Sermon: False and True Worship

 

sermon St Mary’s Whitby 9 Feb 2014

Isaiah 58:1-12, Matt 5:13-20

The title, or quick guide, to today’s Isaiah reading is False and True Worship.This is a very challenging idea – both for the Israelites and for us.Isaiah tells his people that they are very quick to follow the outward forms of worship, almost competing with one another to see who can be the best, most religious, worshipper. Their motives are good – they delight to draw near to God. But what happens? They fast, but end up fighting.

Now, any of you who have children will know what I have been slowly learning the hard way – you just can’t expect decent behaviour if they’re hungry. For our family, that means that I need to have something substantial, that they will eat, ready at afternoon tea time, and with school going back this week, we’re all readjusting to the timing of eating! If the kids have no food in their tummies, they are grumpy and make bad choices about what names they call each other, and what they do with their hands. Or fists.

It would have been the same for the Israelites. They had a good motive to fast, or so they thought. They were doing it to draw nearer to God! But if God didn’t want them to do that, they would not have had the Holy Spirit’s help to fast in a God-honouring way. There’s no point feeling virtuous for fasting, thinking you’re super-religious, if the Holy Spirit isn’t part of the deal. It will only lead to grumpiness and fighting. 

The Israelites have another idea – we should be humble and lowly and bow down our heads, covering ourselves with ashes. Well, there isn’t much point to this either, as Isaiah tells them. What they’re really doing is making a public show of being humble, of doing nothing but looking so dejected that they really must be religious… Maybe?

No, God has a better idea. Service to God, service that really counts, is service to God’s people.It’s interesting that feeding the hungry comes a little way down the list- it isn’t at the top. First we have the context for this serving -“loosing the bonds of injustice,undoing the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free,and breaking every yoke.

Now, lets pause at this point. If we take this small passage as a guide for how God wants us to live our lives in community with each other, we need to do some thinking, and work out the meaning for ourselves and our world.

Loosing the bonds of injustice. That’s a really broad idea isnt it, but it contains hope. It tells us that we can do something about injustice.Often our society encourages us to have a sort of fatalistic attitude to the world – things are unjust, there’s not a lot we can do about it. In fact, when Iwas a kid, my dad, who was a GP, had a quick rejoinder for any kid who whined that things werent fair. “Life’s not fair, get used to it”. I find myself saying it too.But surely here Isaiah is giving us from God an encouragement that we can indeed do something about injustice.It binds people up, but we can help. We can loosen those bonds. Maybe we can’t break them entirely, maybe we cant completely resolve the situation, but we can loosen the bonds. And when the bonds are loosened just a little bit, it will be easier for them to be finally cast aside by the one bound up. In fact, the next part of our reading guides us – after we have loosened the bonds of injustice, only then can we untie the thongs of the yoke, removing the heavy burden from the oppressed. We can let them, and us, go free, and not only that, but break every yoke, so no one else can be oppressed by it.

How can we do this in our world? We’ve seen an example recently on the news, where the police have broken a child pornography ring. The bonds of injustice have been loosened by the investigators putting their information together, the thongs have been untied as they have been able to find who is responsible, the oppressed are set free when the children are no longer abused in this way, and the yoke is broken when it is harder for these sorts of horrible behaviours to happen again.

When we look at bondage to sin though, we must be careful not to be too black-and-white. We must avoid a them-and-us mentality. In a situation like child pornography, it is not only the people in the photos whoare in bondage. It is also those whoare addicted to looking at, and thinking about, those images. Loosing the bonds of injustice will break many yokes, both of those who are victims of other people, and those who are victims of themselves.

The next portion of our reading is a bit more straightforward really – we are encouraged to share our food with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our house, cover the naked, and not hide ourselves from our own kin.This sounds like straightforward charity doesnt it? But again, it isnt easy. We have to put ourselves out if we are to care for the poor. We have to share, to put our own needs second. Well, NZ is a great nation for charity, we areoften told. Street appeals do well, we arevery generous. But putting your loose change into a collector’s box, rattled under your nose outside the supermarket, is all very well, but it’s very impersonal. I believe we are challenged as Christians to get much more deeply involved. To get to know people. That means giving of ourselves. Bringing the homeless poor into our houses – oh dear, what if they’re smelly? What if they pinch stuff? What if they swear? Does God tell us to look after respectable‘ people only? No. And as for not hiding ourselves from our own kin – there’s a whole sermon just in that sentence!

