All Souls, 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

All Souls November 2, 2017

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 11:21-27


Every year we gather at this time to remember before God those who lived and have died before us. Tonight we pray for the dead: both those who in life were near to us, those to we whom we are indebted here as a church family, as well as those countless souls who have lived on earth and now only God remembers.

Historically, and in some corners still today, there has been controversy surrounding this practise of praying for the dead. It is one of those practises of faith that has tended to separate the “catholic” traditions from the more Protestant, especially evangelical traditions. “No one should entertain the illusion that someone may be able to pray for him, affecting some beneficial result, after he is dead,” is the argument. Only the living are able to choose that conversion of life which leads to salvation. Once a person has died and met his or her judgment, the case is closed; God can do nothing more for them; they have either passed the trial or failed it. As one Evangelical argued the case,

In the parable of the virgins (Mt. 25:1ff), there is the clear lesson that after those ‘virgins’ went to ‘sleep’ there was no further opportunity for preparation; the “door was shut” v. 10. The lesson is . . . that only those who had made adequate, personal preparation would meet the “bridegroom” . . . How, therefore, could prayers from the living alter the destiny of the lost?1

Now, the Protestant reformers of old were right in contesting the abuses of the Medieval Church and its practise of hawking ‘indulgences,’ essentially “get out of jail free” cards, which people could purchase for deceased loved ones. But some of the contemporary followers of those reformers, like the one I quoted above, short-change the reach of grace and the power of his love. If Christ is as we believe, “the resurrection and the life,” how can the dead have passed beyond the mercy of God? Our hope must be as far-reaching as the love of the one who brought us into life and will raise us from death. Hope of this kind is not for something we can see or expect as a natural possibility: I can hope it will not rain tomorrow; I can hope I will get a promotion at work; I can hope that my child will choose to go to university – but these hopes are not the same kind of hope that Christ offers to us. The kind of hope that Christ offers is, in the wonderful words of St Paul, “hope against hope” (Romans 4:18). Hope, that is, when every natural or possible possibility has died. Hope when our natural hope for life has died.

Today, we pray in the name of this kind of resurrection hope. We pray in the name of this hope against hope for God’s continued blessing on those who have died, the self-same blessing as he bestowed upon them in life. I wonder if the crossing from life to death must appear for us monumentally greater, more frightening, more sublime, than it appears for God. For both the living and the dead are held in the mind and memory of God. Though generations may pass and though faces and names are obliterated from the earth, God does not forget. And just as at one time God loved us from nothingness into being, so God shall love us again from the nothingness of death into the new being of the Resurrection. Not even death is strong or final enough to cut us off from his memory or the reach of his mercy.

When we say the ‘Kyrie eleison’ at the beginning of each Mass, “Lord have mercy/ Christ have mercy/ Lord have mercy,” in my mind I translate those words in this way: “Lord, turn thy face toward us/ Christ turn thy face toward us/ Lord turn thy face toward us.” Turning the light of his face toward us, God loves us from non-being into being, from nothingness into life – as indeed Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom 4:17). I am certain that these words are just as much about forgiveness as they are about Resurrection, for the two go inseparably hand in hand. Wherever and however death touches us: in our suffering, in our loneliness and loss, in our confusion and anxiety, in our pride and self-centredness and sin, when Christ turns his face toward us, he calls us from the darkness of death and non-being into the light of being, into the resurrection and the life. And when we pray for the dead, we are asking God to shine his mercy upon them according to exactly the same pattern and by exactly the same Word: to love them from the darkness of non-being into the light of the new being we have been promised in Christ.

So we pray for the dead as an act of love and in the belief that nothing separates us from the love of God that we have in Christ Jesus – not even death. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. Whether we are saints or sinners, faithful or forgetful, thankful or grasping, we all are in the hand of God. So let us pray in faith and hope and love for those who have gone before us, just as we pray for those still with us, ever with this word on our lips: “Lord, have mercy.” Thy will be done.


