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

Call to 24-7 prayer

From a message delivered by Major Judith Bennett of the Salvation Army in New Zealand.

Presented at St Mary’s Anglican Church Whitby, 6 July 2014.

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Sermon: Doubt and Faith.

Last week we celebrated the great feast day of Easter, when the highlight of the story is Jesus’ resurrection. This week our readings look at some of the witnesses to that resurrection, and their reactions too.

Our Gospel reading tells us simply that Jesus came and stood among the disciples, saying Peace be with you. He appeared even though the door was locked! This is a clue to the nature of his resurrection body – there is something different about it. It is not the same as his earthly body. And yet he was still physical, still made of flesh. He showed the disciples the wounds in his hands and side, establishing that it really was he that stood with them. Unfortunately Thomas wasn’t there, and had trouble believing the story that the disciples so excitedly related to him. Let’s wind the clock back a couple of weeks where we met Thomas before, in the story of Lazarus. You may remember that it was Thomas who urged Jesus and the disciples to go to Lazarus, even though Jesus had just told them that he had already died. Thomas believed that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, at that point. Continue reading

Sermon: Flesh and Spirit

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Sermon 6 April 2014 St Mary’s Whitby

Ezek 37:1-14,Ps 130, Rom 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

Today’s readings all deal in some aspect with life and death, with flesh and the spirit.

I like watching medical programmes on TV, and one of my current favourites is ’24 hours in A and E’. I was watching this last week, where someone had been wheeled into Resus, when I noticed the sign for the Resus department on the wall. R.E.S.U.S. It’s only one letter away from Jesus. This got me thinking – is Jesus our Resus?

In our culture we are so frightened of death, and our medical protocol often involves lots of technology to prolong life – the image of the paddles charging up, the doctor calling clear! as the patient’s heart is shocked into life is very familiar from our TV dramas. (I’m thinking maybe I watch too much TV?)

There is a finality about physical death that we all rail against, wanting life to be resuscitated no matter what the intervention.

No one wants to think that physical death is the end of the story, and every society and religion over many thousands of years has had some sort of understanding that life goes on after physical death. Continue reading

Sermon: Upside-down blessings

Matthew 5:1-12

These Beatitudes seem really upside down , don’t they?

How can someone be considered blessed, when they are poor in spirit, or mourning, or meek? These are the people the world ignores, those who are too quiet to make a wave, known only to God.

Some of the other ones are more obvious – Blessed are the peacemakers. Yes, that makes sense. And we certainly could do with many more of these peacemakers, in the middle east and in governments all  around the world. Continue reading

Sermon: Jesus sends the seventy-two disciples.

St Christopher’s Tawa

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

When I have been at post-ordination training sessions, our teacher Tony Gerritsen has an interesting way of encouraging us to listen to the scripture readings. He says, “Notice when you stop listening.’ In other words, when something strikes you, and you think  -oh. I haven’t noticed that before. Have you had those moments? Well I had a moment like that when I was reading through today’s gospel during the week. Did you notice in the first verse, Jesus sent his people to places where he himself intended to go? Continue reading

Keep us from falling into sin…

Keep us from falling into sin, and running into danger.

Whenever I hear this prayer, as part of the Daily Office in A New Zealand Prayer Book, I wonder whether all too often we run into sin, rather than falling into sin. People are so quick to find bad choices appealing, no doubt helped by the enemy, who is all too quick to exploit our weaknesses.

When I use my computer there seem to be adds that pop up, relying on my recent web-surfing for interests. This is how I knew that my son had used my computer to find some adult material that he shouldn’t have! Suddenly there were adds coming up for me to find ‘singles,’ hot Asian girls’, and the like. How easy it is to run into sin, and to fall into sin, when our internet useage is tracked like this.

We need to be ever vigilant, for ourselves and for our families, of this sort of thing. Many Christians are addicted to porn, and it must be very hard to fight these temptations when they are right under our noses.

What can we do? We need to be open about supporting people with various addictions, and asking for support for our own addcitions. We need to be ever prayerful, whenever we may be in a situaiton that could cause temptation. We pray, ‘save us from the time of trial’, but there must also be a commitment on our own part to be responsible, to fight against falling into sin, or runnign headlong into it. We can exert our self-control – it’s not easy., but the Holy Spirit will help us, no matter how shameful the problem. We just need to ask.

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.

Sermon: Ministry through trials

Ministry through Trials

Rev. Felicity O’Brien

St Christopher’s Tawa 3 March 2013

2 Cor 1:3-11, 2 Cor 6:1-10

You may be a little surprised that for today’s reading we used the Message version. I often find Paul’s thought patterns a bit difficult to untangle, rather like kite string, and this version has a simplicity about it that makes it so much clearer.

I’m going to open up how trials are part of our lives, then look at Paul’s advice to Corinth and to us about dealing with them. We’ll look at the relationship with God we need to sustain us, and at some of the opposition we may encounter. Continue reading