Let there be peace shared among us

Sermon Sunday 30 September St Chad’s, also POT Friday 28 September

John said to Jesus, teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

This is the opening line of today’s Gospel reading. It’s not about casting out demons. The work that the other follower of Jesus was doing is not relevant here – John is not rejoicing that other people outside the first circle of disciples, and the next group of followers, have been understanding who Jesus is and what he is all about, and acting in his name.

No, John is complaining about the work of the other person, but rather smugly I think, saying that they tried to stop him, expecting Jesus to pat him on the head and say, well done, we can’t have amateurs taking up the message.

John, like so many of the disciples, so much of the time, has got it wrong. He may not have been prepared for what Jesus said next. ‘Don’t worry about it – if they’re not against us, they’re for us.’

He points out that the very act of invoking Jesus’ name to deliver someone from a demon meant that the person had faith in him, and was not about to turn around and attack or denounce him.

The disciples were being taught a lesson about the message, about the Good News. The were being shown that they were no longer in control of it! In our context, you could say that the Good News had gone viral! It was being spread without the disciples being in control of it, and that made them uneasy.

The kingdom of God has the power to make us uneasy. It can convict us where we don’t act according to its values – where we are not who we claim to be.

Jesus goes on to teach about the new believers – he calls them the little ones. It’s a tender way of referring to them, with all the care and love that should be lavished on children. Maybe the disciples were expecting to be told to get out there and if not stamp out the teaching that hadn’t come from the core group, to at least make sure it was right on the nail, that there were no inconsistencies or heresies creeping in.

But Jesus is aware of their desire to challenge the newbies. That’s what he meant by a stumbling block.

Some years ago my husband attended his first Cursillo course, while he was a student at Bible college, and wrestling with details of theology on a day-to-day basis. At Cursillo, various people had to give a talk about aspects of faith. Kevin was bemused to discover that there was a very wide understanding of theology, from the more-or-less what you might expect, to the downright wacky. But what really struck him was that God seemed to be able to work through all the talks, through all the speakers, touching hearts and lives even if the theology was a bit off. Kevin came away with a deeper understanding of the power of the Holy Spirit, in spite of people’s fumblings for meaning and understanding of this thing called faith.

Let’s have another look at the text. In verses 43-47 Jesus talks about how if a part of your body causes you to sin, to stumble, you should cut it off, because it’s better to enter heaven incomplete than go to hell with all your parts intact.

Have you seen the add for Specsavers, where people are asked how much money they would sell their eyes for? The subjects get really upset at the thought of losing their sight, and realise that sight is priceless. And yet here Jesus is telling the disciples to get rid of an eye if it causes you to sin! This passage is one of the reasons why we don’t take all of the Bible literally.

Jewish rhetoric and storytelling had a long tradition of exaggeration. ‘I have told you a million times not to exaggerate’ – was probably a Jewish joke long before I heard it.

Jesus uses colourful language so it will catch, so the lesson won’t be forgotten. It worked – Mark included it in his Gospel, and it has entered our language as a figure of speech, both as a complete idea, and in a short form.

Have you ever heard yourself saying “cut it out” to someone? I have said it to my kids, and my neighbour says it – often – to her dog.

What we can really take from this idea is that if something in our life causes us to stumble, to falter in our Christian walk, that thing needs to be removed. If looking at a certain website might tempt us into sin, we need to keep away from it. Or at least put on an ad block – I had to ask my daughter how to do that when I got sick of being offered a Russian woman! I’m sure you can think of other examples.

It’s a good habit to bring the day to God in prayer before you go to sleep. A sort of re-run with freeze-frames, and time to see things in another light. Often, if we listen the Holy Spirit will point out when we could have handled things better, we could have made better choices. But it’s not all about correction – it’s not like the last ten minutes of Masterchef which I always seem to find myself watching as I wait for the next programme to come on. God also gives us nudges in the right direction, and, most importantly, loves us, unconditionally, and tells us that, if we take time to listen.

