Pentecost 6 (A), 2014

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Pentecost 6 (A) July 20, 2014

Romans 8:12-25

Matt.13:24-30; 36-43


This morning we heard a short series of parables from the mouth of Jesus. Matthew tells us that “Jesus said nothing to the crowds without a parable.” If parables were so important to Jesus and how he taught about the kingdom of God, I think we ought to ask why. What are parables? What are they for? What do parables do?

The parables that Jesus tells are little stories and similies which he draws from everyday life. On the one hand, even the simplest person would have understood what he was talking about because Jesus talked only of everyday things: sowing and harvesting, shepherds and sheep, family relations and money and food. So, on the surface parables would seem to be straightforward. But on the other hand, it is obvious that Jesus himself is certain his words will not be understood by everyone: “he who has ears, let him hear.”

In a minute I’ll address the question of what it might mean to ‘understand’ a parable. But first I want to draw our attention once again to Matthew’s explanation of Jesus’ use of parables. Matthew informs us that:

Jesus said nothing to the crowds without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.’

So not only does Jesus fulfill the prophesized role of the Messiah by speaking in parables, he uses parables in order to “utter what has been hidden.” Matthew is quoting from Psalm 78. My RSV Bible translates that psalm in this way: “I will open my mouth in parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.” Bob MacDonald translates it: “I will open my mouth in a parable, I will ferment riddles from of old, which we have heard and known and our ancestors recounted to us.”1

So a parable utters dark sayings, truths that are hidden; it ferments the ancient mysteries, the Spirit making them bubble to life. But even if the parable brings hidden things into utterance, the psalm makes clear that the parable does not reveal what is hidden in such a way that it is made clear and distinct and graspable for all who hear it. For this reason, the parable is never finished its work. Generation after generation, the knowledge of God gets passed down by way of the parable; parables are utterances that reveal God in ways that do not reduce God to an idol, to something we think we can grasp and comprehend. In that way the parable also keeps hidden that of which it speaks.

Jesus, it is true, offers explanations for a few of his parables, but even his explanations do not guarantee understanding. In fact, his explanations push us even further down into the question, ‘what does it mean to understand a parable?’ St Paul is helpful to us here. Today we heard St. Paul say, “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” That saying has everything to do with why Jesus taught in parables and what parables are meant to do.

Hope that is seen is not hope.” By these words, Paul is not simply saying that if my grandmother is sitting beside me I do not hope that I will see her because I am looking right at her. That may be true, of course, but it is not Paul’s point. Paul’s point is rather that hope points us precisely away from what our eyes, our ears, our common sense would tell us is likely, or even possible. To say, “I hope that it will be sunny tomorrow” is a misuse of words, according to Paul. We wish for sunshine, we do not hope for it. In contrast, we hope for the redemption of our bodies. We must hope that what comes from the dust and returns to the dust will be made, by the mysterious delight of grace, eternally meaningful. We must hope that our mortal bodies, through the resurrection of Christ Jesus (an event impossible to wish for because impossible to expect) will be and have been granted eternal life in God.

The question of the redemption of our bodies is of an entirely different order than the question of tomorrow’s weather. We expect and wait for it by no evidence of our natural senses, but only by the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Spirit. Similarly, none of the disciples who knew Jesus in the flesh could see with their physical eyes that he was God. Even if Jesus had said to them directly, “I am God,” that would not have helped! They had almost to be coaxed into that insight. Only by the inner eyes and ears of the Spirit could they come to confess: “You are the son of God.”

The point I am coming to is this; Jesus taught in parables because Jesus himself was and is the parable of parables: the mystery at the centre of every mystery, a dark saying, the unutterable Word, hidden since the foundation of the world. We cannot simply point to him or describe him, cannot simply say, “behold the man who is also God.” We cannot even say, “I can prove to you that this is the most likely conclusion because of x,y, and z, which are plainly visible to all.” If we could do this, hope would be redundant and faith unnecessary.

The difficulty then, is how to talk about our hope, if it is beyond comprehension and thus beyond the reach of words? We are human, and we must speak. Moreover, we have a promised to pass on to our children all that God has given us to know. With the Psalmist, we “will utter dark sayings from of old, things . . . that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them . . . but tell to the coming generation.” But how can we speak of what we cannot speak? How, when no word we say could ever embrace the Word that embraces us? That is what the parable is for: to speak of things that cannot be spoken of, to point to invisible things which cannot be pointed at.