Now, our country is organized very differently from ancient Israel. We have a social security safety net, so if we pay our taxes there should be support available for people who are hungry, poor, homeless. But there are times when people struggle to access these services, and we can help. Again though, often we need to really get to know the people we are helping, not just send them to the WINZ office with their form filled out. And do you know what? The blessing is a two-way street. We have an elderly neighbour who is struggling with life, and he’s often over for a coffee, or to borrow something. Yes, he always smells as if he’s smoked a packet every hour, and my hay fever flares up after he’s been. But he blesses us. He cares for us. When there was an earthquake recently he popped over to see of we were all right. That was really touching.

Isaiah tells us that when we treat God’s people kindly, our light will break forth like the dawn! Two weeks ago I preached here about the people who walked in darkness seeing a great light. Here we have the same image – the light of the presence of God in our lives and in our communities.Isaiah underscores the point with a similar passage of what we can do, which will again be rewarded by our light rising in the darkness.In this second group he has some more guidance for us – verse 9 jumped out when I was reading this passage earlier in the week –If you remove the yoke from among you,the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,(and there’s another bit about feeding the poor )– then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

This is an important point to consider. The yoke among us of pointing the finger and speaking evil. Yes, it is a yoke, one that can be loosed and broken. We have a choice how we regard other people. Pointing the finger, singling people out because they’re different. In our culture people who stand out are quickly noticed, and not usually in a good way. It’s called the Great NZ Clobbering Machine. Kids at school are ridiculed for tiny differences, be it in the type of lunch box they have, or what is in it, or when I was at school, it was for wearing old-style shoes. Kids are quick to point the finger. Adults are too, often point it in blame. ‘Speaking evil’ – that’s another word for gossip. Very tempting I know, but is it helpful? Does it build the kingdom? If we want our light to shine out like noonday, we can turn away, make better choices.

Some of you may be saying, yes, that’s all very well, but Isaiah wrote these words a long time ago. What relevance do they have? Well, Matthew’s audience certainly knew them. There are several times in the New Testament when Jesus is quoting from Isaiah, and Matthew, who was writing for a Jewish audience, reminds them, and us, that what Jesus had to say was in no way a replacement for the prophets of old. Jesus talks of salt and light. These are familiar images – light crops up a lot in this year’s set of readings. How about salt? It’s a bit out of favour if you have to watch your blood pressure, but try eating home-made bread without salt. It’s revolting. Just a teaspoon in the dough makes a huge difference.

And I think that’s a helpful image for us. If we are wondering how our small contribution to life around us could possibly make a difference, think about that tiny bit of salt. That little pinch that you put on your fried eggs. That sprinkle on your tomatoes. Just as it only takes a small bit of salt to bring out the true flavour of many foods, so it can take only a little bit of love to make a difference in someone’s life. Be encouraged by this – don’t think you can do nothing. Even a smile at someone, a kind word, an offer of help, a prayer, can start the ball rolling to loose the chains that bind.

As a deacon, when I give the dismissal, I say, “Go now to love and serve the Lord”. Be encouraged that when you leave the church today, you can indeed go to love the Lord, by serving other people, by being that salty flavour that brings life. The last bit of the dismissal is “Go in peace”. Don’t go feeling like you’ve been given an impossible task. Go with the peace in your heart of knowing that you can love God, you can serve God, and it’s not too huge. Just one sprinkle, one pinch of salt at a time.

Sermon: Jesus presented in the temple

 

Sermon: Whitby rest home 7 Feb 2014

Luke 2:22-40

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Do you remember when you were a little child? If you were part of a Christian family, you may have had books of Bible stories for children, with all the stories about the kids in the Bible – Samuel, David, the child Jesus. Maybe you felt special as a child, reading about other children, who had an important role in the kingdom of heaven. So important hat now, three thousand years later, people remember their name, their story, their contribution.

Today’s’ Gospel reading is the version for the elderly of the same thing – here Simeon and Anna are both very old.. Even by the fact of their inclusion in the Gospel, you are encouraged that older people still have an important role in the kingdom of heaven. And just as Simeon and Anna will never be forgotten by anyone who reads the bible, so God will never forget you, even though you are no longer young.

Our society forgets the old – if we look at TV we see young, pretty, slim people. Never older, wrinkly, saggy, or anything other than a narrow slice of society. But God’s society isn’t like that. In God’s kingdom there is a place for everyone, no matter how many years they have been around, whether very young or very old. What God is interested in is the heart. Does your heart love God? Do you rejoice that Jesus has come into the world? That’s what matters.

There is another feature in today’s reading that I want to point out. Not only the very old, but the very young are involved. Jesus is a new baby, very little and weak. Just starting his life. Simeon and Anna are at the end of their long lives, getting ready to meet God. There is a circle here, a connection between the generations. Maybe in your family there are no more babies coming to visit, maybe the grandchildren have grown up and left town. But there are still people you may be connected to. Never lose that connection – if you don’t see them, if they don’t visit – and let’s face it, many young people don’t these days – may they still be present to you in your prayers. Just as Simeon and Anna prayed for the baby Jesus, you can pray for the little ones in your family, in your communities. Whitby is full of families, and there is a role for us all in praying for our children, those we see around us, those who live over the road, those who go to the school round the corner.

