Sermon: Advent 2013

Advent sermon

Readings:  Isa 2:1-5  Matt 24:36-44

Advent was always my favourite time of year as a girl growing up in the Anglican church. For a start, we had a change from the plain green of trinity, or ordinary time. It seemed so tiresome by the end of it! Now, we had purple – my favourite colour – for altar frontals and stoles, and the change of colour seemed to signify that something new was happening. Colour-coding is a strength of the Anglican Church!

And then there was the music. I used to sing in our church choir, and from mid-October we would be practising for the Advent Carol service. The familiar carols would be greeted like old and dear friends. I still love the austere beauty of ‘O come O come Emmanuel’, and ‘This is the truth sent from above’, as well as more obscure pieces like ‘This is the record of John’. It helped that my whole family was musical, and we would sing through the carol books in preparation for Christmas. Continue reading

The phone rang…

I was asleep, when the sound of the phone started to weave itself into my dreams. Why is the phone ringing? It’s the middle of the night!

Something told me I shouldn’t ignore it, so I found my glasses and stumbled to the kitchen, where the phone promptly got to its allotted 8 rings and stopped to go to answerphone. I checked the number that had called – my parents’ number. Oh no. Dad. Continue reading

Ash Wednesday

“Let us change our garment for sackcloth and ashes; Let us fast and come before the Lord. For our God is merciful to forgive us our sins.”

These are the words we sang at S. Michael and All Angels in Christchurch, where I grew up. It was a high Anglican church, and there I began my love of traditional plainchant.

But I’ve been pondering abut Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, and wondering how it all fits into the modern context. I think the idea of a big feast on Shrove Tuesday is really just an excuse for a party. Not a bad idea in itself, but if we are to fast from modern things, like TV, or the internet, as was suggested in our service this evening, eating up all the eggs and milk by way of pancakes seems a little artificial, and in the Southern Hemisphere there is no agricultural connection with the leanness of early spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

Tonight’s service of the Imposition of Ashes took me straight back to the solemn liturgies I enjoyed in Christchurch. There is an intensity, a seriousness, a sense that it’s time to get real with God, about Lent. This is a time for raw honesty. I’ve often found it a disturbing time, a wilderness time even, when I’ve been forced to press deeper into finding God. Examining our hearts is a good thing to do, and part of the reason I love being an Anglican is that in this season of Lent we can concentrate on one thing. rather than taking on the whole Gospel message every week, which seemed to be what happened when we belonged to the Pentecostal church.

It is now the season for purple and ashes. It is a season for examining our hearts and our consciences, a season for calling for justice and righteousness. This is a good time to really think about issues of social justice. And please, I do not mean anything about planting trees, or hugging them, but I’m calling for a  renewed focus of Christians everywhere to speak up where there is injustice, not to sit back and say, well, there’s nothing we can do about it.

When two of my kids came home from school today, they were both upset that a stand of toetoe has been bulldozed away. This area was home to skinks, and from the Department of Conservation pictures it seems that they were the rare ones. The kids both were hot under the collar and wanted to do somehting about it. They both went straight to their rooms and wrote letters and petitions to those concerned.

Did you have that fire for justice when you were young? Have you still got it? Do the embers need fanning into flame?

Perhaps for Lent, it’s time to give up apathy, fence-sitting, and being too busy to help others.

Sermon for Epiphany

The wise men and the star

St Peter’s and St Christopher’s Tawa 6 Jan 2013 Rev. Felicity O’Brien

Matthew 2:1-12, Isaiah 60:1-6

Today we celebrate Epiphany. This is one of those complicated words that’s hard to define, but it talks about a sudden revelation, a sudden awakening of understanding. Our reading tells us how the Wise men had this revelation, this understanding of who this baby that they were travelling to see actually was.

The story of the wise men is so familiar, from carols and Christmas cards. Continue reading

Sitting in the back row…

I went to the Ordination service in Wellington Cathedral today. Last year I was ordained Deacon, and it was a real highlight of my life. Today, it was with mixed feelings that I went, because the original plan was that I would be ordained a priest today, with the group who were ordained with me last year.

It was a wonderful service though, and we prayed for the ordinands, and wished them well.

The Permanent Deacons sat behind the choir, which was a mixed blessing – having been a member of the cathedral choir some 23 years ago it was  delight to hear them again, up-close and personal, and I had to stop myself joining in the sublime singing of the Sanctus. But the difficult bit was when the priests all went forward to lay their hands on the bishop as he ordained the new priests. The Deacons were not part of that.

Isn’t it the same Holy Spirit? Weren’t we ordained by the laying on of hands of the bishop? Having been a Pentecostal for some years, we all took part in stretching out our hands for someone who was being prayed for, and there a was real sense of being part of the Holy Spirit’s work. Today felt anachronistic, as if the practice was out-of-step with modern theology.

There is a lot of talk around the place about how the division between Deacons and priests shouldn’t be hierarchical, but in a service like this one, with processions starting with Deacons and ending with Bishops, there is certainly is a sense of hierarchy.

Quite a few of my colleagues asked me if I was going to be priested next year, and were surprised that I was not included in this year’s group. I explained that, no, I am now a Permanent Deacon, and it’s a wonderful thing to be! And I truly believe that Deacons have a very necessary role in the church, and in its community-facing work. I am glad to be part of that. But so many of our clergy and parishioners don’t yet have a sense of what the Diaconate can be, that it’s just regarded as a sort of ‘half-measure’, not quite ‘up to’ the priesting level.

