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.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Essay: Islam, Politics and why it matters.

Islam, Politics and why it matters for us.

Reverend Felicity O’Brien November 2013

View as PDF                 Discussion Notes PDF

Supplementary Power Point

Introduction

This talk is about the religion that is called Islam. First we look at its beginnings with a brief historical overview, noting the great divide between two parts of Islam, Sunni and Shi’a, and some of the consequences of that split. We will explore briefly the spread of Islam and Muslim peoples throughout the world, both in ancient and modern times. We will look more closely at some of the groups in both Sunni and Shi’a, and how this plays out both religiously and politically, especially the more radical sector. Then we will explore the interaction of other countries with Islamic nations, the geopolitical scene, where differences between Islamic factions have been exploited by outsiders, in particular the U.S.

Finally, we will consider why this matters to us in New Zealand, especially to Christians, and I apologise to members of the audience who are not included in this group, but that is where my perspective comes from, as a minister in the Anglican Church.[1]

 Part 1: History of Islam

Fourteen hundred years ago, in a mountain cave, an Arab businessman was praying, worried about how his society was deteriorating. Money-making was becoming all-important, and the poor were getting poorer. People were restless, and knew that other surrounding countries practised more sophisticated religions than the Arab paganism. Some believed that their own highest God, Al-Lah (which means ‘God’) was the same deity as that worshipped by the Jews and Christians. But there had as yet been no prophet and no revelation to the Arabs in their own language. The man in the cave, Muhammad ibn Abdallah, woke one night overpowered by a mighty presence of the Angel Gabriel, and then he heard words of poetry pouring from his mouth. Tradition has it that he was illiterate, so therefore the elegant words must have come supernaturally.[2] Continue reading

Secret delight

I wanted to write a companion post to Kevin’s recent post about God and global resources.

When our oldest son was about 18 months old, it was his second Christmas. His father and I filled up a stocking for him, laid it on his bed while he slept, and set up the baby monitor. On Christmas morning, we heard all sorts of noises and delight as Morgan uncovered all the presents wedged into the stocking. His first word had been ‘train’ so it was no surprise when this came over loud and clear on the baby monitor. We tried not to laugh too loudly as we heard his delight in his new goodies!

In a way, I wonder if God also delights as parents do, when we discover the good things the Creator has placed in the world. And it’s not unscriptural to suggest this analogy – just remember the story of the egg and the stone – surely  earthly parents will give  their child what is good,- how much more will your father in heaven do this for you? (paraphrased)

When God made the universe, over many billions of years, via  a big bang, or evolution, or by whatever means, God placed all sorts of minerals and elements within it. As human beings develop their minds and their cooperation that we have been created with, we can do more to uncover the resources of the earth. One of these is thorium – Kevin’s post yesterday talked about thorium as a way forward for safe and cheap nuclear fuel. God did give us free will however, as to how we use it, and that’s where a problem lies. We can choose to use something for good, or for evil. We can use it wisely, or exploit it. Sometimes the end results are not clear at the beginning, so motives are mixed. But what God did not do is make us into little marionettes, to be manipulated by God whenever he felt like it. No, and because God did give us this free will, we cannot blame God when we don’t discover something to use, or when someone uses it for non-lifegiving purposes. We must take responsibility for our own actions, which again must be guided by love. If we accept that God loves us, then we must accept that God loves everyone else too, and enlightened self-interest – with self meaning all the people on , – must mean that we all can strive for the good of everyone in how we use the resources available to us.

Even if we don’t accept that God loves us, then surely it is still in the best interest of ourselves and the earth to behave as if other people have rights to resources too. That is why thorium is so exciting – because it will do away with the desire to experiment with biofuel, which uses up available agricultural land.

God in climate change

Guest post by Kevin O’Brien

Christians worry too much, relying on their own understandings and accepting the misinformation barrage.God has a simple logical proof as well as his word that disproves the reality of the whole of the climate alarmism.

The latest leaked draft IPCC report AR5 attempts to cover over their previous failed scary projections by offering “trust me it will get worse”. Unfortunately science in the climate arena has largely abandoned truth for advocacy and PhD student models. This is no comfort to those who have come to believe their island homes will swamped or other speculative alarmist scenarios.

God has his answers:

Firstly for us to try to reduce the global temperature by only 1/20 of a degree would cost 4/5ths of the worlds productive output. What sort  of God do we have that would put us in that position? This chart is based on accepted science referred to on the 50 to 1 site:

Claymore_1_edge

Secondly we don’t have the world-wide productive capacity or land to enable a switch to biofuels, nor are wind farms or solar panels sufficient. Renewable energy is more aspirational than real. Here it is described as a disaster: it should be described as totally impossible on a global scale. Can we trade topsoil for fuel oil? Where do we get scarce phosphorus for future food crops? God does not expect us to beggar ourselves or our neighbours to produce motor fuel.

Thirdly the switch to renewable energy brings great injustice. Who is to bear the rising food prices and resulting famines? Our God is a God of justice so this is against Gods’ will.

The solution that fits all this: we will adapt to the natural climate changes, the islands will not sink unless supporting water reservoirs are used up, coral will still grow up to sea level; the earth has an unmeasurable equilibrium which each of us will find different in our own lifetimes.

There is energy. God hasn’t abandoned His every growing people to a world without adequate agreeable energy. Nuclear fuel has got a bad reputation because the electric power industry preferred to use uranium to provide a by-product for atomic weapons.

Thorium is no use for bomb making nor popular with terrorists but does make good heat and hence electricity. While it is radioactive, you can hold it safely in your hand. It is now being used in low temperature reactors which cannot explode or do a Chernobyl. The reactors have the potential for factory assembly for neighbourhood use and the fuel is plentiful. Trust God to have provided even before we were aware of our needs.