To ‘understand’ a parable is not to be able to say ‘this means this and that means that.’ To understand a parable is to know its call upon your life. The parable calls us to dedicate our lives to an unforeseeable future, a future opened to us by grace, a future which makes what it means to be alive and to be human more than we could ever ask or imagine. To understand a parable is to allow it to move you to see what you cannot see. Parables are words which break us toward a silence which, far from being empty, is full to the brim with God.


1 Bob MacDonald, Seeing the Psalter (Gonzalez, Fl: Energion Publications, 2013), 247.


Pentecost 5(A), 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Pentecost 5 July 9, 2018

Rom. 7:15-25a

Matt. 11:16-19; 25-30


Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Truly, these must be some of the most comforting words in the whole of Scripture! In them, Jesus addresses the whole human race, and yet by them he calls each single one of us by name, for his words touch the deepest, hidden part of our souls, the place where we know ourselves to be anxious, confused, scared. “Take my yoke upon you . . . and you will find rest”: in other words, “do not be afraid,” but be reassured that the anxiety and confusion are not what is most true, and so he sets our souls free.

In a thousand ways, we labour and struggle to hide our confusion and fear from our neighbours and from ourselves. We tell ourselves and tell others stories about who we are, stories which are most persuasive the more completely we are convinced by them ourselves. Think of all the stories on Facebook. Everyone is having fun on Facebook. Everyone is cool, or adventuresome; everyone posts pictures of the great party, the amazing holiday, the happy family. “This is me!” That is what we want to tell the world and ourselves. It keeps the anxiety at bay. And if the anxiety begins to bubble up between the cracks, we are advised to seek medical attention. The doctors will fix us. But the pills do not cure the anxiety; they can only treat the symptoms. Or we go get a tummy tuck, our eyes done, a boob job. But surgery cannot cure the anxiety, the fear that death is catching up. Surgery can only treat the symptoms, at least for a while.

Now, I would never say to go off your meds, if you need them. Medication certainly can help provide the emotional stability needed even to begin to contemplate the peace that only our heavenly father can provide. I would never say that it is wrong to want to look and feel healthy. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and it is good to care and to adorn them just as we adorn the Church and the altar. But I am saying that our Facebook selves that we so desperately cling to, that narrative of happy competence, or of the busyness by which we prove how indispensable we are, or even the story of suffering which we make ‘our story,’ we cling to these so desperately because of that nagging fear we hardly dare to look at directly, the fear that the anxiety in the end tells the true tale, that there is nothing but the story – which means, of course, that when the story is over, the story is over. So we post our Facebook story – even if we are not on Facebook, we all still have our Facebook story – which we need to prove to ourselves and the world: See! I am alive! See! I matter! I am living life to its fullest! I am grasping life by the horns! . . . But the nagging doubt will not go away: if life is just about ‘grasping life by the horns,’ if life is about nothing but the story, then it is not about very much! And so we begin to plan the next adventure, the next party, even the next catastrophe, in order to prove (to ourselves as least), that we are still alive!

“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Cutting through the turning wheel of our confusion: the voice of Jesus. It is as if his words open the blinds – in a room we did not notice, until that moment, was almost dark: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” At the moment he begins to speak, I am not sure we understand exactly what his invitation means, where it will lead us, or how even to take in the light that illuminates our hearts when we hear it. But when we hear it, we do begin to understand one thing: that the hope our souls have been hungering and labouring for, perhaps without our even knowing it – is being offered to us. Jesus is reassuring us, to the unspeakable relief of our souls, that our Facebook story, however convincing, is not and doesn’t need to be the true story. The true story is not the one our anxiety compels us to tell, but the true story is the one Jesus tells and invites us to share: “Take my yoke upon you . . . for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We labour in anxiety, we cling as to a life-preserver, our own stories. But Jesus wants to free us from anxiety, free us from every false thing that we hold on to, and so he invites us all to make his story also our story. But this is where it gets a little tricky. For although Jesus says to us, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” he also says, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

What can we make of this? Far from being light, the Cross seems the heaviest of all burdens. And yet what exactly does Jesus mean by ‘our Cross?’ Is our Cross not, perhaps, precisely that Facebook story which is bound up with anxiety – the anxiety that tells us that we are nothing but our own story; the nagging anxiety that even that story comes to nothing in the end! What is my Cross but the anxiety which keeps me from letting go of my story? What is my Cross, but my strange inability to take up my Cross and follow Jesus – even when I believe that only where Christ goes is there freedom (even when it seems like a burden to me); only where he goes is there rest (even when it seems like labour to me); only where he goes is there life (even when it seems like death to me).

