Sermon: Eagle’s Wings

Sermon St Anne’s Porirua 8 Feb 2015

Rev Felicity O’Brien

Today’s reading from Isaiah paints a splendid picture of power. God is sitting above the circle of the earth – and it would be many centuries before people generally agreed that the earth was indeed a sphere – and God has power over everyone and everything on earth.

He blows on us and we wither.

This sounds a bit horrible really, as if such a big power could be cruel. But no, he calls us all by name, and not one of us is missing. Here we can see the compassion of God, that He truly knows us.

Have you ever felt that no one knew you, really knew who you were? There are times when it’s easy to feel anonymous, defined by a particular label. Continue reading

Ready or not…

The last few months have been taken up preparing our son Rowan’s book for printing. the PDF is already available, but each time we go over the ‘final copy’, we realise that it is not quite perfect. There’s a full stop missing, or a slight inconsistency, or something which could be strengthened… Many tiny details, all being polished to make the book as good as it can be.

I started wondering whether we are like books too. As Christians, do we hesitate to let ourselves be released onto the world until we are perfect? Do we wait until we have all our ducks in a row before we feel we can share our faith with others? Well, we are none of us perfect. And we never will be, so why not live dangerously, let ourselves be unleashed on the world, imperfections and all. If we are too perfect, we will be like a smooth glass wall, with no toeholds for a climber. No little edges and inconsistencies to use. We will be impossible to relate to, because of our smooth façade of non-human perfection. BUT, if we allow others to really see us, faults and all, there will be toeholds, chinks in the armour, where they can get to know us. The real us, not the shiny one. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, it’s those bumps and knobs which lock us together with other people.

Many Christians try to be good – and that’s not a bad thing – but they use it as an excuse to not engage. We can use the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle again. When we are looking for pieces to fit in, we can try and see what is the same – all the sky bits in one pile, for example. or all the yellow bits. In a church context that would be like trying to find those who we really identify with. Those who are the same. But there’s another way of progressing a jigsaw puzzle. How about looking for the places where the texture changes? The edges between the sky and the land? The bits that contrast? These will help the jigsaw get filled in , and if we use this principle with people, we look for the differences between them and us. We don’t judge these differences, but we use them to create a bigger picture.

This New Year, may you embrace the different in your life, remembering the vast originality of each person as the Creator’s handiwork.

Sermon: Moses, the truth and following God

Moses, the truth, and following God.

St Anne’s Porirua 24 August 2014
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Rom 12:1-8
Matt 16:13-20
The story of Moses in the bulrushes is a favourite from Sunday school isn’t it? The little baby, vulnerable in his cradle of reeds, set afloat on the river. It’s got all the features of a good story – there is tension and resolution. We worry about the child, but we know he will be ok.
But let’s back up the story a bit, to look at why this wee fellow was set afloat.
The Hebrew people were growing strong in the land. This is the same group of people that we heard about in readings from the last two weeks – Joseph’s family. Remember how they came out of famine into Egypt, to survive because of Joseph’s prudence. But we come forward a few generations, till the ruler in charge of Egypt no longer remembers Joseph and what he did for Egypt. Now there is just an annoying racial minority group in the land, who seem to pose a threat to the Egyptians. Continue reading

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

Many roles

When I first started this Blog, I was expecting to be ordained priest a year after being ordained deacon. The plan was to re-name it ‘Speaking as a deacon and a priest.’ My path has gone in a different direction, but I’m still not sure that the calling to priesthood has gone away.

After the very busy time we have had as a family, I could call it ‘Speaking as a deacon and a mother’. My son Josiah has been in hospital recently for appendicitis, which he is now recovering from. I find the mothering role quite demanding, because there is no plan to it. Yes, he had his operation, came out of hospital with three small wounds, but it took a week for him to recover from the anaesthetic, and he still has pain in his tummy which has restricted him from joining in the Kapa Haka festival and other physical pursuits.He gets really grouchy too! As a mum, I cannot plan when I may have to give him a ride, persuade him to take pain relief, and many other things.

