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: Life comes at a cost

Sermon 26 October 2014 St Mary’s Whitby.Rev Felicity O’Brien

1 Thess 2:1-8, Matt 22:34-46

Paul was a man who didn’t hesitate to go the hard yard. He was shipwrecked, beaten, arrested, and in many other ways his life was not easy.But his greatest driving force was to share the gospel with everyone, no matter what the reception.In today’s epistle reading, we hear how Paul has been shamefully treated at Phillipi, but has come on to Thessalonica anyway. He didn’t retreat to lick his wounds, or to take a course and change his career path!

Sometimes we are treated badly, even as we struggle to live out our Christian witness. Do we let it put us off? Some people do. I have spoken to many people who used to go to church, but something happened, there was an offence, and they walked out, hurt, and never came back. They didn’t keep on trying to worship God in fellowship with others, because of some past injury. Now, I am in no way belittling the hurts than can happen in a church community. I know they are very real, because real people both hurt and heal each other. I have often pondered about this – to take an analogy , if you had a mechanic who treated you badly, who was rude, would you stop going to mechanics? Many years ago, when I was a single mum, my Honda shuttle was not very well. I took it to the local mechanic, who told me that it needed a lot of work on it, and I said, bother! I was hoping to go to the tip this afternoon. He said, were you going to leave it there? Now, it does seem funny, especially when the car, let’s face it, was probably heading to the wreckers’ yard, but I relied on that car, it was my sole means of getting to work and all the other things. I felt offended and vulnerable at his comments.But did I stop trying to fix the car? No, I didn’t. I just found another mechanic, and made it clear how important the car was to me. I guarded my heart against its vulnerability, and tried again. Continue reading

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

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

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: 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

Greenpeace co-founder recants to U.S. Senate on climate change

Re blogged from wattsupwiththat.com 26 February 2014.

…Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, went before the U.S. Senate yesterday to tell his story as it relates to global warming/climate change. It is well worth your time to read. WUWT readers may recall that since Dr. Moore has decided to speak out against global warming and for Golden Rice, Greenpeace is trying to disappear his status with the organization, much like people were disappeared in Soviet Russia. (Update: Feb 27, 3PM PST Dr. Moore leaves a comment, see at end.)

Statement of Patrick Moore, Ph.D. Before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight

February 25, 2014

“Natural Resource Adaptation: Protecting ecosystems and economies”

Chairman Whitehouse, Ranking Member Inhofe, and members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing.

In 1971, as a PhD student in ecology I joined an activist group in a church basement in Vancouver Canada and sailed on a small boat across the Pacific to protest US Hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. We became Greenpeace.

After 15 years in the top committee I had to leave as Greenpeace took a sharp turn to the political left, and began to adopt policies that I could not accept from my scientific perspective. Climate change was not an issue when I abandoned Greenpeace, but it certainly is now.

There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth’s atmosphere over the past 100 years. If there were such a proof it would be written down for all to see. No actual proof, as it is understood in science, exists. 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: The people that walked in darkness.

Isa 9:1-4, 1 Cor 1:10-18, Matt 4: 12-23

I come from a family of church musicians. We would all sing in the church choir, and my Dad and brother played the organ. One of our favourite things to do before Christmas was to put the score for Handel’s wonderful piece “Messiah’ on the piano, with mum accompanying, and sing through it, as much as we could fit in between other facets of our day.

There is a wonderful bass solo, that my Dad and brother would sing – actually we’d all join in. ‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!’ This is so ingrained in me that I have struggled so far today to resist breaking into song!

This text forms the bulk of our Isaiah reading, and in the Gospel Matthew tells us that in the coming of Jesus, Isaiah’s words are being fulfilled. Jesus himself doesn’t mention Isaiah here, but Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience who were familiar with the scripture, and who were looking expectantly for the Messiah.

Then Matthew sums up the shape of Jesus’ early ministry – ‘From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

These are not very specific words are they? I often find that when I am looking to the Bible for guidance, it can be frustratingly vague – sound familiar? The Message translation puts this verse another way: Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.

I think that is a good way of describing the effect of ‘seeing the light’.