And isn’t it just this that St Paul is wrestling with in his Letter to the Romans – wrestling, you can hear him! – with his own soul. “Even,” Paul writes, “even when I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,” even when my heart is illuminated by the story of Love into which Jesus invites me, yet “I still see another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin . . . wretched man that I am!” Wretched, because Paul is caught on the wheel we are all caught on – knowing in faith that Christ alone is the ‘the way, and the truth, and the life,’ but so caught up in death’s terrible logic that we are unable to get off that wheel, unable to let go of that life which I know to be false but which I cling to as my truth. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

There is only one who can save us from ourselves: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” This is love: that even when the lightness of his yoke proves to be more than we can bear, he promises to carry our Cross for us. Even when our faith and our trust in him fail, he will carry us through. That, my friends, is grace, the lightest possible burden. Why is it so difficult for us to have faith enough just to let him carry our Cross for us?


Trinity Sunday, 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Trinity Sunday (& Baptism of Ross Matthewson) June 11, 2017

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Matt. 28:16-20


According to the Gospel of St Matthew, the very last words Jesus shared with his disciples were those we read this morning:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

How fitting, as we gather on this Trinity Sunday to celebrate the baptism of Ross Matthewson, that Jesus explicitly evokes the name of the Trinity in reference to baptism, and in the context of his promise of never-failing faithfulness.

Jesus instructs his disciples to baptise in the name of the Trinity. Baptism is to be the seal of his Covenant with them – his promise that their love for one another will never fail; that as long as they turn to him, they shall find him present with them; that they shall be his people, and he shall be their God. Except the promise Jesus makes goes beyond Jesus alone, for the mystery of baptism is this: that the love Jesus offers is not his love alone. The love Jesus offers is God’s, is one and the same love shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this way, baptism brings us into the very centre of the life of God. Moreover, we discover that even our love for Jesus is not ours alone, but is the Holy Spirit at work in us – that is to say, we discover God has been with us even before we knew to call upon him by name.

So by baptism we live in the assurance that our life is one with God’s life; that we have been given to share in the One Love that is the life of God. In loving confidence, we offer ourselves to be submerged by water. Love unites us to Christ’s death; and we pledge to die to everything that separates us from God. So we say that by baptism, our sins are forgiven. Let us understand, this word ‘sin’ does not mean that we are all wicked. In the same way, neither does the great blessing that God pronounces over all creation, “it is very good,” mean we are well-behaved, morally correct. Rather, this word ‘sin’ signifies all the ways in which our lives are shaped by the forces of separation – separation from one another, from our true selves, from creation – ultimately from the love and life of God. And our ‘goodness’ in turn signifies that we are beloved of God; that despite the ways in which we align ourselves with the powers of separation from one another and from God, God nevertheless will not separate himself from us. Baptism is our acknowledgement that since we cannot remain always faithful to Love ourselves, we are in desperate need for Love to be faithful to us. And so He is. However often we fall, however often we believe that God has turned his face from us; however we might cry with Naomi that “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me,” we nevertheless will find that the moment we break, the moment we are able to receive His love, He is there to receive us.

Well, all this is perhaps beginning to sound more theological than I intended. But I hope I shall be forgiven for waxing theological on Trinity Sunday! And I pray we are able to glimpse the mystery of which our baptism invites us. This life of atomization and loneliness which we live is not what is really real. Christ is with us to the end of the age – that is to say, the time when God will be ‘all in all,’ the time when we are, along with the whole of creation, returned to perfect and Holy Communion. Baptism is our promise that in Christ, the Holy Communion shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is already begun to be shared also with us, and indeed with all created things. Baptism is our ‘entry’ into the promise of that new creation.

Ross, Patience, Kristin, Brad. Our lives are held within the mystery of God’s grace; and I at least find it good to think on these mysteries; to strive to love with all my mind the infinite Love who is God for us. But in the day to day life of our families, all we need really to know is Christ’s promise: “I will be with you always.” And we need to know this, not just as a piece of information, but we need to know it in a way that shapes the life of our home. God has created the family to be an image of the life of the Trinity, the common life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For to be a family is to know that one love binds each person to each and each to all in one common life; and it is also to know that this common life at the same time gives each individual to be him or herself more completely than could otherwise be possible.