Until these perceptions are challenged we will always be relegated to the back row, both literally and metaphorically.

Luke 10:1-4  Later the Lord chose seventy-two other followers and sent them out two by two to every town and village where he was about to go.
 He said to them: A large crop is in the fields, but there are only a few workers. Ask the Lord in charge of the harvest to send out workers to bring it in.
Now go, but remember, I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves.
Don’t take along a moneybag or a traveling bag or sandals. And don’t waste time greeting people on the road.

Bishop Justin preached on this text – I will add the link tomorrow.


My soul thirsts for you like a parched land. (Ps 143:6)

I was watering my garden today. Spring here in Wellington is often dry – the wind carries away the moisture, and threatened rain is often just clouds. The garden needed watering, not for the established plants, but for the new vegetables that we put in last week, and for the seeds that are just starting to appear – radishes – or are yet to appear – beans.

I was thinking about this scripture – when we need God with such a thirst as the Psalmist has, it may be that somehting new is on the way, somehting delicate. The old things are established and soldier on through the drought – the old habits of prayer or scripture reading, of living your Christian life as you have done for a while, but for something new and thirsty a fresh anointing is needed. Instead of the deep thirst being a sign of feeling God is far away, it could be a sense that something new is about to germinate – a rootlet is pushing through a hard seed-case, and exploring the fertile soil.

When the rain first hits the parched land,baked hard, it often runs off, taking the top layer of soil with it. Is your soul parched like that, so that the Holy Spirit cannot soak in? Or is it cracked, broken, with deep channels which hold onto the water, giving it time to expand the dried-up soil? It is often when we are most aware of our brokenness that we let God soak in the most.

Something beautiful…

The kids were asking for doughnuts for pudding tonight, so I made the bread dough and let it rise. I forgot to put on my apron (as usual) so when I went to cook the doughnuts I went to find my special apron.As I looked at it, I started thinking about an old song – Something beautiful, something Good.

Mum made this apron for me – the central panel is made up of parts of embroidered tray-cloths and doilies, some made by long-gone family members, others collected. What they all have in common is that they were all damaged somehow – a tear,a  burn, a stain that wouldn’t come out. None of them could be used for their original purpose, but it was a shame to throw them away when there was so much work in them. These old cloths represent love, stitch-by-stitch.

I got to thinking that our lives are like that too. There are spoilt bits, damaged bits, parts we don’t want on public show. But God can stitch us all together to make a  beautiful fabric, which is called the Body of Christ!

Something Beautiful, something Good,

All my confusion he understood,

All I had to offer him was brokenness and strife

But He made something beautiful out of my life!

Awake my soul and sing!

(Royal Jubilee Celebrations.)

I’ve been thinking about a hymn I have known most of my life. I found myself singing it this morning as I made my first attempt to get the kids out of bed.

Crown Him with many crowns,

The Lamb upon His throne,

Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.

Awake, my soul, and sing

Of Him who died for thee,

And hail Him as the matchless King through all eternity!

I wondered what God was saying to me through these words, and the line about the heavenly anthem drowning out all music but its own jumped out at me.

Recently there have been lots of thoughts going on in my mind, churning around  and this song reassured me that God’s song, God’s story can drown them out! The worries of the world, about kids, about health, about money, about jobs, -all the stuff that makes us human but also distracts us – can be drowned out by a timeless song in heaven. How can we put ourselves in a place where the Song drowns out the worries? We can train ourselves to focus on good things – Phil 4:8 tells us how.

“Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others.” (Living Bible)

It sounds easy when you say it quickly, and life gets in the way. But maybe this verse could be a lectio divina – take one phrase and chew it over, trying to put it into practice.

If you know the hymn, click on the link at the top and have a sing! It’s got a great tune, and it wakes up the kids in the morning!


Do the Happy Dance

Our kinds recently took part in the holiday programme the church was running, and they had one of those realllly catchy songs,every day. You know the sort, with a simple tune, repetitive word, and easy actions, that even my son on crutches could take part in. This silly song has been going around and around in my head – I may have to resort to some Wagner to wipe it out! The main line in the chorus is “Do the Happy Dance”, because God loves us with a great love. The theology is fine, the idea is fine, but I keep wondering, what about those times when we can’t ‘do the happy dance’? What about when everything is falling around our ears, and it’s hard to find God anywhere in it.

I’ve been looking at the book of Job, as I’m preparing a sermon on Job for Sunday. I got to thinking – how is it that Job can keep his faith in God strong, even when he has lost all his stuff, all his children, and his health. Maybe he had been trained from childhood to trust God’s great love, just as the song at the holiday programme is doing for our kids. Maybe practising ‘doing the happy dance’ instills in the kids, and their parents, a bedrock that they can rely on, a knowledge that is stronger than facts, that whatever happens, God loves them. That’s what kept Job going, and that will keep you going too.

New Music

There’s something new on our music page! To find it, go to Resources, then Music, then Morgan’s music.
Who is Morgan? He’s my oldest son, who is a gifted and original musician. Here’s a challenge for you – find a scripture to go with his piece “Zeppelins Passing.” It reminds me of Leviathans in a primordial sea – have a listen and make up your own mind!