1 Wayne Jackson, “Praying for the Dead” (


All Saints Day, 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

All Saints Day Nov. 1 (4th), 2017

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12


See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

John writes these words to the Church in Ephesus, a congregation in crisis. A group has split off from the body of the church – a group, scholars believe, was associated with Docetism. Docetism was a heresy denying the incarnation, teaching that Jesus was not a man, but a spirit. That may sound bizarre to us, but that early heresy stems from the same offense as the (at least for us) more understandable denial that Jesus was divine. Both express offense at the Church’s faith that Jesus was both a flesh-and-blood human being and God. The world, then and now, is offended at this faith, this confession. The wisdom of the world tells us that for a human being to be at one and the same time God is a logical impossibility, irrational, absurd. Thus the wisdom of the world seeks to prescribe what is coherent and ‘rational,’ and therefore what is respectable for a grown up person to believe. But when we follow the world’s wisdom, as did that group in Ephesus, we narrow our understanding of God. And when our knowledge of God is narrowed, our hearts also are narrowed: our love and so our faith and so also our hope, are narrowed, and we no longer live into the fullness of who God created us to be.

So John, in this his first letter, pleads that the church in Ephesus not be seduced by that wisdom which would set parameters around what is and is not ‘rational’ to believe; what is and is not possible for God. Do not be seduced by the world, he writes, “do not love the world or the things of the world” (2:15). We need to be careful not to misunderstand what John means when he says this. He is, after all, the same person who wrote, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” When he writes, in his letter, not to love the world, he does mean we are to hate or reject the world, or fail to give thanks for the goodness of creation, or give the world up as irrevocably lost. Rather, the reverse. In order to affirm that Christ came to save and to redeem the world that God blessed as “very good,” in order to share in Christ’s work of redemption, a break with the world is necessary. God calls his saints out of the world for the sake of the world. To love the world requires a break from the world’s rationality, the world’s values, the world’s loves – for truly to love the world, it is necessary first of all to love Christ, who the world does not understand, does not value, does not love. It is only by loving Christ first that we learn what love truly is: not the narrowed love which the wisdom of the world sanctions, but in an infinite, impossible, irrational (or better, super-rational) love, a love greater than we can imagine.

John, thus, paradoxically exhorts the saints not to love the world so that they might truly love the world. John’s whole letter is an exhortation to this love. “We know that we have passed from out of death into life,” he writes, “because we love one another” (3:14). How beautiful that message is! “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love!” And yet, he immediately reminds us, the love by which we know that we have passed out of death is not the narrowed love of the world. It is not love as the world measures it, but love as Christ measures it: “by this that we know love, that Christ laid down his life for us.” And so, he continues, we must love by Christ’s measure, not by the world’s measure: “we too ought to lay down our lives for one another” (3:16).

The Docetic splinter group is in error not simply because their teaching contradicts the “orthodoxy” of the Church. John’s is not the voice of the institution intolerant of difference and demanding conformity. The Docetic group sins because the love by which they love God is measured, not by God, but by the world, the world’s categories, the world’s rationality. Teaching as they do that since no individual human being can possibly also be God, and that Jesus could not therefore have been a flesh-and-blood human being, is also to deny that Jesus truly died, for spirits cannot die. But if Jesus did not die, neither did he lay down his life for us. And if Jesus did not lay down his life for us, if this sacrifice is not the measure of God’s love for the world, then we are admitting that we cannot believe God’s love reaches out that far – farther than our own measures, farther than our own rationality. We restrict, in our minds and in our hearts, what love is possible for God! We sell God short, and we sell ourselves short, restricting in our minds and in our hearts, what God can expect of us.

My friends, no one can see the Father or know him as he is, face-to-face. But we know him in our love for his son, Jesus Christ. For to love Christ is to know God. “Do not wonder,” John writes, “that the world hates” those whose love for Christ leads them to love as Christ. That love threatens the order of the world. When we love the world as Christ loves, we defy the world and its understanding of proportion, rationality, common sense. The world is afraid of this love – afraid of what it cannot contain, cannot control. And we are afraid, too – except as we love Christ more than ourselves. For when we love him, our fear is turned to hope: “we know we have passed out of death into life.”

Who are the martyrs? Who are the saints? They are the ones whose love bursts the bounds of the world’s sense of proportion: St Francis kissing the wounds of the leper, Mother Theresa embracing the dying in the slums of Calcutta, Oscar Romero martyred while celebrating the Eucharist for demanding, in Christ’s name, that the soldiers of El Salvador disobey the orders of their country’s oppressive government; St John of the Cross composing hymns of joy to “the living flame of love” while enduring months of cruel solitary confinement by church officials.

May we, my brothers and sisters, learn from the saints how to love one another just as Christ loved us – love out of all proportion; may we learn to rejoice as they rejoice: knowing in our love that we have passed out of death into life; and knowing that to know this one thing is, in the end, to know everything.


