I’m starting to understand poverty…

No, no need to be concerned about our lack of funds. It’s not our poverty I’m starting to understand. indeed, we are truly rich in all the ways that matter.

We have been living in Aranui for 8 months, the poorest suburb in Christchurch, as the newspapers delight in telling us, along with shots of rusty playground equipment and fast-food signs. We have been getting to know people, mainly through our kids’ friends, and I’m starting to understand what poverty can be. Continue reading

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Sermon: Hope

14 June St Anne’s Porirua

Hope

2 Cor 5:6-17, Psalm 20, Mark 4:26-34

When I set out to write this sermon on Thursday, I was feeling tired, a bit despondent, worrying about my children. But then I started to read Paul’s inspiring words that we have just heard. Always be cheerful! That’s how it starts in the CEV translation.

Always be cheerful! It sounds easy to say, but do you know, it gave me a real jolt. It said, stop having a pity party. The real story is bigger than my problems and your problems. Paul helpfully goes on to tell us why we should always be cheerful – because of Hope.

Hope is a difficult virtue to practise by ourselves, because it takes courage. Courage to look beyond the present, beyond our circumstances, to a brighter future. We know, because we have been told many times in scripture, that we have not yet reached our ultimate destination.

Are we there yet? call out the kids from the back of the car on a long journey. No, we’re not. We have not yet reached heaven, where we can be at home with the Lord. My friends, let your imaginations go on a journey – think about a time when you will no longer be hindered by circumstances, or physical or emotional pain. That’s what it will be like when we reach our final destination. We don’t know whether heaven will be like a great big praise and worship service, or Club Med on a beach somewhere, or praying for everyone still on earth. But we do know who it will be like. Heaven, our final destination, will be like God. Living, all-seeing, all-powerful. And we have hope, through our salvation, what we will be part of it.

That doesn’t solve the problem about life now though does it?

When life has hit you in the face with yet another worry, yet another phone call you dreaded, or another bill you can’t pay, how can we carry on?

Paul tells us that too.

But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him.10 After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies.

Trying our best to please God with everything we do, think, say. Does that sound a bit like hard work? A bit like too exhausting to even contemplate? It might be, if we were only doing it in our own strength, to please people. But remember a few weeks ago, when we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? We have the Holy Spirit to help us please God. If we are open to those little nudges of conscience, those quiet voices, those hints, we can be guided in the right path. Our own habits develop as we follow God’s will, and it becomes instinctual.

Remember too, that we strive to please God, not people. People are capricious and changeable. I know I am harder to please when I have a headache, – it takes a lot of wonderful child behaviour to get through the Grumpy mum syndrome. Or so I speculate – I’m not sure it has ever happened…

Think of God as someone who is completely head over heels about you. Like a grandparent with their first grandchild. We are completely loved, adored, cherished. And, even better than a besotted human, God doesn’t seek to change us. God accepts us as we are, warts, exhaustion, grumpiness and all.

Our society seems to be fixated on what others think of us. It causes a lot of difficulty for our children as they grow up, trying to negotiate the popular versus unpopular dynamic, trying to be accepted. It gets too hard, and people are hurt. Don’t worry about trying to please people. You can never please everyone, so just focus on pleasing God. It’s a lot easier! If someone is grumpy with you, let it be between them and God. As we trust God to guide us, we can leave other people to God too, and just focus on loving them.

Verse 7 of today’s psalm reinforces our trust in God, rather than in things of this world:

Some people trust the power
of chariots or horses,
but we trust you, Lord God.

 

Let’s think about hope some more. It can start out very tiny, just like a seed. I love the parables about seeds, because I am a keen gardener.

I bought some seeds recently for my favourite annuals, lobelias. I really like the dark blue ones with the white splash, and I thought that seeds would get me more plants for my money. The lobelia seed packet said ‘contains approximately 1000 seeds’. Wow! 1000 of my favourite plants! As you can imagine, the seeds are so incredibly tiny that they’re hard to see. Way smaller than mustard seeds. So I sowed them too thickly. After a week or so, tiny hints of green, almost invisible, started to mist the seed tray. Now I have many many tiny plants. Too many.

But just like hope, they need nurturing, and a certain amount of luck. They also need protecting from the cats. I really cannot expect to have 1000 lobelia plants! If I do, I will be donating them to anyone that wants some, so watch this space!

Did you notice in Jesus’ story about the farmer, that the farmer does not know how the seeds keep sprouting and growing? Did you also notice that God does? Hope is like that. Often we don’t know what it will take to make our hope grow, but God does. So we can trust God, and leave it in the hands of the Creator.

Hope can grow beyond our wildest dreams too. If you walk along the road near my house, there is a wild bit that the council mows every so often, and mustard is one of the plants that grows there. The plants get about 1 metre tall at the most, before they have their pods of tasty seeds. In Jesus’ parable, he may have been indulging in a bit of Jewish story-telling exaggeration I suspect. His mustard seed grows into the greatest of all garden plants! And it doesn’t stop there! It provides branches big enough for birds to nest in its shade! Our hope can grow like that too, larger than anything possible by natural means. larger than the normal, everyday surroundings would expect. And our hope can provide for others too, shade, shelter, support. As we let our hope grow in God, we can be part of providing that shade, shelter and support to those around us, as we trust God, cheerful in our hope of eternal life with God.

Our friend Ray had that hope in eternal life with God, and we know that he is with God now. Hope can be what keeps us looking forward, rather than back, knowing that after all this struggle, we will be with God.

