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.

Nowhere to stay

I was listening to Luke 2 today, describing the journey Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem. Several things struck me – and one may be the result of the other. They were going to his own town, his ancestral town. Surely there would have been relatives in Bethlehem who could have given Joseph and his pregnant fiancée a bed? What had gone wrong in his family so that the important codes of hospitality were not being observed? Maybe all Joseph’s relatives were no longer alive, or had moved elsewhere, and like Mary and Joseph were looking for accommodation too. Or maybe there had been some terrible disrupt in the family – many families today have problems where one person is seen as the ‘black sheep’, where no one will give them the time of day, let alone open their house. I urge you, if there is a problem like that in your family – and many families have issues – please try to forgive, and to let yourself be forgiven, and open your heart to your own family, no matter how awful they have been.

It’s entirely possible that Joseph and Mary were rejected by their own relatives. Why? Another part of Luke 2 gives a hint – Joseph was engaged to Mary, who was heavily pregnant. They were not yet married. There had been rumours about the coming baby which would float around for years, and maybe the relatives just couldn’t bear the thought of an unmarried couple with a baby nearly there contaminating their house.

As Christians we must guard against this attitude. Many Christians are very judgemental about people who live together, have their families, buy a house, a dog, a trampoline – in short, set up a family, without the legal status of marriage. Is it any of our business? A resounding NO! If it’s good enough for God to be born to an irregular couple, it’s good enough for us to accept those as a couple who regard themselves as one. The Bible continues to surprise us with the sort of people God uses to further the Truth, and human judgementalism and rule-making, which is unfortunately very noticeable in the church, can get in the way of God’s work.

This Christmas, let us welcome those we have rejected, and those who have rejected us. And let’s give thanks for families of all shapes and sizes – if they love each other, that’s a God-thing!

Sermon: What is Anglicanism?

CHC2051-4

What is Anglicanism?

Felicity O’Brien  2013

Thank you for asking me to come and talk to the U3A group today. My name is Felicity O’Brien, and I am a deacon in the Tawa Anglican Parish. Today’s talk is on the topic “What is Anglicanism?” We will start by looking briefly at the history of the Anglican Church, both in the UK and here in NZ, then we will look at the doctrines and liturgy that underpin it, noting the way doctrine is treated. We will look at what holds it all together, and then consider the way Anglicanism accords authority to Scripture, tradition and reason, the three ‘pillars’ of Anglicanism. Finally we’ll have a brief look at some of the new ways Anglicanism is responding to our times.

What is Anglicanism?  To put it in context, we will have a quick lesson in English history -‘Anglican’ comes from the Latin word for English.[1] There had been Christians in Great Britain since Roman times[2] but after 1066 England was more integrated with Europe[3] and the church was ubiquitous[4] and powerful.[5] In the fourteenth century John Wyclif[6] started to distribute an English-language version of the Bible to his followers.[7] Many people had little respect for the church,[8] which required heavy taxes, and rulers throughout Europe resented the money going to Rome. King Henry VIII, a very devout man,[9] had a problem. His wife was not able to give him a son, and he wanted the Pope to allow a divorce so he could marry again.[10] He had an Act of Parliament[11] written severing all ties with Rome, setting up what was in effect a new church, with himself as head.[12] [13] Continue reading

Sermon: Jesus sends the seventy-two disciples.

St Christopher’s Tawa

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

When I have been at post-ordination training sessions, our teacher Tony Gerritsen has an interesting way of encouraging us to listen to the scripture readings. He says, “Notice when you stop listening.’ In other words, when something strikes you, and you think  -oh. I haven’t noticed that before. Have you had those moments? Well I had a moment like that when I was reading through today’s gospel during the week. Did you notice in the first verse, Jesus sent his people to places where he himself intended to go? Continue reading

Church is like family

An important theme in the Wellington Diocese at the moment is that we are family. I was thinking about this when my children were being particularly ghastly – it’s not necessarily a positive image, but it is a realistic one. Families squabble and put each other down, tease and annoy, but when it comes to the crunch they pull together and present a united face.

Someone leaked the name of the new Dean of our Cathedral. That’s just the sort of thing an aggrieved sibling would do in a family – telling secrets that they weren’t meant to tell, so they could gain some sort of advantage for themselves. Knowing other people’s secrets  when you are a kid is a great source of power!

But in God’s family we are all like kids really. We want to play together and have our own way, to keep our own toys, not to share. We don’t want to clean up after ourselves, but would rather blame someone else for making the mess.

