Sermon: Eagle’s Wings

Sermon St Anne’s Porirua 8 Feb 2015

Rev Felicity O’Brien

Today’s reading from Isaiah paints a splendid picture of power. God is sitting above the circle of the earth – and it would be many centuries before people generally agreed that the earth was indeed a sphere – and God has power over everyone and everything on earth.

He blows on us and we wither.

This sounds a bit horrible really, as if such a big power could be cruel. But no, he calls us all by name, and not one of us is missing. Here we can see the compassion of God, that He truly knows us.

Have you ever felt that no one knew you, really knew who you were? There are times when it’s easy to feel anonymous, defined by a particular label. Continue reading

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: 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

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

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Flowers for Easter

Well, thought Sylvia, they still look reasonable. I’ll just pull out the wilted greenery at the back and put in fresh leaves, and they’ll be fine for tomorrow.

Sylvia was looking at the flowers in the church, which she had arranged for Easter day the previous week.  She wasn‘t very happy with them at first. When she found out she was on the roster for Easter day, she was all excited! Now’s my chance, she thought, to do something really spectacular. I’ll use gold chrysanthemums, and those creamy white ones,…

Sylvia had all sorts of plans for the flowers, and each week during Lent as she  sat in church, she would plan them in her head.

But when it came to the week of Easter, it was with a sinking feeling that she realized that there were no chrysanthemums in her garden anywhere near ready for picking. There had been an awful lot of dry weather, and the council had banned using hoses to water the garden, so she would just have to make do with what there was.

All her plans for a symphony of gold and cream flew out the window, and it was with a rather grumpy attitude that she ventured outside on Easter Saturday, secateurs in hand, to try and find something that would fit her colour scheme.

But there was nothing at all, just deep red roses, and Leucadendron, and sedum.

Then the light went on. Maybe God was trying to tell her something, and she abandoned her plan. Sylvia had wanted to glorify God in her own special way, with an elegant colour scheme, that would bend to her plan. But God had other plans. She would have to use what was there. Well, she thought, I’m a bit like these flowers myself, a bit of a second choice really. I mean, I don’t have a glamorous public ministry or anything, just behind-the-scenes things like the flowers, and taking my elderly friends to home group.

As she looked at the deep reds glowing in the vase, Sylvia realised that they were like blood! Not in a sad sort of way, but rather triumphantly standing out against the cream wall behind the altar.

That’s what the resurrection is like! she realized. Jesus has taken something painful and a bit scary, like blood, and transformed it, redeemed it, from signifying death and pain, to a glowing, stained-glass tribute to life, to the Living one, coming through death with the keys in his hand!

It was with a lighter heart that Sylvia topped up the water in the vases ready for the Sunday. She had a new appreciation of Easter, and couldn’t wait to tell her friends at home group.

Pine needles and Easter eggs

Pine needles all over the house – again!

You may be wondering, why on earth are there pine needles in Felicity’s house? It’s not Christmas again, is it? With all the muddle that the world has over what were originally religious festivals, it wouldn’t be surprising really. Maybe Felicity is a really terrible housekeeper who swept the fallen needles from last Christmas’ tree under the rug, and someone has just moved the rug? Well, knowing my lack of enthusiasm for housework, always finding something else more pressing, such as gardening, or writing a sermon, or reading a novel…

No, it was not me! Actually, in our family we have a traditional of making an Easter tree – a bare branch is hung with decorated Easter eggs (inedible for longevity) as a display for the table. I sent the boys outside to find a suitable branch in the pile that’s waiting to be cut up for our neighbour’s firewood, or to go to the tip, or just waiting. Josiah came in beaming form ear to ear, carrying an eight-foot pine branch which was shedding orangey-coloured needles everywhere! He had to lug it through the house to find me, so you can imagine the mess!

Noooo! I cried! Too much mess!

But then I got thinking. Actually, it’s a wonderful connection with Christmas, using the leftover tree as a way of displaying Easter eggs. It connects the two again in symbolism. I have seen Christmas trees used as the basis for the Good Friday cross – this is just another way they can connect.

Easter can seem so far removed from Christmas – the story is so rich, so dark, so terrifying, and then so joyful, so humbling. Christmas is too, but it needs to be understood in the light of Easter.

May you have a time of encountering the Risen Christ for yourself this Easter. May you see Jesus in the people you meet, and may you be Jesus to them too.

Blessings,

Felicity

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.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

You may wonder why I’m writing about Valentine’s Day – after all it has been throughly taken over by the secular world of red rose sellers and card makers. But I’m interested in what love is, and why we love. It all goes back to God – He has loved us with an everlasting love! – this is the text on our new wallpaper – the text comes from the prophet Jeremiah, and goes back many centuries before St Valentine or Hallmark cards! The picture comes from my garden – Raspberry Ice roses on my front lawn.

Free wallpapers revfelicity.org #2013_01 "I have loved you..." 1440x900

Free wallpapers #2013-01   “I have loved you…”  1440×900            Downloads, all sizes

When we think of what it is to love someone, and to let someone love us, we can take our pattern from God’s initial love for us. God made us to love us. God sent Jesus for us. So many reasons to let God’s love flow through us.

What has this all got to do with the romantic love that is celebrated on Valentine’s Day? I’m challenging us all to let our love go deeper – not just the chemistry clanging, bells ringing kind of love, but the deep, sacrificial love, that would lay down our life for another person.

Go now to love and serve the Lord

These are the words a deacon says to dismiss the congregation at the end of the service. They are followed with ‘Go in peace’, (then ‘Amen, we go in the name of Christ.’) But in some church circles, it seems that they are followed with ‘Go in Panic.’ I’m talking about those who worry incessantly about the state of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and the ice caps melting, and just seem to need to live on adrenaline. The science is coming in all the time, that there is no need to panic.  Maybe it should be written in large friendly letters all over the newpsapers! I get concerned when so much of the church’s attention seems to be about saving the planet, rather than the first part of the dismissal – ‘go now to Love and serve the Lord’. The words ‘social justice’ keep getting car-jacked away from helping people live just and fulfilling lives, to planting trees for the sake of the planet.

Well, if my garden is anything to go by, when we leave things alone, trees plant themselves, and I am always pulling out little seedlings of native trees, which aren’t where I want them. Do I feel guilty? Nope. My main concern about the over-emphasis on green theology is that it’s the easy way out of the hard stuff – it’s much easier to plant a few trees or pick up litter than to visit the elderly neighbour who will probably grumble that you didn’t buy the right brand of tea, but really needs some human contact. It’s much easier to get het-up about battery hens than to look at why that family down the road is always at the food bank, and doing something about it. Loving and serving the Lord must mean challenging the stuctures of our society that aren’t working. Things like self-centred pursuits which say it’s ok for me to spend all the family’s benefit on booze, or smokes, or gambling.

Panic about the environment just distracts us.

The other option, at the other end of the scale, is the ‘it’s all good’ brand of Christian thinking. This is more common in the Pentecostal churches, where everything seems to have a Pollyanna-ish gloss on it. Even when there’s great suffering, the phrase ‘God is good’, answered by ‘all the time’ comes through loud and clear. But what about those times when life isn’t good? ‘It’s all good’ is another phrase you might hear. But sometimes it isn’t.

Let’s be honest as Christians, accepting that life has it’s bad bits, and for goodness’ sake, let’s ‘Go now to Love and serve the Lord!’