Added to that, our daughter is struggling with life at the moment, especially with the transition from childhood to adolescence. I won’t go into details, but please pray for her!

We all have many roles, and my deacon role is not compromised by my mother one. No, rather it is enhanced. Our congregation cares for all our family, and in sharing some of our troubles and triumphs, I can become fully embedded into the church family. I think it’s important for deacons to do that – maybe the priests need to be a little more aloof, but incarnational ministry for a deacon must surely mean going deep with our church, being real, letting ourselves be known, warts and all. Only then can we fully appreciate each other.

The parish where I work is going through a time of change – our wonderful priest-in-charge has just announced that she is to leave us in a few months to focus on God’s call for her to concentrate on Missions in Polynesia. What will this mean for me? I will be journeying as part of the congregation during the change, during the self-searching as they/we look at themselves to discover how they feel they need to be led gong forward. I love working at this parish, with these people. There are different opinions among them over many things, but surely my role as deacon is to encourage everyone, to nudge them a little step forward on their discipleship journey, whether I agree with them or not.  I don’t believe it is my task to impose my ideas on them, but rather to enter into dialogue and encourage creative discussion. I love doing this!

May God bless you all as you find your way forward in the journey God has for you this week.

Felicity

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: Flesh and Spirit

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Sermon 6 April 2014 St Mary’s Whitby

Ezek 37:1-14,Ps 130, Rom 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

Today’s readings all deal in some aspect with life and death, with flesh and the spirit.

I like watching medical programmes on TV, and one of my current favourites is ’24 hours in A and E’. I was watching this last week, where someone had been wheeled into Resus, when I noticed the sign for the Resus department on the wall. R.E.S.U.S. It’s only one letter away from Jesus. This got me thinking – is Jesus our Resus?

In our culture we are so frightened of death, and our medical protocol often involves lots of technology to prolong life – the image of the paddles charging up, the doctor calling clear! as the patient’s heart is shocked into life is very familiar from our TV dramas. (I’m thinking maybe I watch too much TV?)

There is a finality about physical death that we all rail against, wanting life to be resuscitated no matter what the intervention.

No one wants to think that physical death is the end of the story, and every society and religion over many thousands of years has had some sort of understanding that life goes on after physical death. Continue reading

Sermon: False and True Worship

 

sermon St Mary’s Whitby 9 Feb 2014

Isaiah 58:1-12, Matt 5:13-20

The title, or quick guide, to today’s Isaiah reading is False and True Worship.This is a very challenging idea – both for the Israelites and for us.Isaiah tells his people that they are very quick to follow the outward forms of worship, almost competing with one another to see who can be the best, most religious, worshipper. Their motives are good – they delight to draw near to God. But what happens? They fast, but end up fighting.

Now, any of you who have children will know what I have been slowly learning the hard way – you just can’t expect decent behaviour if they’re hungry. For our family, that means that I need to have something substantial, that they will eat, ready at afternoon tea time, and with school going back this week, we’re all readjusting to the timing of eating! If the kids have no food in their tummies, they are grumpy and make bad choices about what names they call each other, and what they do with their hands. Or fists.

It would have been the same for the Israelites. They had a good motive to fast, or so they thought. They were doing it to draw nearer to God! But if God didn’t want them to do that, they would not have had the Holy Spirit’s help to fast in a God-honouring way. There’s no point feeling virtuous for fasting, thinking you’re super-religious, if the Holy Spirit isn’t part of the deal. It will only lead to grumpiness and fighting. 

The Israelites have another idea – we should be humble and lowly and bow down our heads, covering ourselves with ashes. Well, there isn’t much point to this either, as Isaiah tells them. What they’re really doing is making a public show of being humble, of doing nothing but looking so dejected that they really must be religious… Maybe?

No, God has a better idea. Service to God, service that really counts, is service to God’s people.It’s interesting that feeding the hungry comes a little way down the list- it isn’t at the top. First we have the context for this serving -“loosing the bonds of injustice,undoing the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free,and breaking every yoke.

