Deacon School

Last week I had the privilege of attending the National Deacon School, ably run by the Ven. Anne Russell-Brighty. It was a gathering of deacons from all around NZ, about 26 for the weekend reunion, and 12 of us continued for the next few days. It was an opportunity to learn, but also to let off steam. One of our number has written a paper about all the negative sides of being a deacon, and I thought I would explore this side of it a little. First, there are not many negatives about serving as a deacon. Not, that is, when you consider the vast privilege of washing people’s feet, showing our world how Christ would want them to live. But it’s not the calling itself that is frustrating. It is the misunderstanding of that calling in the wider church. The Vocational Diaconate is fairly recently arrived on the scene, having been revived from the 1960s. That is, unless you count the way the church operated  in its first 4 centuries or so. Nowadays, the church is very priest-focussed, very hierarchical, and people don’t know what to make of deacons. The understanding of the role is also muddied to some extent by experience of the Pentecostal church, where the Pastor has a combined role of priest and deacon.

Often the priests don’t know what a  deacon does, and congregation certainly don’t. Many of us have been asked when we’re going to ordained ‘properly’, or we are commiserated with for ‘missing out’. On being priested, that is. Maybe we should express our sorrow that someone has been ordained priest, and isn’t allowed to stay a deacon… Now I’m being naughty. That raises another point though. Many in the church have the understanding that a priest is still a deacon, but that is not the case. These priests had a year as transitional deacons, where they were being trained for the priesthood, with a nod at what a deacon is. The roles are very different. In the ordination service, candidates are asked if they are called to the work of a deacon, and those who are to be priested later blithely answer ‘yes’, although they have been discerned as priests in training. Our ordination services do not adequately reflect the different roles of Vocational Deacon, and priest-in training. It should not be called Transitional Deacon. This is where the frustration lies.

Being a deacon is not a way to have a glorious career in the church, adding more titles to your name, and more fancy copes each procession. We get to lead the processions in the cathedral, clad in our albs and crossed-over stoles. We stand apart for that reason, but we are also ready for action. Our stoles don’t flop all over the place when we are trying to do something. In a liturgical setting, we may be assisting with  the ablutions, or pouring the wine. We don’t need to be worried about our vestments. That’s a good reason why our stoles are tucked away. In the community, most of us are not robed, although wearing a clerical collar is always useful when you are trying to visit the hospital outside of visiting hours!

Most of us receive no payment for our work as vocational deacons, but that gives us freedom of hours and places where we can minister. Being a deacon is not about working in a particular place at a particular time – eg on a Sunday morning in a building with a cross on top of it. It’s much broader. Whenever we are present with people, we are doing Christ’s work. And we are called to be infectious, encouraging others to join us, loving and serving the Lord in our communities.

There is a different personality-type that seems to attract deacons too. It has been described as the grit that irritates the oyster, so that a pearl is formed. We can be a bit annoying, a bit in-your-face, a bit challenging. That’s part of our job – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It’s not always an easy fit in the political world of the church, but I seem to recall a certain Carpenter who was a bit challenging too.

The wider church has a treat in store as it discovers more of the potential of the Vocational Diaconate. Several deacons in every parish would make such a difference to the world!

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

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

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

Short talk: Flesh and Bood

John 6:52-59

Short talk for Rest Home.

Eating flesh and drinking blood? You can imagine what some of the first-century people thought when they heard these words. It sounds quite gruesome really, and some people accused Christians of literally eating and drinking flesh and blood.

But, like so many other things in the bible, it’s not meant to be taken literally. Jesus spoke in parables so much of the time, that for this one to be taken at face value would not make sense.

Jesus is using the term flesh to mean himself. Eating his flesh means taking part in him. If we are what we eat, we can be assured that whatever we take into our beings, both physically, mentally and spiritually, with nourish us and affect us, whether for good or ill. That’s why it’s not a good idea to eat too much chocolate, and why we shouldn’t watch horror movies if we are having trouble sleeping!

Jesus tells us to take him on board, to let ourselves become so filled up with the person of Christ, that he will transform us. If we do this we will become one with him! What does that mean? I think it means that we will see others with the eyes of Christ – when we see suffering we will have compassion and love. Even if we see evil, we will not hate, only have sorrow, and pity.

Jesus also tells us that if we share in him in this way, we will have eternal life! That’s a wonderful promise isn’t it? Living like Jesus lived, seeing others with his eyes, and becoming more like him throughout our earthly lives will mean that when our bodies finally wear out and cannot support life, the rest of us, our soul, will go on, in the presence of God! That’s a wonderful promise to look forward to. May we all be comforted will the hope of eternal life in Christ.

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:Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11

Temptation. This is traditionally the theme of today’s reading. There are many things that are tempting in life, but let’s pause and consider why they are a problem. If we are tempted to follow the fleshly path, such as desiring food, safety, power, as Jesus was tempted, these things can become idols. Yes, it’s important to look after our bodies, but putting needs like food, safety and power at the top of our list can become a bit compulsive if we let it. If you have ever been on a diet you will know what I mean – when I was trying to lose weight many years ago, on a strict regime, all I could think abut was food, and how I would spend the extra calories I was allowed each week. I would plan all week, which cake to buy at the bakery. It had become an obsession, an idol for me.

No, Jesus tells the devil. God’s word is more important than those other needs. If we are tempted to worry too much about the world of ourselves, we can follow Jesus’ example and go back to God’s word in scripture.

As we get older, our physical needs change. We may no longer be tempted in ways that we were earlier, but the desire to have functional, painfree bodies becomes important to us. This scripture challenges us – and it is a hard challenge – to trust God for those things, and not to think of looking to the flesh and the devil for solutions. Maybe this means not being tempted to unhealthy ways in order to distract us from pain. One of the temptations as we age is to try everything in order to regain mobility and function, and there are many ads on tv for various supplements and vitamins that promise all sorts of benefits. What’s the harm in that? you may ask. Good question, and it’s fine if you can afford it. But that’s the problem. Many of these things are unproven and are very expensive – a single trip to the chemist for a small bag of potions can cost upwards of a hundred dollars! People who spend this money risk losing their financial security as they spend money they need for other things, like food and heating.

Jesus’ message for us here today is to trust God, no matter how tough things get. No matter how hungry, lonely, or hurting we are. Jesus had to trust his heavenly father to care for him in the wilderness, and we can trust him too, to be there for us, no matter what is going on in our bodies and our lives.

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.