Pentecost 20 (A), 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Pentecost 20 (A) October 22, 2017

Exodus 33:12-23



Today’s lesson from Exodus takes place after the Israel’s fall into idolatry, making and worshipping the golden calf. It is a difficult lesson: God having to teach his people (again) what it means to be ‘the chosen people of God;’ what their faith demands. Israel needs to learn (again) that to be blessed, anointed, by God has much more to do with being sent by God than it has to do with receiving a prize, a distinction from God. Or if it has to do with distinction, with being set-aside from other peoples, then it is to be set aside not for its own sake, but so that through its witness, through the life of its faith, it might be an example and a blessing for the world.

The golden calf proved that Israel misunderstood what it means to be the ‘chosen people of God.’ They mistakenly believed that to be ‘chosen’ means the “Lord their God” is on their side, to privilege them, to drive away their enemies, to preserve them in long life in the land, to distinguish them and play favourites. The golden calf, as all idols, represents the human desire for gods who we agree to serve because they serve us: provide for our wants, secure us from our fears, privilege and comfort us and ensure that we prosper – according, of course, to how we define ‘our wants,’ how we define ‘prosperity,’ how we understand ‘comfort.’ In the last Anglican Journal there was an advertisement: a fund-raising effort by the Anglican Foundation, encouraging us to buy cuddly teddy bears dressed sacramental vestments. This is idolatry. Not because there is any danger of us worshipping the teddy bear, but because of the image of God it implies we worship at the altar: a God who is comforting and domesticated, cut down to serve our image; a God who is mute, so we might put our words in its mouth. My friends, if we still believe in the relevance of the Church in and for our times, then it is this image of God, this idolatry, we must renounce.

Let us return to Moses at Mount Sinai. After Israel bowed down to the golden calf, Moses interceded on behalf of the people, that God not destroy them in His anger. God relents, and directs Moses to leave the haven of Sinai. Israel must now resume her pilgrimage through the dangers of the desert. Furthermore, whereas God had previously always travelled with them, now, God now says to Moses, “I will not go among you.” “You are a stiff-necked people.” But Moses pleads once again, “Go with us, (otherwise) how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight . . . unless you go with us? In this way we shall be distinct . . . from every people on the face of the earth” (v.16).

Once again, God agrees to do as Moses has asked. But he is going to change the terms on which he does so. He will go with them, but no longer will he speak to Moses as he once did, “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (v.11). Now when Moses asks to see his face, God covers Moses’ eyes, and shows him only his back. Worshipping the golden calf, the Israelites had mistaken the meaning of God’s earlier intimacy with them. Now God agrees to go with Israel to assure her that she is indeed ‘blessed,’ that she is indeed ‘set aside’ from other nations in his sight, but he nevertheless turns his back on them as a sign that his blessing, his anointing of Israel is not for Israel, but for Israel to be a witness of his love for the whole world. “I will go with you,” God says to Moses, but don’t mistake what this means. I am not god at your service. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (v.19). I do not belong to you, but you belong to me. Here I am. But not to serve your hopes for yourself. God turns his back as a sign that he is indeed with them, they are set aside, but they are set aside to follow him, follow even into places that are not safe, comforting, or privileged: places they would not choose to go.

Idolatry is an ever-present danger. When we reach out to Jesus as “my personal saviour,” for example, Jesus as the one who guarantees my hopes and fulfills my needs, we are very close to casting a golden calf. He offers comfort, yes, but we cannot truly know the meaning of his comfort unless we follow Him along that road which, to our human eyes, seems void of comfort. It is, in the end, only by following him that we begin to learn what hope truly is – not ‘my’ hope, but God’s hope for us.

More than this, to follow does not mean always to know where we are heading. God lead Israel into the desert, into dangerous places. God lead his son on the Cross, and lead Peter where Peter did not wish to go. But when we learn to obey, in faith, his command, “follow me,” then we learn what it means to be God’s elect, his chosen people, set aside, called out of the world. This blessing distinguishes the church, but distinguishes it as the people called to relinquish ‘distinction.’ Just as “Israel’s election means that it is called to be servant and witness of the Lord for all nations, not to be ruler of the nations,”1 so the Church is set aside – not as those who are kept safe in the ‘inner sanctum,’ but as those sent out into the darkness of the world to bear witness to the world of the light beyond our human lights, the hope beyond any hope we can imagine for ourselves.

