, – and I do hear this quite often – they always say, “but they’re so annoying! or, ‘but did you see what he did? Did you hear what she called me?” There is an offence that is being reacted to.This very problem is what Jesus is addressing in the gospel. Jewish law allowed for retaliation. The eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth was not written to allow for giving back equal injury in a way that was seen as harsh.It was written to limit what had been happening – someone’s eye was poked out, so the other retaliated by wiping out a whole village! A tooth was knocked out, but revenge mean a whole family died. The old law was meant to limit the retaliation, to keep it reasonable, and not to up the ante all the time. This is another problem in family relations – one small offence leads to a greater response, and before you know it there’s a full-scale feud.Jesus comes against this in a radical way. Not only does he criticise the due retaliation, but goes so much further, to state that forgiving those who wrong us is the way to live.

But hang, on, you may say. Did you hear what she said to me? Did you see what he did?We sound just like kids. We want our day in court, we want to be justified in our behaviour. But Jesus asks us to forgive. This is one of the hardest parts about being a Christian. To say in your heart that you forgive and love someone who has hurt you or your family. Have you tried it? no don’;t put your hands up. It’s not the one who is forgiven who is affected, it is the one doing the forgiveness.

Several years ago I was involved in organising an Alpha course, and I was in charge of the catering. I had invited a woman I knew to bring her homestay student to the course, and told her a little about the food. As you may know, the initial dinner is usually a good spread, but the meal with each session is often lighter. In our case, it was soup and rolls for a Sunday tea. The lady brought her student along, and was really embarrassed to find that after she had told him that the food would always be like the first night, he came home complaining of a light and plain meal. She started having a go at me about not publicising this properly.As you can imagine, I felt myself getting defensive. Of course I had done my job properly, I huffed to myself. She was just a silly thing who didn’t read the notice properly.

And then something hit me.I felt one of those holy spirit nudges – you need to forgive her, it said. So I did. I prayed, asking God to help me forgive her, and prayed for her. Immediately I felt a huge burden lift, my scowl relaxed, and I could love her again.The next time I saw her, there was nothing between us – no tension, no distance.You see, she didn’t know what I had been feeling, but I was changed.

This is just a small example of how forgiving someone can transform you.It’s just a little thing – being accused of not organising something properly.It can be easy to judge which people are worthy of our forgiveness and our love. Today’s gospel reading reminds us that God loves everyone, and sends the rain to shine on the good and the evil.

There’s a little poem about that actually :

The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella,
But more upon the just because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella
.

How can we love our enemies? This is one of those God things. We need the Holy spirit to help us. Perhaps, whenever you are in a tense situation, and you are getting grumpy, take stock and try to discover what God is telling you. Is God giving you an opportunity to forgive someone? Next time you are invited to something but think, I can’t face it, knowing that a certain person will be there – and there’s often one in the extended family – ask the Holy Spirit to help you forgive and love that person. Because if we as Christians cannot truly love those around us, how are we any different from those who don’t know God? God’s love is like a river – if we let it flow out through us, more flows in. We will be blessed by dripping love everywhere.

But hang on, you may say. It’s just too big. I can’t forgive.Many of you may have read the story of Corrie ten Boom, who was held in a concentration camp during the second world war. Her faith kept her strong, but there was much heartache, including witnessing the death of her sister at the hands of a Nazi guard. One day, many years after the war, she was giving a lecture tour about forgiveness, and a man sidled up to her afterwards. ‘I am the guard who shot your sister,’ he said, tentatively holding out his hand to her. Can you forgive me? Corrie recounts that it was the hardest thing in the world to do, to even contemplate touching the evil creature who had killed her beloved sister.But then she saw the man as God saw him – beloved, humbling himself. And she took his hand and forgave him. Such warmth flowed through her that she knew it was of God.

The reading finishes with the phrase, be perfect therefore as your heavenly father is perfect. No pressure! Actually Luke ‘s gospel has the word ‘merciful’ rather than ‘perfect’. The Greek word Matthew uses here is teleios, which means ‘brought to completion, mature, without shortcoming in respect of a certain standard’. Perfect then seems not to sum up the full meaning.Jesus urges us to be complete, mature, up to the required standard. Is this any easier than ‘perfect?’ Probably not. But with God’s help we can do it.

let us pray.

Loving God, you love all your people. Help us to love everyone too with that same love, and help us by your spirit to forgive, even when it’s too hard.