Sermon: Generous Hospitality

Generous hospitality.

Have you ever been faced with a crowd of people turning up and expecting to be fed?Just imagine the scene on the grassy slopes by lake Galilee. A huge crowd of people were gathering, they had seen Jesus work miracles and heal the sick, and they knew that this was the best gig in town.The first thing Jesus asks his disciple Philip is, where will we get enough food to fill all these people?This was an interesting question for several reasons. First, Jesus was thinking about the practical, about the physical needs of the crowd, and he was also taking on himself the obligation as host to provide hospitality.He didn’t need to do this did he? After all, he hadn’t sent out invitations to a banquet, asking them to come and be fed. No, they had all come by themselves, knowing that they would indeed be fed, but probably thinking about spiritual feeding, or at least seeing some amazing miracles and healings that they could tell others about. Continue reading

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: Shepherds and loving

Sermon 26 April 2015

Felicity O’Brien

Acts 4:5-12, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

Can you imagine what was going through the minds of Annas and Caiaphas? Those names are familiar from the trial of Jesus – they are the high priests who questioned Jesus before handing him over to Pilate. Maybe they had many people brought before them on questionable religious grounds, like claiming to heal someone, or claiming to be the Son of God. Now they thought they had dealt with the problem from Galilee, that Jesus fellow. But here were two more guys healing someone! I think that they must have known what the answer might be when they asked,By what power and in whose name have you done this?”Maybe they were bracing themselves for the answer. Continue reading

Donkeys and Destiny

Sermon Palm Sunday March 29 2015

Reverend Felicity O’Brien

Can you feel the pace picking up? Can you hear the prophecies tumbling over each other as they are fulfilled? Something big is happening, something of cosmic importance. It’s time.

Listen again to this passage from Isaiah:

I let them beat my back and pull out my beard. I didn’t turn aside when they insulted me and spit in my face.

Doesn’t it make shivers run up your spine as you realise that it’s talking about Jesus, many hundreds of years before he was on the earth? Continue reading

Sermon: Water and Wilderness

Mark 1:9-16

Water and Wilderness

Today’s Gospel story is so disjointed isn’t it? First we have a lovely family christening scene,- we remember when people in our church community have been baptised, with the babies in long beautiful gowns, and cake to follow.

But Jesus’ baptism is different – it’s in vivid technicolor, with doves, and voices from heaven, like a movie where the special effects budget was just too much. That’s because the supernatural aspect of baptism was very visible – and audible when Jesus was baptised.

It’s always there when we have baptisms too – little Beth was the most recently baptised here, and the Holy Spirit was no less present for that occasion that it was for Jesus’ baptism. But when Jesus was dipped under the Jordan, and the heavens opened, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove, it was verrry public. All those around him saw it, heard it. Continue reading

Sermon: The reluctant guests.

Matthew 22:1-14

St Mary’s Whitby, October 12 2014

Rev. Felicity O’Brien

I’m going to look at today’s Gospel in two parts, and I’ll explain why a bit later.

The first part of the parable of the wedding banquet is like last week’s reading about the vineyard and the owner, who sent his slaves and then his son. Do you remember how the first group were ignored, the second ill-treated, and the third killed?

Today’s parable is like that too. The king sent his slaves with an everyday message – the wedding feast is ready, it’s time to come. In the first century wedding guests knew that they were invited, and roughly when the wedding would be, but the actual timing of the wedding had an element of surprise in it – remember the story of the wise and foolish virgins.

So the king would have been doing nothing unusual in sending out a message that it was time to gather.

What was unusual is that the invited guests didn’ t come! Can you imagine being invited to a wedding, or a party, and looking forward to it, but when the time came, not caring enough to be bothered coming? No, it isn’t normal behaviour is it? As in many of the parables, Jesus uses an arresting and incongruous image, which would have made people laugh. Continue reading

Sermon: We can talk to God

St Mary’s Whitby 28 September 2014

Exodus 17:1-7, Phil 2:1-13, Matt 21:23-32

There is a theme in our readings that links the story of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness with the Pharisees questioning Jesus over where he gets his authority.

The Israelites are grumbling that there is no water. They tend to get a bit of a bad rap when so many of the accounts of the wilderness days are about how they are never happy, but let’s put ourselves into their shoes for a minute. They had been led out of Egypt, putting all their trust in an elderly shepherd who had turned up out of nowhere, speaking their language. They had been led through the sea, and they had seen Moses part that sea by raising his staff. So on the one hand they knew that their leader was someone special, who could do the miraculous things, or rather, a channel through whom God could deliver them. 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: 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

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.