We live in a world where golden calves abound – gods such as wealth, individualism, technological progress – idols we serve in the belief that they serve us in our own understanding of human flourishing. In the midst of this world, the question urgently facing us is how to follow God back into the desert, trusting in him, trusting that where our idols of self-privilege lead only to death, Christ – who demands we take up our Cross – is the life of the world. We are beginning, as a parish, to ask this question. In discussions of the Elder’s Network, at Theology on Tap, at Parish Council, and most especially gathering to worship here, we are asking, what does it mean to be ‘set aside’ to witness Christ in our world? What does it mean to follow in his way, to know that our lives do not belong to ourselves, but to him? How can we, together, follow him into places we are afraid to go? If we still believe in the relevance of the Church in and for our times, we must learn to renounce our idols. And in renouncing them, receive Christ’s word to his chosen ones of his infinite comfort, infinite hope: “Take heart. I am. Do not be afraid” (Matt.14:27).


1 Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, rev. ed (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1995), 73.

St. Michael and All Angles, 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

St Michael and All Angels October 1, 2017

Gen. 28: 10-17

Rev. 12: 7-12

John 1: 47-51


In the Nicene Creed, we confess faith in the “Maker of all things, visible and invisible.” Today, as we celebrate the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, we praise God for the goodness of his invisible creation. I think it is important to say that although we tend to think of angels as ‘heavenly’ creatures and closer than we to the throne of God, nevertheless the Bible makes it clear that the life of heaven and the life of the earth is one life; and that we are with the angels caught up in one and the same destiny, the same work of salvation, the same battle for the victory of life in God over the diabolic powers of separation and death. So the whole of God’s one creation, visible and invisible, is caught up in the same movement, the same strife, the same glory, the same end, where Christ will be and already is all in all.

Angels and humanity share in the ‘groaning’ of the whole of creation for this ‘end.’ The good news that we Christians are sent to share with the world is this: that this ‘end’ isn’t to arrive just at the end, but the end of all things, the hope of all things, the good of all things, the life of all things, has already been given to the world in the very midst of its groaning for it. The good news is that the fulfillment and the joy of creation has already come in Jesus; that in him the eternal peace has entered into the very tribulations of history. Victory has been won for us in the heat of the battle – without yet putting a stop to the battle, the battle of St Michael against the dragon, the battle of the life of love against the powers of separation and death.

Let’s take a closer look at that story, of Michael and the dragon from The Revelation to John. The scene with which our reading began, war breaking out in heaven and the appearance of the archangel St Michael, needs to be set in context. John begins the chapter (12) describing a vision: “a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” The woman is the nation Israel, the twelve stars representing the twelve tribes, the sun signalling that it is she who bears the light of light. The woman is in labour, about to give birth to a son, when suddenly “behold a great red dragon . . . stood before the woman . . . that he might devour her child when she brought it forth.” But the dragon is foiled, for the son is “caught up to God and to his throne,” while the woman flees from the dragon into the wilderness where, John writes, she is protected and nourished by God.

From those descriptions, we can start to put together the story. If the woman is a figure for Israel, and if her flight into the desert alludes to the story of Exodus – then we are to understand that the dragon is Pharaoh. Furthermore, John says that the ‘son’ to whom she has just given birth, “is to rule all nations with a rod of iron” – rule, that is, with an unbreakable shepherd’s crook – an obvious allusion to Christ Jesus, ‘the great shepherd of the sheep.’ Thus the dragon, waiting to devour Israel’s son, is also Herod, who sought to kill the infant Christ. Moreover, by describing Satan as a dragon, John clearly wants to draw attention to Genesis 3 – the story the ‘fall’ in which the dragon, by deceiving Eve and Adam, opens the door for the many powers of separation to enter into the relationship between God and his creation: the deadly powers of sin. On earth, humankind will never again live in perfect union with God. Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden; and God curses the dragon, promising perpetual “enmity” – that is, war – between it and humankind; and that a son of Eve will “bruise” the serpent’s head.

Taking all these allusions together, we find in this short Chapter of Revelation the arch of the story of the Bible in miniature: the story of the fall, the Exodus and the history of Israel, the coming of Christ Jesus – all of what theologians refer to as ‘salvation history’ we find is bound up in St Michael’s war with the dragon. In John’s vision, the events of the Bible are not presented in sequential order, but as if the whole story is present in every moment. And that story is ‘about’ the to-ing and fro-ing between earth and heaven in the war against the dragon.