The reason why disfunction and the break-down of relationship in families is always so painful and destructive is precisely because of this intention that our families reflect the Love of the Trinity in this way. That it is also the why we must, as a family, always to turn to God’s promise of grace, as the source of the patience, long-suffering, and love without which we cannot live together.

So the image of the Trinity is deeply ingrained in our hopes and desires regarding our intimate family. But at the same time, today, baptism creates and unites us to a much larger family: the family of Christ’s Church, the family we call “the communion of Saints.” And the life of this family, united as it is in Communion beyond the limits of of blood, nation, or culture, God intends even more perfectly to reflect the life of the Trinity, the life of the One love who is God. We who are gathered here, and the whole of the communion of saints on earth and in heaven, are celebrating Ross’ baptism today. So let us pray that we may live in spirit and in truth the life of this love which binds us and frees us – the love manifest by Christ: the One love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And may we be renewed in the life of that Holy Communion every time we join together at the altar of God’s never-failing love.


Pentecost (A), 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Pentecost June 4, 2017

Acts 2:1-21


John 20:19-23


O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon thy disciples in Jerusalem: Grant that we who celebrate before thee the Feast of Pentecost may continue in thy love forever . . . Amen.

For the first three centuries after the resurrection of Jesus, the church understood the event we celebrate on this day, God’s pouring out of His Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, to be the second most important day in the Church’s year, next to Easter. The Church celebrated this feast 300 years before it began to celebrate Christmas, for example. That may surprise us. The question is why this was the case. Why is Pentecost such a profoundly important celebration? And why should we renew our efforts to celebrate it with joyful festivity?

The quick answer is because Pentecost marks the ‘birth of the church.’ So this is a kind of birthday party. But the deeper answer helps us to understand what the church is and so what her birth means. Pentecost is so profoundly important because of the intimate relationship between the events we celebrate this day and Easter – and why Pentecost marks the end of the Easter season. Remember, what Easter celebrates is not the resurrection of one person, Jesus, alone. For the Easter promise is that we shall all share in his resurrection. Easter promises not one resurrection for Jesus and another resurrection for me and another for you. The Easter promise is that there is one resurrection, of which Jesus is the ‘first fruits.’ The promise of Easter is that death does not separate us from the eternal love of God, but that all things are, as Christ, to share in the very life of God, the life of His Love, forever. This is a great and even overwhelming mystery. But it is the ground of Christian hope and Christian joy: the Easter promise that we shall live as one with God and one with one another in God’s love, just as the Father and the Son are united in and by that same Love.

Pentecost and Easter go together because on the day of Pentecost the apostles were at last given to understand this Easter promise. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit opened their hearts to know that the same power which raised Christ from the dead was working in them at that very moment. The Church was born, in other words, as the foretaste and a living witness of the one life of resurrection – the life of eternal love in which all are one in Christ as Christ is one in the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Church was born as God’s declaration, and the Apostle’s realization, that the promise of resurrection is not just for the other side of death. The Church was born as the embodiment and living witness of resurrection life – of the life we share with Christ Jesus – starting now, today, right here. Reborn through the waters of the Holy Spirit, the Church is the community which no longer lives ‘my life for me’ and ‘your life for you,’ but which is animated by the Spirit of resurrection, in which Christ is all in all.

Remember the story. The apostles are gathered behind locked doors. “Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind . . . and there appeared to them tongues as of fire . . . resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.” And then comes the most important thing of all: gathered in Jerusalem were “devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together . . . and each one heard them speaking in his own language.” In what then was the power of the Holy Spirit? Was it in the wind and fire? Was it in the ability to understand foreign speech as naturally one’s mother tongue? These things were signs that the power of God was at work in them. But that power was at work for a purpose – to unite all those disparate people, separated as they were by language, race, class, culture, sex – to unite them into the one life of Christ; that they might awaken to the power of the resurrection working in them. The Church was born as “this multitude came together,” as this once-timid and frightened and disparate group was transformed by Love to be the living witness of the resurrection of Christ in and for the world.

