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

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 #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.

Santa hats everywhere

My kids are getting really excited about Christmas, especially my 5 year old son. The kids had to  dress up for the Christmas disco at school, so they got all the Santa hats and decorations out, sorted out their costumes, and put all the stuff away tidily. (Wishful thinking…)

No they didn’t, they decorated the living room within an inch of its life – tinsel along the couches, tree skirts around the teddies, and what looked like a mannequin of Santa in the corner. I looked again – we don’t have a mannequin! What we do have temporarily is a large wooden cross, about as tall as my young Nathan (5) – it’s here while I find it a new home. Nathan had put a Santa jacket on the arms of the cross, and a Santa hat on the top, and tinsel around the neck bit!

It was a really odd image – the Cross, the icon of atonement, salvation, resurrection, covered over with gaudy cheap red material and white fluff.

Isn’t that how Christmas is getitng these days? The core idea, the real reason for our celebraiton, covered over by silly costumes and hype.

May we uncover our crosses at Christmas time, keep the Santa suits in their place, which is not the central place. Jesus is coming – born as a baby long ago, and born in our hearts today.


At the end of July my seven-year-old son Josiah woke up with an uncontrollable movement in his left leg – it moved backwards and forwards and he couldn’t stop it. This meant he couldn’t bear his weight, so walking was not possible. He was diagnosed with a tic disorder, and we organised for him to have crutches so he could get around, and waited for various tests at the hospital. This was one of those ongoing things that we had no idea whether he would improve, or when, so we just had to trust God and be thankful that Jos was otherwise well.

About three weeks ago when he woke the other leg had a problem – it was very sensitive to any touch, and he couldn’t stand on it either. He was reduced to getting around on one knee and two hands.

We organised a wheelchair for him, and had more tests at the doctor.

Last night my husband took Jos to a healing meeting with Indian Evangelist Ram Babu. They were out for a long time – the meeting started at 6, and at 9.45 I was starting to wonder where they were, when I heard the car come in, and then the door opened, and in walked Josiah.

Yes, he walked in, on his own two feet, with this amazing smile on his face, and an aura of peace around him. You can imagine, we broke out the Lemonade and had a little party!

When he was prayed for, the evangelist told him to get up out of the chair, and Jos had the faith to know that he had been healed. He ran around, a little unsteady. This was no hypnotic trick!

When he said goodnight to me, he said, “I love you Mum, but I love God more.”


Resurrection in the rubble

I have just returned from a trip to Christchurch, where I grew up. I went into the city and walked all the way around the red zone, which is cordoned off after the earthquakes.What I expected to see was a sad, and empty place. Yes, it was empty, and strangely silent, with cranes ‘deconstructing’ several buildings, like vultures on a corpse.

But what I also saw, in the areas that used to be in the red zone, but are now open, was a city that is alive, full of energy, with resurrection pulsing through its veins. There are pop-up stores, shops in containers, re-positionable buildings all trading as designer shops and cafes, with flower planters decorating the streets and precincts. There has been care taken to make the city an interesting and pleasant place to shop, and actually I think the old Cashel Mall is better now than it ever was!

In the suburbs too there are flowers, in planters, and empty sites have been strewn with wildflowers. Sides of remaining buildings, and containers, have been decorated with murals, and there’s a sense that nothing can keep this city down!

I saw resurrection everywhere, life everywhere, hope everywhere. There is a tremendous spirit of life there.

In the red-zone I saw the old cathedral, once the ‘icon’ of Christchurch, now a sad and strangely small building, no longer the soaring church where we had our school carol services. It doesn’t feel like place of worship anymore, but only  home for the odd pigeon flying in to nest. It reminded me of a loved relative, still attached to life-support ventilators, where no one has had the courage to switch off the power and let it die a dignified death.

There will be a new opportunity for the Cathedral to be built, in a way that will suit worshiping and gathering communities in the future, but rather than patching up the old dear in the ICU, let’s look forward to God’s new vision for the church in Christchurch, that is, the people who worship God in Christchurch, to find new ways to do that.

Brand Anglican

A member of my family applied for a job with Coca-Cola, back in  the late 50s, when they were just starting to grow throughout New Zealand. As he sat waiting for his interview, a young employee offered him a nice cold glass of Coke.

“Uh, no thanks, I never touch the stuff” said my relative.

Did he get the job? No, of course not, because he didn’t enjoy the brand.

What’s this got to do with life as an Anglican? When I was ordained, I had to sign a declaration that I accepted the 39 articles and the constitution of the church and its rules and regulations, and the Creed.

Having been a member of the clergy for a few months now, I am discovering that some clergy, both in our diocese and others, are quite open about not subscribing to the official line. I have been troubled by this, wondering how loose the definitions need to be, especially as many of the formulations are ancient, and have been understood differently by modern theology. Where do we draw  line in the sand? What are absolutely foundational beliefs, which make us “Brand Anglican”?

Maybe as part of a 500-year cycle of having a ‘rummage sale’ and rethinking how we do church, it’s time to look at the declarations and even the creeds – ‘the resurrection of the  body’, as understood in the Apostles’ Creed, cannot surely be taken literally, for example.

Many things to think about – it’s an exciting time to be a Christian!



Felicity O’Brien, June 6th,2010 at Longview. All rights reserved. PDF 

1 Kings 17:9-16

Luke 7:12-16

Two of today’s readings feature widows. Some of you may have been widowed, or may have been brought up by a widowed mother. You will know how hard it can be to survive. I have not been a widow but I was separated and had to raise my children on my own for a while, until I met my second husband.

The story about the widow from Zarephath has three main points that jump out for me.

First, she was a Gentile. Zarephath is in Sidon, and this was the territory of Jezebel, Elijah’s enemy. This means that Elijah was the first prophet to bring God’s message to the Gentiles. Continue reading