It is, after all, in John’s vision an earthly event, the birth of the son of Israel, Jesus, which stirs up the war in heaven. The whole Bible is the story of how the visible and invisible creation, are bound up in a single destiny. And in Christ, that destiny arrives.

His coming rouses the dragon to a pitch of wrath. Michael and his angels throw the dragon from heaven, but he is increasingly dangerous in defeat. John is writing in a time of Roman persecution of the Church. Christians are dying in this war against the dragon, though the dragon has lost the fight already, for in Christ death has already been defeated. Yet this does not mean his powers of destruction, whereby he still seeks to separate God from his creation, are not in full force. John describes the dragon’s two most dangerous weapons:

First, the dragon attacks by “accusing (the faithful) day and night before God” (12:10). The word ‘Satan’ means “accuser.” He attempts to shake us from the certainty that God is love and will never separate himself from us even in our sinfulness. Satan knows if he can shake our faith in God’s eternal love for us, he will have us for himself. Second, the dragon attacks by deception. Jesus calls the devil “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Satan deceives us by confusing us about life and death. He says: “the apple is life; take it and eat.” So he deceives us into believing we will find life where in truth there is only death; and he deceives us into seeing death wherein lies the way of true life – that is, in the way of the Cross.

BUT, says John, the faithful join Michael in throwing the dragon down. And where Michael is depicted with a sword, we fight with two spiritual weapons. First, we conquer by “the blood of the lamb.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is our constant assurance of God’s abiding love, our ‘proof,’ in St. Paul’s words, that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers . . . nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38). Secondly, armed with that faith, we throw Satan down “by the word of our testimony” – by a life which demonstrates our faith that not even death can separate us from the life and love of God; and that we will therefore pick up our Cross and follow him, even to places we would not choose and we do not want to go.

On this day, we remember that Michael and the angels are fighting for us. But we are also to remember that we are fighting the same fight for the angels. There is one fight as there is one life, for there is one God and one Lord of life. Christ is born anew in every action in which we demonstrate trust in the one life of God and faith in the love that not even death can separate us from. It is by that love the dragon is thrown down.


Holy Cross Day, 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Holy Cross Sept. 14/ 17, 2017

Numbers 21:4b-9

1 Cor. 1:18-24

John 3:13-17


In the year 326 or 327, the bishop of Jerusalem began a series of archeological digs in an effort to find the location of Calvary. St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, likely to oversee these excavations, and it was in the course of the digging that she is credited with discovering the ‘true cross’ on which Jesus was crucified. On Constantine’s orders, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was erected on the site, and we celebrate Holy Cross Day on this date, September 14th, the anniversary of the dedication of that Church in the year 335.

The tone of Holy Cross Day is intended to differ from the solemnities of Good Friday, when Catholics and Orthodox – yes, and even many Anglicans – venerate the Cross in an attitude of grief and penitence. Today’s feast is meant rather to celebrate the Cross as God’s vehicle of triumph over evil and death. Thus the Roman and Orthodox Churches call this feast “The Exultation of the Cross,” many of the hymns reserved for today celebrate the cross not as a sign of suffering, but of triumph. And although no one can say that the theme of triumph in Christ is inappropriate, exactly – for it is indeed meet and right to celebrate, in wonder and thanksgiving, the salvation God won for us on the cross – the difficulty is how to get the balance right between joy in the triumph of Christ and the trap of triumphalism. We need to be watchful so that we do not slip into what Martin Luther called “the theology of glory,” which leaves the suffering and the dark night of the Cross behind, as if the resurrection made all of that redundant to the life of faith.

Triumphalism refers to the all-too human tendency of the Church to shift away from faith in the direction of ideology – in other words, when the Church mistakes its mission to steward the Gospel with believing that it has been given the completeness of the Gospel for its possession; when we confuse discipleship with certitude, we slip from faith into ideology. Who among the twelve knew just where Christ was leading them when he said, ‘follow me?’ The question I want to ask today is, how are we to give thanks to God for the victory Christ won for us on the cross while at the same time witnessing, with a shock, the reality of the Cross still with us? How are we to live in the face of the spiritual verity that in the order of eternity the cross and resurrection are concurrent realities? It is true that Christ died for us once and for all; in the order of time his sacrifice is finished, complete. Yet it the order of eternity it is not. How could it be finished when his disciples still betray and deny him? How could it be finished when we continue to mock the Gospel by failing, in our impatience desire for clarity and certitude, in our uncharitable desire to be assured that we are in the ‘right,’ to live by the faith that has been given to us? We are saved by grace through faith – not by grace through certitude!