The Church is born wherever and whenever the power of the Holy Spirit unites the people of God, no matter what divides us, into one body, the body of Christ, and where the life of that body becomes, therefore, a living witness and a sign of Christ’s resurrection. The Church, properly speaking, is not the institution, but the living witness of the love that raised Christ from death into life. That may sound Utopian. Of course we never get it perfect. There has never been a moment, except perhaps on that day of Pentecost, where the Church embodied perfectly the love of the Holy Spirit in all its members. Many things still separate us. Different circumstances bring different sensibilities. Different perspectives bring different opinions. Different times of life bring different needs and different priorities. God leads each one by different paths and for private reasons. Yet the question the Holy Spirit challenges us with is: how do these differences contribute to the one life of the body, rather than cause division? The love that unites doesn’t always flow naturally from our hearts. Just read the book of Acts. Luke tries to smooth over some of the difficulties, but even he is clear that the Apostles needed to work hard at this business of love. To be one in Christ doesn’t always mean we need to be of one mind. But it does mean we need to be of one heart, to share the heart of Christ. Always, we need to pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to examine ourselves, and reach out to one another, especially those who may be divided from us by race or education or economics or age or opinion or theology. We cannot be who God intends us to be without them. We need them and they need us; for only together can we be the body of Christ; only together can we be the sign and living witness of the resurrection which is the Church.

At St Barnabas, we celebrate Pentecost with the messiness and joy and reminder of new life that children and youth always bring. For young people in the Church are a sign of hope and resurrection life. To live in that hope, to live together as the Body of that hope, is to learn to see our differences and all that separates us, as gifts of the Spirit. Let us listen to each other. If something is remiss, then let us help and encourage one another without blame. None of us is perfect; that is why the Holy Spirit has given us to one another – so that we may practise the love of Christ on one another. And the gift of that love poured out upon the Church is what we celebrate on this Holy Day of Pentecost.


Ascension of the Lord, 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Ascension of the Lord May 28, 2017

Acts 1:1-11

Luke 24:44-53


Today we remember the last moments of the risen Lord’s time on earth; the last words he exchanges with his disciples; his being taken home again into the eternal community of God. Next week, we shall celebrate Pentecost, the day God poured his Holy Spirit upon the disciples and in doing so delivered them at last to be the Church which Jesus had been calling them into from the beginning of his ministry. But it is in the last words of Jesus to his disciples that Jesus sets the stage for Pentecost; and so it is on those words that we ought to meditate when considering what the Church is and must be.

As Luke records the scene in The Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are in Jerusalem. With Jesus for the last time, they ask, “‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” Jesus responds, “‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons . . . but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem . . . and to the ends of the earth.’ And when he had said this, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

“Lord, will you now, at this last moment, the one crucified and risen, now that nobody can doubt your divine commission, will you now finally restore the kingdom to Israel?” There is more than one way to read this question. No doubt the disciples remain fixed to the tradition that said God would restore Israel to a position of independence and influence that it had enjoyed in its ‘golden age’ under Kings David and Solomon. But Jesus, without denying the question, changes its trajectory. He does not say, “no, this is not the time.” Neither does he roll his eyes and say, “oh you bears of little brains – haven’t you understood that my whole ministry has been to point you toward a different hope?” But he says simply, “it is not for you to know the times and seasons.” In answer to their question he says neither ‘yes,’ or ‘no’ because he wants them to understand that although God will indeed ‘restore the kingdom to Israel,’ that restoration will not mean what they expect it to mean. It will not mean returning the nation to power and influence. It will mean, rather, the birth of the Church. For wherever the Church is begin the Church, there is the Kingdom of God – not because the Church is the most powerful among the powerful, but because Christ is where the Church is, where his Spirit lives in the love of the people, where he is to be touched and tasted and seen.

Christ about to leave his disciples. This is the story of his ascension. “Do not cling to me,” he told Mary in the Easter Garden. The thing that proves so hard for us to understand, generation after generation, is that if Christ is to be Christ, and if the Church is to be the Church, Christ must be present in a different way. To cling to his bodily presence would be to fall again into equating salvation with influence and power. But if Christ becomes such a one, a leader to cling to, the leader of a faction, bestowing on his followers the satisfaction that they are on the winning side, he is no longer the Christ, whose power the world cannot recognize. For the first disciples, this meant hope in the restoration if Israel does not mean a return to ‘Golden age Jerusalem.’ For us it does not mean the restoration of Christendom: of a return to influence and power. For Christ is not present there. Christ is present in love – that love which is inspired by resurrection hope.

This whole narrative I find bewildering, exhilarating, wondrous, and humbling. Christ leaves us, he ascends to his Father in heaven, in order that we might become what he has from the start destined us to become – the Church. If he remains with us in the body, he would undo what he has come to do. If he remains with us, he, the one crucified and risen, can only accrue power and influence to himself, a kind of tyrant really – for how could we truly be free when face to face with the power of God? Our relationship to him could no longer be one of friendship, of freely-given love. Neither could our actions toward each other spring from resurrection hope, but in all things how could we not look over our shoulder? Jesus had to ascend in order that he might be present in truth: in the love and thanksgiving of all who put their trust in his love and grace.

