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

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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: The forgiven sinner

Luke 7:36-50

This is such a well-known story. It’s a vivid picture – a woman of questionable reputation gate-crashes a private dinner, weeping all over the guest’s feet, then she dried them with her hair. That would have been quite a sight – her hair must have been really long!

And then she pours sweet-smelling ointment from an expensive jar all over Jesus’ feet! Now, this sort of thing would be very strange in today’s context. It’s certainly not regular mealtime behaviour. But in first-century Palestine, when a guest arrived, the servants would attend to him during the appetizers of the meal. They would offer water and perfumed oil, so that the guest would be comfortable and let’s face it sweet-smelling during the main meal.

But when Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus over for a meal, he didn’t extend this usual custom to him. He subtly insulted Jesus by not greeting him with a kiss, and he didn’t have the servants wash his feet. Jesus points this out, and I’m sure Simon would have squirmed a bit.

Simon is also puffed up with righteous indignation at the sort of woman who was touching Jesus. In those days any physical contact was limited to spouses and close family members, and a woman touching Jesus could have made him ritually unclean. Simon starts to mock Jesus, saying that if he was really a prophet he should know what type of woman she was. Simon thought that prophets would be Pharisees like him, rejecting the woman for legalistic purity reasons.

Jesus did know all about the woman – she had come to Jesus in gratitude for the forgiveness of her sins. We are not told what sort of sins she was guilty of, but that doesn’t matter here. What is more important is that Jesus had the power to forgive those sins, and the woman recognized that. Poor old Simon must have been furious – first an unclean woman, then his plan to discredit Jesus seems to backfire. Jesus tells the small parable about forgiveness of a greater debt leading to more love. He doesn’t spell out what that means for us – he leaves us, as he often does, to join up the dots.

So what sort of dots can we join? No matter what sort of sin, no matter how huge, it is not too big to be forgiven. And this also applies to tiny sins too. Nothing is too small for Jesus to forgive. We can bring anything that is on our conscience to Jesus for forgiveness, and as we feel the load lifted from our shoulders, we can accept joyfully that forgiveness.

Our kids learnt this song at the holdiay programme last year, and it sums it all up really.

Sermon: Ministry through trials

Ministry through Trials

Rev. Felicity O’Brien

St Christopher’s Tawa 3 March 2013

2 Cor 1:3-11, 2 Cor 6:1-10

You may be a little surprised that for today’s reading we used the Message version. I often find Paul’s thought patterns a bit difficult to untangle, rather like kite string, and this version has a simplicity about it that makes it so much clearer.

I’m going to open up how trials are part of our lives, then look at Paul’s advice to Corinth and to us about dealing with them. We’ll look at the relationship with God we need to sustain us, and at some of the opposition we may encounter. Continue reading

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God

I was in my garden, looking up at the flowering cherry tree. It had lots of highly decorative red berries on it! Very pretty, but I know they’re too sour to eat.

Then I wondered, why aren’t the birds having a go at them? After all, they eat all sorts of berries that aren’t sweet enough for us.

I had another look at the tree. You see, from where I was standing, underneath the tree, the berries were really obvious, but from the birds’ perspective, flying over the tree, they would be hidden by the leaves!

I started wondering what other things we miss by looking from the wrong perspective, and got thinking about little kids and their spelling notebooks. You know, the ones they swear are at school  but then the teacher sends a note home, saying, where are they? The notebooks that Mum can find in 2 seconds flat by looking properly in the school bag, or the desk!

The kingdom of God can be like that – hard to spot on a first, cursory look, blending into the background. But when we start to look harder at the details around us, we can see God’s fingerprints everywhere, in the clouds, the plants, the weather, and in the lives transformed by the power of God’s love.

We just have to keep looking until we find it.

Photo update on Josiah O’Brien’s miracle healing

Click for gallery view

These photos from the Festival of Joy meeting held 1 November in Tawa, Wellington, have just come to hand. The Evangelist Ram Babu from India, in New Zealand for a few days, is shown praying for Josiah in the altar call lineup. Josiah’s father is alongside the wheelchair and on the platform. I believe the meeting was organised by the Tamil Christian Fellowship, Wellington who meet in the Tawa Salvation Army Hall. Their local contact in Tawa is Moses Rajasingh.

The two pictures of Josiah O’Brien on the footpath were taken this morning, 22 November 2012  at 8:45 am, as he walked to school. Praise God.

Stop climate change – as if we could!

I love this picture from Hawaii – it speaks to me about humans and the Earth. The earth is a changing and powerful thing, which has  been pumping out CO2 into the atmosphere for billions of years. Even now, most of the active volcanoes are under the sea, and their emissions are completely ignored by the ‘climate-change’ scientists.

We can try and change the climate, but when it’s due to things like the orbit of the sun, the wobbles of the earth’s axis, bombardment from cosmic rays, we need to stop and think. This planet and this solar system are much bigger than us, the mere human race. We are just dust really on a galactic scale. Yes, it’s convenient to keep the earth the way it is currently – sea level changes would be a nuisance for those who live near the sea. But the sea level has gone up and down many times over the history of the earth – none of them caused by industrially emitted CO2. It will continue to rise and fall. Ice ages will continue to wax and wane.

I am flabbergasted by the sheer presumption of people who think we are so significant in the scheme of things that human activities can influence such things as global climate, except in the smallest, localised way. I see this as a symptom of a world where perspective has been lost – God has been forgotten  and people think humans are the centre of the universe. Well, we’re not. We are part of a bigger plan, which God has for us.

I am surprised that so many Christian groups expend so much energy on worrying about things we cannot change, instead of helping those who are impacted by various aspects of the climate. We surely are called to share God’s love for all people, caring for the earth and not despoiling it, but if the amount of energy that went into hand-wringing over climate-change went into fighting for social justice, we would live in a changed world!

I recommend that you all read “Heaven+earth: Global warming: The Missing Science” by Australian Professor Ian Plimer (Howling at the Moon Publishing Ltd, Auckland 2009)

This book gives a much wider perspective on the earth and the universe, and stands as a corrective to some of the media-driven hype about Climate change.

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou visitest him?”