But hope is also for now, for our earthly lives. It’s what keeps us going, what keeps us optimistic, what keeps us thankful. We have a life to live here – we don\t want to be so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good!

I’ve had to be careful telling children about heaven. When my father died three years ago, I was telling the kids that Grandad was with God now, and he would be playing the organ, and eating pavlova in heaven. The children found this such an appealing picture that they wanted to join him in heaven, so I had to dissuade them from that idea!

We need to develop our hope muscles here, by noticing the resurrection moments, the joys, the answered prayers, the beauty around us.

By abandoning our self-indulgent pity-parties and looking up, beyond the everyday miseries and difficulties, to find the Creator at work around us.

 

 

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

Many roles

When I first started this Blog, I was expecting to be ordained priest a year after being ordained deacon. The plan was to re-name it ‘Speaking as a deacon and a priest.’ My path has gone in a different direction, but I’m still not sure that the calling to priesthood has gone away.

After the very busy time we have had as a family, I could call it ‘Speaking as a deacon and a mother’. My son Josiah has been in hospital recently for appendicitis, which he is now recovering from. I find the mothering role quite demanding, because there is no plan to it. Yes, he had his operation, came out of hospital with three small wounds, but it took a week for him to recover from the anaesthetic, and he still has pain in his tummy which has restricted him from joining in the Kapa Haka festival and other physical pursuits.He gets really grouchy too! As a mum, I cannot plan when I may have to give him a ride, persuade him to take pain relief, and many other things.

Added to that, our daughter is struggling with life at the moment, especially with the transition from childhood to adolescence. I won’t go into details, but please pray for her!

We all have many roles, and my deacon role is not compromised by my mother one. No, rather it is enhanced. Our congregation cares for all our family, and in sharing some of our troubles and triumphs, I can become fully embedded into the church family. I think it’s important for deacons to do that – maybe the priests need to be a little more aloof, but incarnational ministry for a deacon must surely mean going deep with our church, being real, letting ourselves be known, warts and all. Only then can we fully appreciate each other.

The parish where I work is going through a time of change – our wonderful priest-in-charge has just announced that she is to leave us in a few months to focus on God’s call for her to concentrate on Missions in Polynesia. What will this mean for me? I will be journeying as part of the congregation during the change, during the self-searching as they/we look at themselves to discover how they feel they need to be led gong forward. I love working at this parish, with these people. There are different opinions among them over many things, but surely my role as deacon is to encourage everyone, to nudge them a little step forward on their discipleship journey, whether I agree with them or not.  I don’t believe it is my task to impose my ideas on them, but rather to enter into dialogue and encourage creative discussion. I love doing this!

May God bless you all as you find your way forward in the journey God has for you this week.

Felicity

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.

Message: Baptism

In Matthew’s Gospel, at the end of chapter 3, we have  read the story of Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. This is traditionally a time for new Christians to be baptised too, and last Sunday at St C’s we welcomed a little one into the family of the church.

I want to think a bit about baptisms. When Jesus was baptised there was a voice speaking from heaven over him – this is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased. In the first century, when a tradesman wanted to introduce his adult son, apprentice-ship finished, to his community, these are the words he would say. This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased. Jesus’ earthly Dad, Joseph, who had trained Jesus as a carpenter wasn’t around – perhaps he had died. Imagine then hearing God speak these words from heaven!

We may never have heard God speaking over us in that way – if it sounded out in our church everyone would be looking to see who was being silly with the microphone!

But I truly believe that it does please God that we come for baptism, and that we bring our children too.

Christian baptism isn’t limited in time – once we have been baptised and joined the church, we are members for life. Our commitment, or that made on our behalf if we were christened as babies, is for all our present life, and extends into eternity.

Baptism is about intention. Intention to follow God no matter what, to renounce all evil, and to let Jesus be our guide. This doesn’t stop when we retire. It doesn’t stop when we can no longer care for ourselves. It doesn’t stop when we no longer remember who we are. Just as we acknowledge God in our baptism, God acknowledges us. and no matter how frail and forgetful we are, we are still God’s beloved child, in whom God is well pleased.

T’was the week after Christmas…

T’was the week after Christmas, and all through the house

there was plenty of food for the opportune mouse!

There was cold Christmas pud which no-one could eat,

and the fridge was still groaning with left-over meat.

Scraps of wrapping were strewn all over the floor,

and remote controlled cars crashed into the door.

The grown-ups were having a lie-in in bed,

and plans for their lego filled the little kids’ heads.

The Christmas tree drooped as it started to die,

and the pile of recycling was 2 metres high!

The children were hyper with too many sweets,

and instead of cards, Christmas greetings were Tweets!

The church was now empty – no people or song

and abandoned Christingles were starting to pong.

The Nativity scene figures looked all forlorn –

Did anyone care that the Saviour was born?

The Boxing-day sales were swelling the mall,

and no-one remembered the Christ-child at all.

Why did we celebrate his birth at this time?

and forget him next day as the cash registers chime?

Jesus was born for the sake of us all,

for the man sleeping rough, for the crowd in the mall,

for the over-fed, under-fed, all in-between,

for the poor and the rich, the generous and mean.

We must remember him every day

and give thanks to God that he saved us this way –

not with a Santa and reindeer-drawn sleigh,

but a vulnerable baby, asleep in the hay.

Rev. Felicity O’Brien Boxing Day 2013