What bewildering generosity! Was there anything in the disciples’ behaviour to lead him to expect that they would be able to succeed in this commission? Is there anything in ours? But Jesus had confidence that we would, somehow, together, become his Body on earth. He had to leave us for this to happen. His whole ministry lead up to this moment. When Jesus tells his disciples, “you shall be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth,” he meant by ‘witnesses’ that our life together shall express faith in the love we have received – and so become for all people in turn an instrument of the grace and salvation we have received from the Father in the life and death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. That is our commission. That is the Church being the Church. That is the restoration of the Kingdom.

This confidence that God has put in us is no doubt too much for us. Yet we are not alone in the task. For Jesus promises help from his Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, inspired by that Spirit, we are and become Christ’s Church in our ‘witness:’ as we make his love tangibly present in the world; as we put our entire trust in his resurrection promise; and as we are freed from bondage to the powers of the world.

And so we become the Church we have been sent to be, first of all in our worship, as we lift up our song of praise and thanksgiving in the knowledge that we do not belong to ourselves alone. We become the Church as we are shaped by the Scriptures, as we become a people of holy imagination, of prophetic vision, of resurrection hope. We are not called to combat power with power, but are called to witness the gospel of love – even when love is publically crucified. Which means we become the Church when we demonstrate a certain kind of bravery; when we are brave enough not to need to be in control of all things, brave enough not to need to measure ourselves by whatever measures ‘success’ in the world, brave enough to love what the world deems unloveable, a kind of bravery which is at once humility, the bravery of Christ on the Cross.

My friends, by his Ascension, Christ freed us to be the Church he calls us to be; witnesses and practitioners of the very love we have received from him. Today we are going to make an important decision in the life of our community. Whatever the outcome, please pray that our decision will witness Christ in our midst; that we will be motivated by a desire to praise and give thanks, by resurrection hope, by a humble bravery, above all by trust in the love that sends us out to be Christ’s body in and for the world. It is always in his name we become who we are.


Easter 4 (A), 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Easter 4 (A) May 7, 2017

Acts 2:4-47

John 10:1-10


Luke paints us a picture of the newborn Church in Jerusalem. It is a picture of a people full of enthusiasm and joy, a people embarking on a new and radical experiment in communal living. They were dedicated to spending as much time as possible together – all classes and castes – listening, studying, praying, eating, and above all, worshipping: celebrating Eucharist. They did all these things “with glad and generous hearts, praising God.” Not surprisingly, they began to attract attention. Their joyful care for one another made others begin to notice them – both positive and negative notice. And “day by day the Lord added to their number,” for the way they lived together was a witness of the promised Kingdom of God, overflowing with charity and bold confidence and that peace which passes understanding.

Now, there are plenty of indications within the Bible itself that this picture of the early Church is likely an idealized one. Many people today seem ready to dismiss it as so impossibly Utopian that it cannot be taken seriously. No doubt there was never a moment in which the growing numbers of disciples shared everything perfectly, or were always perfectly glad or perfectly brave or perfectly generous. The story of Ananias – the man who kept back some of the proceeds from the sale of a piece of property and lied to Peter about the selling price – is one glaring example. But the fact that the new Church was not perfect doesn’t mean to say that the practise of sharing their lives and their property did not lie at the foundation of the new community in Christ; or that the culture of the Church was not generally one of joy and mutual self-giving – even if no-one was always perfectly joyful or perfectly generous.

In any case, Luke’s picture of the early Church poses serious questions about our own ‘community in Christ,’ and how we live together. Comparing our Church with this picture should make us uneasy. We can’t help but see just how far we are from living up to this ideal. But because we do not like to be made to feel uneasy, the mainline Protestant churches have often taken refuge in those Biblical commentators who tell us that Luke’s portrait is impossibly idealized, for that allows us to tell ourselves, ‘well, it is an exaggeration; we must be realistic,’ and thus side-step the discomfort.

But even if Luke’s portrait is one-sided – no doubt his point is precisely to make us feel uneasy! The Scriptures constantly recall us to the distance between how we actually live and how we are called to live. And the fact that we cannot see a clear pathway from here to there, the fact that we are unable to perceive how such an ideal Christian community could be possible for us – either because we confess that we are like the young man who Jesus loved, unable to sell all we have and give to the poor – or because we tell ourselves that the economic structures of the culture in which our Church is embedded make such a model impossible – the fact that the task seems impossible is no doubt part of the point. We are meant to confess that the ideal Christian community is impossible for us. We are meant to understand that there is no direct road to get there from here. And if, nevertheless, this portrait is a true portrait of how the Church ought to live and be – the point is that we have to learn, day by day, that we will get there only and exactly to the degree that we turn to God’s grace.