But what does it mean for us, here, in New Zealand? What does it mean for this parish? Now, in some ways I am at a loss here, because I don’t know you yet, and you don’t know me. So I have to trust that what I am bringing you today is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Have you walked in darkness in your life? Have there been times when it just all seemed too hard, too depressing, as if nothing good ever happened?

I’ve certainly had those times in my life. I’ve walked in darkness, both through my own behaviour, and through some of the people I knew.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. Not just any light.

The phrase, “I have seen the light’ is a common way of describing having received a revelation, not just something with a certain number of photons, but a new understanding, that would stay permanently.

Well, if we’ve seen God at work, we have indeed seen a great light. The greatest light, the creator of the universe – Imagine what a great light the initial moment of creation must have been – astronomers can still see it, in the very depths of space, through the strongest telescopes. If we’ve seen God at work healing and delivering people, we too have seen this great light.

It’s all very well to remind ourselves that we may have seen this light, that we have had a revelation of Jesus, who he is, and what that means for us. But, just as a genius like Einstein cannot ‘undiscover’ his insights, so we too cannot walk away from having seen that light.

I think that’s what the Corinthian people must have been doing – remember our Epistle reading?

They had seen the light, they had had Christ revealed to them. And yet, they were reverting to walking in darkness, the darkness of dissension and grumbling, envy and worse. They were arguing about who was greater – those who had been baptised by this one or that. In our modern context we could liken this to … having received the Holy Spirit through the hands of this prophet or that – was it at New Wine or at a Bill Subritzky campaign?

You can see how relevant this scripture can be for us. We are reminded that when we have seen the light, it never truly departs from us, but we still have a choice. The people of Corinth were choosing to behave in an all-too-human way, trying to find a position of superiority over each other by their spiritual credentials. Pride was sneaking into the group, and insecurity was rearing its ugly head. I wonder who sent them there?

Paul reminds them, lovingly but rather sharply, that Christ’s is the only Gospel – it doesn’t matter who told them about it. Whenever dissent creeps into a group of believers, the enemy rejoices and rubs its hands, making a bigger wedge between the members of the body. For the sake of the united body of Christ – that sounds like a new church doesn’t it? Christians must not indulge in one-upmanship over each other in their journeys to faith. These journeys are our testimonies, and it’s wonderful to hear each other tell their story of how they got from A to B, but it can be a source of trying to top one story with another. Better to treasure these things in your heart, as it were, than use them for pride.

We can take this idea – a sense of non-discrimination perhaps – broader too. There are many diverse ways of worshipping, and all sorts of not-quite -lining up theology – and that’s just in the Anglican church! If the Corinthians were being urged to put aside their differences and celebrate the cross where Jesus triumphed over death once and for all, surely any gathering of Christians, for whatever purpose, should be a place where all can feel as if they belong, where there are no second-class citizens.

Let’s take another look at Isaiah. “You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy! I don’t know about you, but my joy is increased when I am with a group of Christians. I love being part of the family, the body, where you don’t have to explain what you believe. It’s better than being with biological family in many ways – we were at a family wedding last weekend, where the culture of our granddaughter’s friends, with their myriad tattoos, was very different to ours. Most of the people there had no time for church or Christ, and faith seemed completely irrelevant to them. I knew many of those people because we are related. But today I am here with you, and while I have met some of you briefly, I don’ know you as well as I know my husband’s relatives, but because you and I chose to be here today, we can assume a certain similar mindset when it comes to faith. Christians aren’t clones of course, and there may be many ways in which we have different angles for seeing things -probably as many ideas as there are people here! but the sense of the Body of Christ is strong.

Isaiah says that the people rejoice before God, as with joy at the harvest. Let’s always do that when we meet together, rejoicing before God that we are indeed loved, and that in Jesus we have seen this great light.

The final part of the reading tells us the reason for this rejoicing – the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of the oppressor has been broken.This yoke, this bar, this oppression is sin.And when the Corinthians allowed pride and comparing themselves to creep in, they were making a way for sin. They were forgetting that they, who had once walked in darkness, had indeed seen a great light.

May we too always keep in mind where we have come from, what Christ has delivered us from, and rejoice together in Jesus.