After Jesus has finished the picture about removing parts of our anatomy, he tells the disciples that it is better to go into heaven with something missing than to be cast into everlasting fire, to Gehenna. This was a real place. On the south western corner of Jerusalem there was a large rubbish dump, smouldering with fire, where the city’s waste was dumped, and by Jesus’ time it also stood as a metaphor for hell-fires. Jesus foretold that the whole city would end up like that, if they didn’t follow his way of peace. This takes the story back to the passage before it, where the disciples were squabbling about who would be the greatest.

Jesus knew that they needed to be at peace with each other in order to show that peace to the world. He uses the image of salt – we are encouraged to have salt in us. Well, we do, our blood and our sweat contain salt, and we need to eat a little every day to keep healthy. But again, it’s not literal. You can get into so much trouble with the Bible of you take it all literally. By salt Jesus is referring to its properties – salt does many things. It adds flavour and makes bland food taste better. We can make bland lifeless days better by being the salt in them. It also preserves food by keeping out the bacteria – if we are being salt in our communities we are keeping out the bad, fighting for justice and help for those who need it. By sharing and doing and being the Gospel, by being real live examples of love in action.

What can we take from this text?

First, that the Good news will spread if we let it, and in ways that we never imagined, and that we shouldn’t try to stop it, or to control it.

Second, that we need to remove things that are harmful from our lives, to ‘cut it out’.

And finally, that we can bring it all to our loving God in prayer. And then, we will have the Holy Spirit with us, helping us to be the salt in our city, and to be at peace with one another.

A tree and its fruit

Felicity O’Brien St Chad’s Linwood Wednesday 28 June 2017

Matt 7:15-20

In my garden there are some dead-looking twigs, with no leaves, and knobbly little bits on the end. They don’t look like much, but one of them is called a cherry and another one a pear. Why are these twigs, these dead-looking branches called by the name of juicy succulent fruit? It’s because the experience people have of these particular trees is that in the right season they will bear the fruit they are named after. Not every tree is named after its fruit. Some are named for other attributes, such as their wood, or their leaves. Our proverb about good fruit tells us that a tree is known by its fruit, and the extension is that people are known by their fruit. We can see an example of this in such things as the Queen’s Birthday honours list, where people are known for what they have done. Their fruit is what matters, not what family they come from, what race or religion or gender they are, but rather by what they do. So we too as Christians are known for our fruit. And just as one bad apple can spoil a whole barrel, so one Christian who behaves in a way that is not fitting can spoil the reputation of many. We can look at televangelists, for example, and see if they care more about wearing Armani suits and owning boats than about preaching message of love and forgiveness, and humility. Continue reading

Sermon: Life comes at a cost

Sermon 26 October 2014 St Mary’s Whitby.Rev Felicity O’Brien

1 Thess 2:1-8, Matt 22:34-46

Paul was a man who didn’t hesitate to go the hard yard. He was shipwrecked, beaten, arrested, and in many other ways his life was not easy.But his greatest driving force was to share the gospel with everyone, no matter what the reception.In today’s epistle reading, we hear how Paul has been shamefully treated at Phillipi, but has come on to Thessalonica anyway. He didn’t retreat to lick his wounds, or to take a course and change his career path!

Sometimes we are treated badly, even as we struggle to live out our Christian witness. Do we let it put us off? Some people do. I have spoken to many people who used to go to church, but something happened, there was an offence, and they walked out, hurt, and never came back. They didn’t keep on trying to worship God in fellowship with others, because of some past injury. Now, I am in no way belittling the hurts than can happen in a church community. I know they are very real, because real people both hurt and heal each other. I have often pondered about this – to take an analogy , if you had a mechanic who treated you badly, who was rude, would you stop going to mechanics? Many years ago, when I was a single mum, my Honda shuttle was not very well. I took it to the local mechanic, who told me that it needed a lot of work on it, and I said, bother! I was hoping to go to the tip this afternoon. He said, were you going to leave it there? Now, it does seem funny, especially when the car, let’s face it, was probably heading to the wreckers’ yard, but I relied on that car, it was my sole means of getting to work and all the other things. I felt offended and vulnerable at his comments.But did I stop trying to fix the car? No, I didn’t. I just found another mechanic, and made it clear how important the car was to me. I guarded my heart against its vulnerability, and tried again. Continue reading

Sermon: What is Anglicanism?


What is Anglicanism?