Now, lets pause at this point. If we take this small passage as a guide for how God wants us to live our lives in community with each other, we need to do some thinking, and work out the meaning for ourselves and our world.

Loosing the bonds of injustice. That’s a really broad idea isnt it, but it contains hope. It tells us that we can do something about injustice.Often our society encourages us to have a sort of fatalistic attitude to the world – things are unjust, there’s not a lot we can do about it. In fact, when Iwas a kid, my dad, who was a GP, had a quick rejoinder for any kid who whined that things werent fair. “Life’s not fair, get used to it”. I find myself saying it too.But surely here Isaiah is giving us from God an encouragement that we can indeed do something about injustice.It binds people up, but we can help. We can loosen those bonds. Maybe we can’t break them entirely, maybe we cant completely resolve the situation, but we can loosen the bonds. And when the bonds are loosened just a little bit, it will be easier for them to be finally cast aside by the one bound up. In fact, the next part of our reading guides us – after we have loosened the bonds of injustice, only then can we untie the thongs of the yoke, removing the heavy burden from the oppressed. We can let them, and us, go free, and not only that, but break every yoke, so no one else can be oppressed by it.

How can we do this in our world? We’ve seen an example recently on the news, where the police have broken a child pornography ring. The bonds of injustice have been loosened by the investigators putting their information together, the thongs have been untied as they have been able to find who is responsible, the oppressed are set free when the children are no longer abused in this way, and the yoke is broken when it is harder for these sorts of horrible behaviours to happen again.

When we look at bondage to sin though, we must be careful not to be too black-and-white. We must avoid a them-and-us mentality. In a situation like child pornography, it is not only the people in the photos whoare in bondage. It is also those whoare addicted to looking at, and thinking about, those images. Loosing the bonds of injustice will break many yokes, both of those who are victims of other people, and those who are victims of themselves.

The next portion of our reading is a bit more straightforward really – we are encouraged to share our food with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our house, cover the naked, and not hide ourselves from our own kin.This sounds like straightforward charity doesnt it? But again, it isnt easy. We have to put ourselves out if we are to care for the poor. We have to share, to put our own needs second. Well, NZ is a great nation for charity, we areoften told. Street appeals do well, we arevery generous. But putting your loose change into a collector’s box, rattled under your nose outside the supermarket, is all very well, but it’s very impersonal. I believe we are challenged as Christians to get much more deeply involved. To get to know people. That means giving of ourselves. Bringing the homeless poor into our houses – oh dear, what if they’re smelly? What if they pinch stuff? What if they swear? Does God tell us to look after respectable‘ people only? No. And as for not hiding ourselves from our own kin – there’s a whole sermon just in that sentence!

Now, our country is organized very differently from ancient Israel. We have a social security safety net, so if we pay our taxes there should be support available for people who are hungry, poor, homeless. But there are times when people struggle to access these services, and we can help. Again though, often we need to really get to know the people we are helping, not just send them to the WINZ office with their form filled out. And do you know what? The blessing is a two-way street. We have an elderly neighbour who is struggling with life, and he’s often over for a coffee, or to borrow something. Yes, he always smells as if he’s smoked a packet every hour, and my hay fever flares up after he’s been. But he blesses us. He cares for us. When there was an earthquake recently he popped over to see of we were all right. That was really touching.

Isaiah tells us that when we treat God’s people kindly, our light will break forth like the dawn! Two weeks ago I preached here about the people who walked in darkness seeing a great light. Here we have the same image – the light of the presence of God in our lives and in our communities.Isaiah underscores the point with a similar passage of what we can do, which will again be rewarded by our light rising in the darkness.In this second group he has some more guidance for us – verse 9 jumped out when I was reading this passage earlier in the week –If you remove the yoke from among you,the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,(and there’s another bit about feeding the poor )– then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

This is an important point to consider. The yoke among us of pointing the finger and speaking evil. Yes, it is a yoke, one that can be loosed and broken. We have a choice how we regard other people. Pointing the finger, singling people out because they’re different. In our culture people who stand out are quickly noticed, and not usually in a good way. It’s called the Great NZ Clobbering Machine. Kids at school are ridiculed for tiny differences, be it in the type of lunch box they have, or what is in it, or when I was at school, it was for wearing old-style shoes. Kids are quick to point the finger. Adults are too, often point it in blame. ‘Speaking evil’ – that’s another word for gossip. Very tempting I know, but is it helpful? Does it build the kingdom? If we want our light to shine out like noonday, we can turn away, make better choices.