So a crucial point of this tension between how we actually live together and Luke’s portrait of how we ought to live together, is to help us to learn the depth of our need of God, and to learn to rely ever more profoundly in His grace. The point is certainly not to throw up our hands in resignation. At seminary, it seemed to be a kind of refrain, that God would never ask the impossible of us. This was meant to be comforting. But all it seems to do is falsely reconcile our middle-class values with Luke’s radical vision of the Church. I do not believe we are entitled to say, “God can’t really ask us to sell all we have and give to those in need – that’s impossible!” and so work out a comfortable compromise with the ideal. That way of compromise is the mark of a deep loss of faith. For to say that God would never ask us for things we would need to rely on him to attain, is just another way of trying to release ourselves from our need for grace.

But neither is Luke’s picture of the early Church meant to outline a political agenda. It is not a template, as some have wanted to claim, for something like Christian Socialism. As soon as we begin to believe this, we fall from faith into ideology. That too is a way of saying, “we don’t need God.” It is to remove ourselves from having to rely on grace in pursuit of a kind of legalism. Luke says explicitly that the disciple’s radical commitment to sharing came from “joy and generosity of heart,” and not from obedience to law. Or if it is a result of obedience, it is to the law of love quickened by the spirit of Christ in the hearts of the believers.

So the life of faith is a life lived in tension – between what we are and what we are called to be; between striving for perfection, and knowing our perfection can only be in God; between the desire for holiness and wholeness and the knowledge that we cannot achieve these things by our own volition, but must learn day by day to place our hope for all things in God. This leaves us, finally, with the one essential question: how do we, the community of disciples that is St Barnabas, Victoria, how do we live within the tension? How do we struggle to live together in such a way that our life, if not an exact replica of the Church in Jerusalem, nevertheless is a witness in the world of the promise of God’s Kingdom in which love reigns and Christ lives in our midst?

It may not mean selling all we have. But it will certainly mean practising deep generosity; giving not from what is left over, but in the knowledge that to give is as essential to our lives as food and clothing and a roof over our heads. It may not mean spending every day together. But it will certainly mean fostering relationships of trust, of practising patience and forgiveness, always looking first for the good in one another rather than judging each other; of growing in intimacy and mutual dependence – for the plain truth is, we cannot manage alone. And then, first and foremost, our life together must begin and end where it began and ended for those first disciples – with worship: in devoting ourselves to the apostles teaching, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.

May God’s Holy Spirit guide us in the way of that perfection which we cannot achieve on our own; and may we be what we are called to become: a community of Christ’s peace, a people of Christ’s grace, and a witness, in our life together, of Christ’s resurrection life.


Easter 2, 2017 (A)

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Easter 2 April 23, 2017 (Meagan’s Last Sunday)

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31


It is the night of the morning of his resurrection. The disciples have heard Mary tell of her encounter with Christ in the garden; they have heard from Peter the news of what he and the other disciple saw in the empty tomb, “the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head . . . rolled up in a place by itself.” Nevertheless, the disciples have locked themselves in – or rather, locked the world out. This is understandable. The news of the empty tomb would have put the enemies of Jesus in a nasty mood, especially if that news came with rumours that he had been seen alive. But at the same time, for all the disciples knew, to lock out the enemies of Jesus would mean also to lock out Jesus himself. And therein lies an important part of the lesson of this story. Jesus may have been able to enter the house even through locked doors, but it proved a less simple matter to get through the doors of their hearts and minds. For the grace and joy of Christ’s resurrection is not finally in the new life granted to Jesus, but in the new life granted to his disciples. But it takes a while for them to learn this. It takes a while for them to learn that their life is no longer to be shaped by fear and locked doors, by death and by all the ways we human beings attempt to buttress our lives against death: our attention-seeking, our comparing and judging, seeking first our own fulfillment, etc. These are some of the ways we try in vain to keep death and the infinite emptiness of death at bay. But the promise Christ’s resurrection holds out for our own lives turns all these old ways and means of dealing with death into life-denying temptations. United by our love to his life of love, we have no reason to lock the doors, no reason for fear, no need vainly to try to keep death at bay. Christ Jesus has already won this battle for us.