Felicity O’Brien  2013

Thank you for asking me to come and talk to the U3A group today. My name is Felicity O’Brien, and I am a deacon in the Tawa Anglican Parish. Today’s talk is on the topic “What is Anglicanism?” We will start by looking briefly at the history of the Anglican Church, both in the UK and here in NZ, then we will look at the doctrines and liturgy that underpin it, noting the way doctrine is treated. We will look at what holds it all together, and then consider the way Anglicanism accords authority to Scripture, tradition and reason, the three ‘pillars’ of Anglicanism. Finally we’ll have a brief look at some of the new ways Anglicanism is responding to our times.

What is Anglicanism?  To put it in context, we will have a quick lesson in English history -‘Anglican’ comes from the Latin word for English.[1] There had been Christians in Great Britain since Roman times[2] but after 1066 England was more integrated with Europe[3] and the church was ubiquitous[4] and powerful.[5] In the fourteenth century John Wyclif[6] started to distribute an English-language version of the Bible to his followers.[7] Many people had little respect for the church,[8] which required heavy taxes, and rulers throughout Europe resented the money going to Rome. King Henry VIII, a very devout man,[9] had a problem. His wife was not able to give him a son, and he wanted the Pope to allow a divorce so he could marry again.[10] He had an Act of Parliament[11] written severing all ties with Rome, setting up what was in effect a new church, with himself as head.[12] [13] Continue reading

Viscount Monckton: The triumph of the individual over the hive mind

Viscount Monckton was in Australia and New Zealand recently.  This address given in Melbourne is re-published from Quadrant Online.       Printable version.


The triumph of the individual over the hive mind

by Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, April 3, 2013

Drab, pietistic uniformity is the curse of the collectivist age. Today, with a fearful and unanimously acquiescent docility, the hive mind tediously hums the Party Line, now rebranded “consensus”. Imagination, initiative, inquiry, inspiration, intuition and invention are not merely discouraged but hated. Individuality in any form is not merely loathed but punished.

It is the solecism of modern government imprudently, expensively and too often cruelly to emphasize the collective at the expense of the individual. Yet, as John Stuart Mill wrote,

“The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it. A State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be mere docile instruments in its hands, even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.”

Man is at once an island and a universe, an anchorite and a socialite, a lone wolf and a member of the pack. The strength of the West lies in encouraging what Santayana called the “eccentricities, hobbies and humours” of each, not in hindering or punishing individual achievement in the name of all.

In feudal times, the State was everything. The individual, if noticed at all, was recognized solely by his status in the ordained pecking order.

“God blessed the squire and his relations,
And kept us in our proper stations.”

It was only when free-market contract replaced feudal status that the individual, be he never so humble, acquired the right freely to negotiate with his neighbours and, by so doing, to earn advancement by achievement. Social mobility is a feature not of collectivism but of contract and of the cheerful chaos of the free market that it enables. Continue reading

Essay: Salvation in traditional vs green theology

This essay seeks to examine traditional ideas about salvation/redemption, in particular examining the contribution to theology of Gerhard von Rad, whose ideas centred around the salvific event of the Red sea. It will then examine what happens when green philosophy and conservationism enters the domain of theology, in particular the Earth Bible movement and the work of Thomas Berry. It will then address some of the concerns around the new ‘Eco-theology’, and the ongoing response of some mainstream New Zealand churches in this area. Continue reading

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

Music for Christmas

There is a new feature on our music page – we have put up our carol book, which Kevin and I collected, arranged and published several years ago. Why did we make a carol book? Because the choir I was conducting needed one, and it was hard to find a good collection.

The sort of things we were looking for in our selection were good theology and good music, and we wanted a copyright-free collection. Some of the older carols and hymns of Christianity have wonderful understandings of what it means that God is real! The words resonate through the ages, timeless as God. One of my favourites is “Of the Father’s heart begotten, ere the worlds began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending He. Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.”

This has a special poignancy now, because we used to sing it every year at our school carol services, in the now-derelict Christchurch Cathedral.

Back to the Carol book – feel free to download a copy and use it, and inside the back cover are two versions of a simple carol service. It’s just the story of Jesus’ birth, taken straight from scripture, interspersed with familiar carols. It works very well in rest homes, community groups, with children, and even in churches!