Three months after Luther pinned his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral, the head of his order called him to Heidelberg to account for his actions. Among the 28 statements he delivered for that occasion, Luther included these three – numbered 19-21:

  1. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though there were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.
  2. He (or she) deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
  3. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the Cross calls the thing what it actually is.1

The theology of the Cross, in other words, refuses the temptation to relate to the triumph of Christ as if we are already living in its fullness, but insists on relating to Christ’s triumph always through the prior reality of the Cross. The theology of the Cross insists, therefore, that the certainty of our hope, the certainty of faith, pass first through the uncertainty of the cross. Every time, therefore, the church is tempted by triumphalism, it must return to St Paul – to see as he did, the terrible reality, the folly, stumbling block, scandal, of the cross. Doing so, “calling the thing what it actually is” – is to live in the tension that this instrument of death is the means God used and still uses to return us to life. As soon as we relax either side of the tension, we lapse either into ideological triumphalism or we turn away from Christ himself, offended by the absurdity and the horror of his cross. That God suffered! That God suffered death! That God suffered death at the hands of his creatures! “So inseparable from faith is the possibility of offense,” Kierkegaard writes, “that if (Jesus Christ and his cross was) not the possibility of offense, He could not be the object of faith.”2 And if Christ is not for us the object of faith, then our religion slips into the sin of triumphalism and ideology.

At this moment in time we hear a lot about the need to ‘de-colonialize’ the Church. But no one I have talked to seems to know quite what this means. What is colonialism? I think it is safe to say that, whatever else it is, colonialism is a species of triumphalism. Colonizers are not the same as military conquerors, but are those who claim to possess the “full and complete account of reality,” and whose impulse is to have all conform to that account. There is no doubt that the Church, aligning itself with the colonializing impulse, betrayed Christ, by making him an object of ideological knowledge rather than faith. The colonial church forgot – and too often continues to forget – the offense and uncertainty of the Cross. Doing so, it slips from faith into ideology; slips all too easily from love into violence (still called love); begins calling evil good and good evil.

My last word today is this: de-colonizing the Church doesn’t mean hanging more loosely to the Gospel proclaimed by John: “no one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Rather, de-colonizing the church requires us to brave more faithfully the mystery of that Gospel: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” De-colonializing the church doesn’t mean putting an end to mission or sharing with others the faith that God has shared with us, but de-colonializing the church begins with a turn – call it repentance – a turn away from the theology of glory to a theology of the cross, a turn away from ideology to faith, a turn away from the need to be masters and victors to being what we have been called to be: servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). In Jesus’ name,


1 Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p.16.

2 Soren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity, trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton, Princeton UP, 1941), p.143.

Pentecost 14 (A), 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Pentecost 14 September 10, 2017
Exodus 12:1-14
Rom. 13:8-14
Matt. 18:15-20

September always seems a time of new possibilities, new beginnings. Not only is it the start of the school year, but the rain and the fresh cool air brings a sense of ‘girding the loins,’ of a new concentration of energy. At least in me. So it is interesting that on this first Sunday back from my summer vacation, the Old Testament lesson is the story of the Passover – a story, as one commentator wrote, that is about “a new beginning that must never be forgotten.”1 But it is a very strange story. It is set in the context of the final and devastating plague God sent upon Egypt because of Pharaoh’s refusal to free the Israelites from slavery. As we picked up the narrative this morning, God has already turned the Nile to blood, sent frogs, gnats, and flies upon Egypt, a plague upon its cattle and boils upon the people, hail, locusts, and a pall of darkness – and now God threatens the worst affliction of all: “Thus says the Lord: About midnight, I will go through Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die.”
The section of the Passover story we read this morning is written to serve two ends: the instructions on how to sacrifice of the lamb, the painting of its blood on the doors, as well as the manner in which it is to be eaten, is intended to both to ensure the Israelites avoid becoming victims themselves, and as directions for later generations regarding how they are to commemorate the Passover, the day God proved his enduring faithfulness and freed them from slavery. The passage reads almost as if there is no difference between the event and the commemoration of the event; as if the later generations share in that original act of redemption and God’s saving grace, by sharing in the ritual Passover meal.
These are God’s instructions – both for those original Israelites in Egypt and for the later generations to commemorate and so re-live that very event:
(You) are to take a lamb for each family . . . Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male . . . then the whole congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it . . . . This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in our hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord.

