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.

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Rubber gloves

During yesterday’s service I was struck afresh by the words “May God strengthen you in all goodness.” So often these are taken to mean, may God help us avoid evil, or may we listen to our conscience. But I think that we are constantly challenged by the world we live in the step up in our goodness. Not only by not doing wrong, but by deliberately doing something that is good, that shows God’s goodness to those God loves.

You see, it’s easy to live this life with rubber gloves on. I didn’t used to use gloves for doing the dishes, or for gardening, but recently I have been trying them out, to see if it makes a difference. Well, yes, the chores are quicker, and I get no dirt under my nails, and my nail polish doesn’t chip as quickly.

But today I was pricking out tiny Kohl Rabi seedlings, and I needed the sensitivity of fingertips, so that I didn’t break the tiny roots. I worked without gloves, and yes there is now soil under my nails. But what I discovered afresh was that I love the feeling of the soil on my hands, its living potential. I love to be so connected with the plants that I can feel the roots coming out of the ground, and I can snug them into their new home like tucking in a  litlte baby!

What would it feel like to minister to our world without gloves on, I wondered? Would I get dirt under my nails, and scratches and scars? If we are going to be really sensitive to the needs of others, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be used up almost. We need to ask God to strengthen us in all goodness, so that our own desires for self-,preservation  are not limiting our ministry.

If I am brave enough, I could tackle a problem in our street, with a family who are not doing well. I could talk to them about how they swear at the little kids, and risk getting sworn at too. I could challenge them on their drinking, and risk getting an empty bottle thrown at me. But if God is strengthening me in all goodness, and if it is God’s idea that I get to be involved in this family, God will be with me, and I can leave the rubber gloves at home, and risk breaking a fingernail!

Sermon: Noticing

Sermon. 31 August 2014
Rev Felicity O’Brien
St Mary’s Whitby
Exod 3:1-15, Rom 12:9-21, Matt 16:21-28

Moses was a man who noticed things. Maybe this was to do with his upbringing – at first he was raised by his mother, in the Hebrew culture, and then he was returned to the princess who had adopted him when she took him out of the river. Imagine how different life would be at the court of Pharaoh for the young boy – he would have had to watch carefully to learn what to do, how to behave, even learn a new language. He was educated in all the Egyptian ways, and learnt a great deal. Continue reading

Ten thousand reasons

Today my blog received its ten thousandth visitor – someone form the United States was looking at my essay on the New Zealand prayer Book.

Ten thousand reasons is a great song to sing in worship too – meditate on the words as you sing it.

Thank you to all of you who read my blog – you may have noticed that the content has changed a bit as I have now finished studying, and most of what I am writing is for sermons, either at our Sunday morning services in Whitby and Porirua, or at our local rest home.

What else am I doing? Working as a deacon in Whitby, and our priest-in-charge is leaving soon, so I may be getting busier. I have also had problems with sick children. My daughter Rachel has been struggling with anxiety recently, and as part of helping her to recover we have acquired two new feline members of the family – Jacko is Rachel’s cat. He is a young, playful boy, black with white markings and lovely green eyes. Sylvia is the family cat – a mature lady, with torotiseshell markings, and the softest fur you ever felt. She sits on knees and purrs.

it’s been a few years since our last cat died, and I had forgotten about their capacity for food. Don’t you love the way a cat will you plaintively up at you, from its empty bowl on the kitchen floor, and makes the faintest, most pathetic miaow, as if it’s too starving to even miaow properly? And how about the way the next sucker to go into the kitchen gets the same treatment? Several times I have been about to feed a poor starving creature, too faint to miaow loudly, when Kevin hears the cat biscuits box rattling, and calls out – I’ve already fed him!

I think we should be like cats too, not hungry for excessive food, because that would not be good, but hungry for God’s Word, and for God’s justice, and for God’s love. If we were like cats, we would take advantage of every possibility that we might be fed – whenever we have time to read the Word, or to talk abut God, or to pray, if we could be hungry always, just like a cat. And when we have had enough of one sort of food, there’s always room for something else. Just like the cat who wants a drink of milk is quick to let you know, we too can seek after more nourishment.

Jesus said, ” My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34) May this be our food too.

 

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

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

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.