Some of you may be saying, yes, that’s all very well, but Isaiah wrote these words a long time ago. What relevance do they have? Well, Matthew’s audience certainly knew them. There are several times in the New Testament when Jesus is quoting from Isaiah, and Matthew, who was writing for a Jewish audience, reminds them, and us, that what Jesus had to say was in no way a replacement for the prophets of old. Jesus talks of salt and light. These are familiar images – light crops up a lot in this year’s set of readings. How about salt? It’s a bit out of favour if you have to watch your blood pressure, but try eating home-made bread without salt. It’s revolting. Just a teaspoon in the dough makes a huge difference.

And I think that’s a helpful image for us. If we are wondering how our small contribution to life around us could possibly make a difference, think about that tiny bit of salt. That little pinch that you put on your fried eggs. That sprinkle on your tomatoes. Just as it only takes a small bit of salt to bring out the true flavour of many foods, so it can take only a little bit of love to make a difference in someone’s life. Be encouraged by this – don’t think you can do nothing. Even a smile at someone, a kind word, an offer of help, a prayer, can start the ball rolling to loose the chains that bind.

As a deacon, when I give the dismissal, I say, “Go now to love and serve the Lord”. Be encouraged that when you leave the church today, you can indeed go to love the Lord, by serving other people, by being that salty flavour that brings life. The last bit of the dismissal is “Go in peace”. Don’t go feeling like you’ve been given an impossible task. Go with the peace in your heart of knowing that you can love God, you can serve God, and it’s not too huge. Just one sprinkle, one pinch of salt at a time.

Sermon: Jesus presented in the temple

 

Sermon: Whitby rest home 7 Feb 2014

Luke 2:22-40

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Do you remember when you were a little child? If you were part of a Christian family, you may have had books of Bible stories for children, with all the stories about the kids in the Bible – Samuel, David, the child Jesus. Maybe you felt special as a child, reading about other children, who had an important role in the kingdom of heaven. So important hat now, three thousand years later, people remember their name, their story, their contribution.

Today’s’ Gospel reading is the version for the elderly of the same thing – here Simeon and Anna are both very old.. Even by the fact of their inclusion in the Gospel, you are encouraged that older people still have an important role in the kingdom of heaven. And just as Simeon and Anna will never be forgotten by anyone who reads the bible, so God will never forget you, even though you are no longer young.

Our society forgets the old – if we look at TV we see young, pretty, slim people. Never older, wrinkly, saggy, or anything other than a narrow slice of society. But God’s society isn’t like that. In God’s kingdom there is a place for everyone, no matter how many years they have been around, whether very young or very old. What God is interested in is the heart. Does your heart love God? Do you rejoice that Jesus has come into the world? That’s what matters.

There is another feature in today’s reading that I want to point out. Not only the very old, but the very young are involved. Jesus is a new baby, very little and weak. Just starting his life. Simeon and Anna are at the end of their long lives, getting ready to meet God. There is a circle here, a connection between the generations. Maybe in your family there are no more babies coming to visit, maybe the grandchildren have grown up and left town. But there are still people you may be connected to. Never lose that connection – if you don’t see them, if they don’t visit – and let’s face it, many young people don’t these days – may they still be present to you in your prayers. Just as Simeon and Anna prayed for the baby Jesus, you can pray for the little ones in your family, in your communities. Whitby is full of families, and there is a role for us all in praying for our children, those we see around us, those who live over the road, those who go to the school round the corner.

In God’s kingdom the elderly people are not forgotten. That goes for ancient Israel, and it goes for us, here and now.