God promises to ‘pass over’ the houses upon which the blood is painted on the door. It is the blood of the lamb, therefore, which saves them. They are to eat hurriedly, because this is the night of their escape. The lamb is intended for food for a long journey! This journey will take them through the Red Sea and into the desert, as they set out for the Promised Land that God has assured Moses he is preparing for them.
So Israel is called out by a promise. Yet it has no idea, fleeing into the desert, just what is in store. This journey will prove to be life-long: not even Moses will ever actually enter into that Promised Land. It will prove to be a journey of trial and temptation, short sightedness and short tempers, anxiety, despair, rebellion; a journey of which God will later say through the Psalmist: “Forty years long was I grieved with that generation” (Ps. 95). Yet I have every sympathy for the Israelites. It must have been a completely bewildering time. Repeatedly, God will bring them to the brink – the brink of their own capacities, their own ability to provide for themselves – and then miraculously provide for them by his own hand: water from the flinty rock; manna as bread from heaven. Looking back, we can perhaps discern what would have been for them impossibly obscure: that God used this journey in the desert to teach Israel the meaning of faith; how to trust its whole life to the loving grace of God.

The story of the Passover is central not only for the Jewish people, but also for us. Jesus chose the Passover feast to share his Last Supper with his disciples. Doing so, he also used a meal intended to commemorate one new beginning in order to inaugurate another. Just as the Jews, sharing together the Passover meal, participate in the saving grace of the Passover, so we, sharing in the Eucharistic meal, participate in the saving grace of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ is God’s own sacrificial lamb. It is by his blood that we are liberated from slavery – slavery not to the ruler of Egypt, but to sin and to the one St John calls “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31). Moreover, just as the sacrificial lamb fed the Israelites for their desert journey, it is by eating of the flesh of this lamb that we are fed for our journey.
Christ feeds us with himself: ‘food for the journey.’ A commonly used phrase. But what is meant by it? What is ‘the journey’? If the Israelites journeyed through the desert, a forty year-long preparation to enter into the Promised Land, the destination for which Jesus prepares his disciples is a place he calls “The Kingdom of God.” This kingdom is not a geographical place like Palestine. It is not even a purely spiritual place like the popular conception of heaven. Rather, the Kingdom of God is wherever Love reigns – whether in heaven or on earth. So we are to pray: “Thy Kingdom come on earth;” and so the words of Paul we read this morning: “Love is the fulfilling of the law” – for wherever Love is, God reigns, and wherever God reigns, there is His Kingdom.

Week by week, and in this parish day by day, we celebrate the Eucharist, to feed on the lamb, food for the journey. The journey is not our private journey: we are, like the nation of Israel, sent out together into the desert. Often we are uncertain, often afraid, rebellious, self-insistent – but Christ has called us and sent us out to prepare us for the Kingdom of God, to teach us what it means to love God, trusting to Him in everything; to teach us to love one another so that God’s law will govern us in our life together.
Which brings me back to the theme of new beginnings. Here we are, setting out into a new season. Let us come to the table and feed on Christ with sandals on, staff in hand. Where will he take us? Look at the person beside you. Look around the church. We are on this journey together. Rowan Williams recently wrote:
it can’t be said too often that the first thing we ought to think of when in the presence of another Christian individual or Christian community is: what is Christ giving me through this person, this group? . . . What is Jesus Christ giving me here and now? . . . Just ask that question and it will move you forward a tiny bit in discipleship . . .2
. . . and in our journey through the desert together toward the Kingdom of God.

Pentecost 8 (A), 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Pentecost 8 July 30, 2017

Rom. 8:26-39

Matt. 13:31-33; 44-52


This morning we heard Jesus recite a series of parables about the Kingdom of God. “Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables,” says Matthew, “he did not speak to them without a parable.” Why did Jesus teach in this way? Jesus hardly ever spoke as a theologian. What does this say about God, about how God communicates himself to us? Parables invite us to imagine and to wonder with ears alert for the unexpected. Who is that merchant who bought the pearl of great price? Was the purchase of that pearl an astute business deal? Or would his colleagues have shaken their heads, certain in their economic climate that the wise investor keeps a portfolio of diversified assets?