If the church is claiming to be like family, perhaps we have to find the positive aspects. How about wider family gatherings, where tensions emerge as the day wears on? The arguments that break out at Chrisimas after too may beers or sherries? In our wider family we have  learnt that there are some areas that you just skirt around delicately – my step-daughetr and her husband have been avowed atheists, but with two  ordained minsters in the family there is a bit of tension there! Funnily, it’s as we do discuss the difficult areas that we can really model respect for each other.

The church is soon to be dicussing Same-sex relationships as they affect the church, both in leadership roles and in the blessing of same-sex relationships. We have been asked to be respectful of each others’ views. Just like in a  natural family, when you know that there are some topics best handled dlicately, so too with this one. We must give it our best consideration – coming to the table fresh and open to each other.

One of my kids was mugged a couple of weeks ago. (He’s fine by the way). When his sister heard about it, she burst into tears, and said, I know I always say I hate him, but Ilove him really. It would be awful if something happened to him.

Now that the crisis is past she’s back to swearing at him, and him at her( whose idea was it to have two kids going through puberty at the same time?)

But she knew that when the crisis attacked her family, that the love was there. Will the love be there in our church as we discuss these issues?

I hope so.

Alleluia!

Sometimes the Christian life can seem to get a  bit ho-hum, a bit the same, year-in, year-out. The cycle of the church’s seasons, after a few rounds, can get a  bit predictable.

But when you stop and think about what it means, that someone who was dead, isn’t any more, it reclaims its sparkle! The Easter season is more than just one day where we say Alleluia a few times, and look at fresh flowers, and sing songs about Jesus being alive. It’s meant as a pattern for the rest of our life. It’s a time to train us in remembering why we call ourselves Christians.

And that reason is resurrection! What was dead, is now alive! Whenever we see new things growing we can remember Jesus’ resurrection. Whenever we see a seed sprouting, or a baby, or a little chick, it’s easy to think of new life. But how about whenever people who haven’t spoken to one another for years find a way through to reconnect? That’s resurrection. A couple who have been cold and distant with each other, starting to do little acts of kindness for one another. That’s resurrection.

There are many ways that the changed resurrection life can impact our lives. If we use resurrection eyes we can start to see, it, pray for it and rejoice in it.

I came across this wonderful Youtube clip today, and the singer – Arlene Auger, sings it with such joy! he is risen indeed,Alleluia!

Sylvia rethinks Lent.

Sylvia rethinks Lent.

Sylvia sat in church the week after Ash Wednesday. She was feeling a bit disconnected, not really able to get into the stories about ashes, and pancakes, that had been part of the week. She wondered, why make pancakes and eat up all the eggs and milk, when you just had to go to the supermarket and get some more. What a silly tradition. And what if her grandchildren asked her to make her special blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes for them when they stayed the night with her? She felt that giving things up like pancakes just seemed artificial and irrelevant.

Sylvia started to wonder about Lent. The words of the opening hymn were sticking in her mind – ‘forty days and forty nights, thou wast fasting in the wild’. Well, fasting for forty days was obviously not going to work, not when she had to take her pills with food, and keep her carbohydrate intake even.

But the idea of being ‘in the wild’ for forty days, now that was appealing! Imagine a time of having none of the usual distractions, none of the shopping and the housework, or those phone calls where they said there was something wrong with the computer she didn’t have, or the noisy kids next door, none of the worry about the bills that kept coming through the letterbox, none of the doctor’s visits… Sylvia started to contemplate how she could find a wilderness to escape from her daily grind.

Well, she thought, I can get rid of the distractions. And the weather seems to be helping there – it’s getting darker in the mornings, it’s not so appealing to rush into the garden. Even the garden was winding down for autumn, flowers were finishing, leaves starting to turn..

Yes, thought Sylvia, that’s it! I’ll copy my garden! I’ll drop my leaves – get rid of what I don’t need in my life, like, like,… like chasing after friends who never call me back, and who seem content to go through their list of woes without once asking after mine. I’ll give up reading the junk mail from the shops where I never go, looking at things I don’t even want, and couldn’t afford if I did!

Yes, I’ll drop my leaves.

And then, she thought, maybe I’ll  tend myself as I tend the garden – after taking away the dead and finished  stems, I’ll mulch and compost.

How can I compost myself? She started to giggle as she thought about the last time she had turned the compost, and a shovelful had flung over her head. She remembered the worm that was still in her hair two hours later which had given her granddaughter such a fright.

Shh! Glared the couple in front of her at church.

Well, let them, Sylvia thought. They’re listening to the sermon, but I can’t really concentrate.

Yes, compost , that was it. I’ll feed my soul. I’ll read things that make me grow, I’ll listen to music that will build my faith, I’ll stop and let my roots grow deep and let God feed me. And then, maybe I’ll be like my apple tree, looking barren and lifeless but knowing that deep inside life is there, gaining strength, waiting to bring beauty and fruit.