In God’s kingdom the elderly people are not forgotten. That goes for ancient Israel, and it goes for us, here and now.

 

Message: Baptism

In Matthew’s Gospel, at the end of chapter 3, we have  read the story of Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. This is traditionally a time for new Christians to be baptised too, and last Sunday at St C’s we welcomed a little one into the family of the church.

I want to think a bit about baptisms. When Jesus was baptised there was a voice speaking from heaven over him – this is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased. In the first century, when a tradesman wanted to introduce his adult son, apprentice-ship finished, to his community, these are the words he would say. This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased. Jesus’ earthly Dad, Joseph, who had trained Jesus as a carpenter wasn’t around – perhaps he had died. Imagine then hearing God speak these words from heaven!

We may never have heard God speaking over us in that way – if it sounded out in our church everyone would be looking to see who was being silly with the microphone!

But I truly believe that it does please God that we come for baptism, and that we bring our children too.

Christian baptism isn’t limited in time – once we have been baptised and joined the church, we are members for life. Our commitment, or that made on our behalf if we were christened as babies, is for all our present life, and extends into eternity.

Baptism is about intention. Intention to follow God no matter what, to renounce all evil, and to let Jesus be our guide. This doesn’t stop when we retire. It doesn’t stop when we can no longer care for ourselves. It doesn’t stop when we no longer remember who we are. Just as we acknowledge God in our baptism, God acknowledges us. and no matter how frail and forgetful we are, we are still God’s beloved child, in whom God is well pleased.

Hot cross buns already?

Well, today is Epiphany, the feast of the three kings, where we consider the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. This marks the end of the Christmas season. But Christmas isn’t really over, in spite of what I saw in the supermarket two days ago. Yes, as I hinted in the title, hot cross buns were already on display! And this is even before the fruit mince pies have reached their use-by date! Does Christmas have a use-by date then? No, it can’t. We need to keep hold of the wonder of Christmas, the sense of awe that God would allow Godself to be born as a tiny vulnerable human, to teach and to guide us, and ultimately die for our salvation.

When I saw the hot cross buns, I was sad as I reflected upon the shallowness of our culture. We are all too happy to have the trappings of a religious festival – Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, Nativity scenes, and then hot cross buns – with or without peel – but can we as a culture cope with the raw powerful images behind the symbols? Can we cope with a baby born in poverty, destined to die for all of us, only to rise again? Can we cope with a youngish man,a good man, who loved everyone, but who was cruelly tortured and murdered, and all because God planned it so?

At Christmas we must never take God’s sacrifice lightly. We must surely try to embody Jesus in everything we do and say, and remember that God wants us to love Him. He just won’t force us to. Or even bribe us with hot cross buns, with or without peel.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Nowhere to stay

I was listening to Luke 2 today, describing the journey Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem. Several things struck me – and one may be the result of the other. They were going to his own town, his ancestral town. Surely there would have been relatives in Bethlehem who could have given Joseph and his pregnant fiancée a bed? What had gone wrong in his family so that the important codes of hospitality were not being observed? Maybe all Joseph’s relatives were no longer alive, or had moved elsewhere, and like Mary and Joseph were looking for accommodation too. Or maybe there had been some terrible disrupt in the family – many families today have problems where one person is seen as the ‘black sheep’, where no one will give them the time of day, let alone open their house. I urge you, if there is a problem like that in your family – and many families have issues – please try to forgive, and to let yourself be forgiven, and open your heart to your own family, no matter how awful they have been.

It’s entirely possible that Joseph and Mary were rejected by their own relatives. Why? Another part of Luke 2 gives a hint – Joseph was engaged to Mary, who was heavily pregnant. They were not yet married. There had been rumours about the coming baby which would float around for years, and maybe the relatives just couldn’t bear the thought of an unmarried couple with a baby nearly there contaminating their house.

As Christians we must guard against this attitude. Many Christians are very judgemental about people who live together, have their families, buy a house, a dog, a trampoline – in short, set up a family, without the legal status of marriage. Is it any of our business? A resounding NO! If it’s good enough for God to be born to an irregular couple, it’s good enough for us to accept those as a couple who regard themselves as one. The Bible continues to surprise us with the sort of people God uses to further the Truth, and human judgementalism and rule-making, which is unfortunately very noticeable in the church, can get in the way of God’s work.

