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

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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

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!’

Care for your own garden

This summer I have been caring for my neighbour’s garden. He’s elderly and frail, and can’t manage the garden any more, so when he asked me for help with some shopping, I volunteered myself and the kids to tidy it for him. That was not entirely a selfless act – while we do try and do something community-based as a way of celebrating Christmas, I was also looking forward to getting to know his garden  He had the house built himself, 60 years ago, did all the painting and the wiring, and made the garden. Every tree that was planted, my neighbour put in. He built every pergola, every fence, every gate, every step. He made all the concrete paths, the little walls, and even the bird bath. Now, the garden is mature, and grown up tall. It’s like the Secret Garden – a book I loved as  a child. There are paths under overhanging trees, secret tunnels, hidden areas – it’s delightful!

Well, I’ve enjoyed this garden a lot, but today when I was picking some feed at home for my bunny, I realised that my own vegetable garden was less-than well-cared-for! Where there had been nice healthy broccoli, now there are caterpillar-munched stalks, with convolvulus starting to twine upwards. Dandelions are sprouting among the carrots, and the whole thing looks decidedly unkempt!

I think God had a message for me and for others in this garden -I had been so taken with the pleasant and appreciated work of caring for my neighbour’s garden, that I had neglected my own thankless vegetable plot.

Often in a life of ministry we are called upon to care for others. But if we neglect our own environment, weeds creep in, things fall apart, and all of a sudden it’s a great mess!

We must attend to our own homes and families before taking on all the other pastoral needs of the community. They can be done together, but it’s very easy to take the more interesting tasks. But  remember if we neglect the boring day-to-day weeding of the vegetable garden, before we know it we  are in a huge mess.

May God bless your ministries richly this year, especially those at home.

What state is your Christmas tree?

Here in New Zealand it’s midsummer, and over the last week we have had really high temperatures (for us), and tropical humidity. Finally, the rain has come and it has cooled down. The kids have opened their presents, left the wrapping all over the floor, and constantly requested different-sized batteries. Yes, it’s post-Christmas.

But what is left over after Christmas? Our tree is starting to die – we always cut a branch of pine from the local school, so it smells fabulous for the first week or two. But inevitably we forget to top up the water, and nature takes its course, as it slowly starts to die, giving off a less-than-pleasant smell. Is Christmas like that for you? Has it left a bad smell in its wake, of having spent too much money, having eaten too much, drunk too much? Are you happy with your presents?

There’s another side to Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. When I get up in the morning, before the kids claim the TV for the cartoons, the early sun slants in the side window, catching the green tinsel on my admittedly elderly tree. The little shards of bright green light sparkle and dance in the bright sunshine, casting  patterns in all sorts of places where the sun can’t yet reach. Is your Christmas like this? I hope mine is. Sparkles of light from the birth of Jesus reach into every dark corner of our lives, adding joy and hope. This is what Christmas can be, and long after the tree is on the compost heap, and the tinsel packed away for next year, the hope and joy of Christ’s birth remain.

1. Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas;
The snow is not falling and trees are not bare.
Carol the summer, and welcome the Christ Child,
Warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air.

2. Sing of the gold and the green and the sparkle,
Water and river and lure of the beach,
Sing in the happiness of open spaces,
Sing a nativity summer can reach!

3. Shepherds and musterers move over hillsides.
Finding not angels but sheep to be shorn;
Wise ones make journeys whatever the season.
Searching for signs of the truth to be born.

4. Right side up Christmas belongs to the universe,
Made in the moment a woman gives birth;
Hope is the Jesus gift, love is the offering,
Everywhere, anywhere, here on the earth.

5. Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas;
Snow is not falling and trees are not bare.
Carol the summer, and welcome the Christ Child,
Warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air.

Music: Reversi Colin Gibson (20th C)
Words: Shirley Erena Murray (20th C)