Matthew writes that Jesus taught with parables “to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” So parables speak of things hidden – utter what cannot be brought to utterance and give voice to the Word which exceeds language. Parables are like glimpses of light in a dense forest. Look ahead! There must be a clearing! But as we follow the light, the clearing remains always a little ahead of us; now closer, at times perhaps more distant, but never leaving us and always inviting us forward.

Evidently, to answer the question, ‘what is a parable?’ requires another parable! By parables Jesus spoke of things hidden, but not in a way that makes them cognitively transparent. A parable is like a doorway. Jesus bids us to enter that doorway – through it is the kingdom of God. When we open that door, we find ourselves in a room – an inner chamber in which we find more doors. And so in this way we are invited to explore the house, always finding new doors in each new room; never finally seeing the whole plan comprehensively, but coming to recognize that just as each room is in the house, the whole house is also in each room.

Thus to understand a parable is not to be able to say, ‘this means this and that means that.’ Even when Jesus himself seems to say this, he is just clearly outlining the doorway he is bidding us to enter. For to understand a parable is not so much to grasp it, as it is to have it grasp us. To understand a parable is to stand-under it; is to listen for a Word whose sense, though spoken by all things and through all things, nevertheless lies beyond our senses. To understand a parable is to know its call upon our life.

This morning we were treated to five parables concerning the Kingdom of God: the parables of the mustard seed, the leaven and the loaf, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, and of the net cast into the sea. There is not time enough to explore in depth any one of these, so I just want to say a few things, almost off the top of my head, about how these parables challenge us to live into the Kingdom they proclaim.

What strikes me first of all in each of these parables is the note of surprise and amazement: who could have guessed that such a tiny seed would outgrow every other plant in the garden? Or the bit of yeast, though almost nothing in itself, yet is enough to leaven many times its weight in flour; or of course the surprise of the man who found that treasure buried in the field. Imagine his delight in finding what had, moments before, been completely hidden from his sight! He cannot believe his luck – that this treasure, so long hidden from everyone, should come to him!

Where is the Kingdom of God? Imagine for a moment that small mustard seed, or that little clump of yeast. Jesus himself was only one man – a tiny seed, with a ramshackle following of disciples and friends, from a backwater district in an insignificant country. But that tiny seed was enough to transform the world. Imagine that the world is that measure of flour. When the baker takes the flour to bake bread, the yeast is by volume the least of all ingredients, but without it the bread turns out flat and hard – far from something the baker could eat with delight. “If God is for us, who is against us?” What if God’s purpose for His Church was never in fact to be the whole loaf, but rather the leaven that makes the whole loaf delightful in His eyes?

Or what about that note of ‘indiscriminate generosity’ we hear in the parable of the mustard seed – the full-grown tree providing rest for every bird, no matter what kind? That note comes again in the parable of the net. The net, cast into the sea, catches fish of every kind. A bit of realism there – no question the Church is a net full of strange fish! But then comes the less comfortable part of the story. When the net was filled, Jesus continues, “they drew it up on the beach; the good fish they sorted into vessels, but threw away the bad.” Does the indiscriminate generosity with which the story begins dry up in the end? Or is part of the lesson of the parable that in God generosity and judgment are not in conflict but, in a way we find difficult to reconcile, are ultimately harmonious virtues of divine love?

Observe, first, that if we imagine the Church to be the net, it is not the Church God tasks with the sorting of the fish. The net catches fish of every kind without discriminating, and when the time of reckoning comes, trusts in the love of God for all. Secondly, the parable doesn’t define what is a ‘good’ fish or a ‘bad’ fish – or even what a ‘fish’ is. A fish might be a human soul. Or the fish might be the sins imbedded in each of our souls. What a ‘gashing of teeth’ there will be when God finally removes our sins from us – removes like thorns from our flesh all that draws us away from God but which seem to us so essential to who we are!

Both alternatives contain, no doubt, an equal measure of truth, as must many others. For the purpose of the parable is to pull us into a deep tension at the heart of divine Love: that mercy and judgment are in God not irreconcilable, that one indeed implies the other – though just how this is must remain, like that clearing in the forest, always just beyond our sight. Amazement, judgment, generosity, delight: the purpose of the parables is to invite us into the life of prayer, in which we trust our understanding to the endless mystery and mercy of God.