So there are two resurrection stories John tells at the same time. There is the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And there is the story of the disciples, their struggle to live into Christ’s resurrection promise for them: to die to the old life and to be shaped instead by faith in resurrection life. There is a definite progression in this story, though the disciples never quite manage to get it perfect. On the night of his resurrection, Jesus enters the room, though the doors are locked, and greets the disciples with a word of Peace. Though danger is all around them, in his presence, they have nothing of which to be afraid. They are not free from enemies, but his resurrection frees them from having to fear them. They will never be free from suffering, but resurrection life frees them from having to fear suffering – for suffering, and even death, are no longer unto death. But the disciples are unable to understand this word of peace. At least not yet; not right away.

A week later, Jesus greets them again with the same message of Peace. In times of danger and uncertainty and expectation, a week is a long wait! When Jesus finally comes again, Thomas is with them. When Thomas ‘the doubter’ sees the wounds, he does not ‘rejoice’ as the other disciples had done. Rather, he falls on the ground exclaiming “My Lord and my God!” And in this exclamation, the disciples are made aware of something that had been on the unarticulated edge of their hearts all along: that Jesus’ resurrection meant not just that their teacher had been returned to them, but that his resurrection made present for them the very eternal life of God. Yet even then their rebirth is not complete.

Finally, we come to the story of the encounter on the beach. That Peter still hasn’t fully understood the implications of Christ’s resurrection for his own life, we hear in the poignant exchange: “Peter, do you love me? . . . Then feed my sheep.” To love Jesus, for Peter’s life to be one with Jesus’ resurrection life, to be free, is for Peter to love others exactly as he has been loved by Jesus: with a love that never insists upon its own rights, its own opinion, its own desire to be ‘first.’ In other words, with a life no longer shaped by the struggle against death and the emptiness of death, in the faith that Jesus has won that struggle for him already. For death is stronger than the self-love which begins in our anxiety over death. But Christ’s love is the eternal life of God.

Even in this last encounter with Jesus, Peter is not able fully to understand. He still feels the need to measure himself against the others. He still asks Jesus, “and what about him?” pointing to the unnamed disciple who Jesus loved. In reply, Jesus just says to Peter: “What is that to you?” Comparing yourself, worrying if life is unfair, if God is unfair, if you might have received a lesser share, is not your concern. This is death’s shadow on your life. But I have freed you from this shadow. Your concern from now must be only this: “Follow me.”

So John leaves us with a bit of a cliff-hanger. Will Peter follow? Will he, will we love Jesus with the love that transforms our lives: shaped no longer by death, but by the eternal love of the Father? Peter himself, in his letter to the churches of Asia Minor, leaves us in no doubt:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . Although you have not seen him, you love him; and . . . you rejoice with and indescribable and glorious joy!

That joy, that love, that resurrection life is ours – ours to share with Jesus, to share with Peter, to share with Thomas, to share with one another: in sickness and health; in disagreement and agreement, in complaint and enthusiasm, we are to unlock the doors; we are to love one another as Christ loved us; in joy and in grief, always to give thanks. For we have nothing of which to be afraid.

It seems appropriate somehow, a lesson in faith, that on the day we are bidden to learn to live in resurrection freedom and joy, is also a day of grief for us. As you know, it is our curate Meagan’s last Sunday with us. And I have to say, it feels like a little death. Meagan has been an unlocked heart among us – a precious and rare gift, I have to say. We give God thanks for you Meagan; thanks that God brought you amongst us. Your earnest voice and your playful spirit and your loving example have helped to transform the life of our parish family in Christ.

I want to express my personal gratitude for you as well. I am grateful for the love you have given the people of St. Barnabas; and for your support of my ministry. I am also grateful that what began twenty months or so ago as a formal mentoring relationship of rector and curate, has grown into a true friendship. So I thank you for your friendship, Meagan; and although I am sad today for myself and for the whole parish, I am also heartened by the knowledge that as you take up your new position at St Matthias we will be working toward the same goal: the life of joy and love in certain hope of our resurrection in Christ Jesus.

So we bless you, Meagan, on your way. We bless you and Rob, Amaya, and Zion in this new adventure. And we pray: ‘Heavenly Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, continue to bless Meagan as she serves your Word, your Church, your people; may her beautiful spirit transform all among whom she ministers as we have been transformed by her sincere and open heart for Jesus Christ, who is Risen and lives in this place and in the hearts of all who believe.’