This Christmas, let us welcome those we have rejected, and those who have rejected us. And let’s give thanks for families of all shapes and sizes – if they love each other, that’s a God-thing!

Sermon: What is Anglicanism?

CHC2051-4

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

Essay: Islam, Politics and why it matters.

Islam, Politics and why it matters for us.

Reverend Felicity O’Brien November 2013

View as PDF                 Discussion Notes PDF

Supplementary Power Point

Introduction

This talk is about the religion that is called Islam. First we look at its beginnings with a brief historical overview, noting the great divide between two parts of Islam, Sunni and Shi’a, and some of the consequences of that split. We will explore briefly the spread of Islam and Muslim peoples throughout the world, both in ancient and modern times. We will look more closely at some of the groups in both Sunni and Shi’a, and how this plays out both religiously and politically, especially the more radical sector. Then we will explore the interaction of other countries with Islamic nations, the geopolitical scene, where differences between Islamic factions have been exploited by outsiders, in particular the U.S.

Finally, we will consider why this matters to us in New Zealand, especially to Christians, and I apologise to members of the audience who are not included in this group, but that is where my perspective comes from, as a minister in the Anglican Church.[1]

 Part 1: History of Islam

Fourteen hundred years ago, in a mountain cave, an Arab businessman was praying, worried about how his society was deteriorating. Money-making was becoming all-important, and the poor were getting poorer. People were restless, and knew that other surrounding countries practised more sophisticated religions than the Arab paganism. Some believed that their own highest God, Al-Lah (which means ‘God’) was the same deity as that worshipped by the Jews and Christians. But there had as yet been no prophet and no revelation to the Arabs in their own language. The man in the cave, Muhammad ibn Abdallah, woke one night overpowered by a mighty presence of the Angel Gabriel, and then he heard words of poetry pouring from his mouth. Tradition has it that he was illiterate, so therefore the elegant words must have come supernaturally.[2] Continue reading

Sermon: The Ten Lepers

Luke 17:11-19

What a simple, pithy story. Ten lepers are healed, and only one gives thanks. As a mum I’m often hissing ‘what do you say? ‘ to my kids when we are out shopping. Failure to say thank you goes against the grain of basic good manners. Did you notice that the one who did thank Jesus was a Samaritan?

During October the Anglican church throughout the whole country focused on penal reform, on praying for the justice system, for prisoners, their families, their victims, and those otherwise involved with the care and rehabilitation of prisoners. It’s easy to think of people in prison as being somehow not like us. To regard the prison population as being largely of another race, another social grouping, and not to truly regard their humanity. Today’s story about the lepers brings out the theme of challenging the listener to regard the outsider, in this case the Samaritan, who is from the hated next-door country, as a real person, and not less-than-human.

It’s easy to be scared of people who are not like us.

Last year I was running a sausage sizzle with my daughter, who was about eleven, as we fundraised for her to go to Girl Guides Jamboree. Lots of people came and bought sausages – they were your usual crowd outside Harvey-Norman. Families, different races, all having a leisurely Saturday. But then a patched gang member came up. My daughter got really frightened, as she had never met a gang member before. This fellow asked for his sausage, he said, please and thank you, and was really polite! In fact he was our most polite customer of the day. He spoke so respectfully as he requested his sauces and onions. It was quite a surprise to my daughter, who had expected him to be rough and scary.

The shock she got was probably just like the shock Jesus’ audience got when they heard that the only person who had behaved appropriately, in gratitude for his healing, was one of that lot over there, the hated other.

For many of us the prison population are like the hated other – in prison because of what they have done, that they deserve to be there.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that no one needs to be in prison, just that we as Christians need to take up the challenge Jesus offers us in the Gospel, and see the Other as fully human, loving all prisoners, their families, their victims, and praying for a godly system of justice and rehabilitation for our society. We can all do that.

Essay: A New Zealand Prayer Book

CHC 2051 Anglican Studies Essay 3

Felicity O’Brien

 

What seem to you to be the most significant features of A New Zealand Prayer Book /He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa as an expression of Anglican worship, especially when compared with the Book of Common Prayer (1662)?

This essay seeks to discover the significant features of ANZPB/HKMOA, looking first at the BCP and the developing needs of the Anglican Communion to find appropriate ways to worship in a changing world. It notes the similarities of the two prayer books both in intention and in content, and some of the challenges of developing ANZPB/HKMOA. Major features of note are changing theology around initiation rites, changing use of gendered language both in regard to human beings and how to address God, and the very ‘New Zealand’ language, both in use of Maori and Pacific languages and in local imagery and poetry.

In many ways ANZPB/HKMOA stands in continuity with the BCP, Continue reading