Easter Day, 2017 (A)

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Easter Day April 16, 2107

John 20:1-18

MENDING ALL THE BROKEN THINGS

Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Let me begin with a heart-felt welcome to everyone this morning. Often, we are blessed with Easter visitors, and so whatever has brought you here this morning, whether this is the fourth or fifth time you have been in Church this week, or whether this is the fourth or fifth time you have been in Church your entire life – we are glad you have come to celebrate Easter together.

Easter day, the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, is the hub around which the Christian life turns. Like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, every circumstance of our lives, our every relationship and responsibility, our every hope and every grief, every strength and every frailty, in fortune or misfortune, health or sickness, new opportunity or the tedium of just another working day – every part of our lives ought to be supported and shaped by Easter day, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God created the human race for delight – God’s delight in us, and our delight in God. God created the human race to be the voice thanksgiving for the whole of creation; to celebrate Holy Communion with God in all we do. That is our purpose and our vocation and our joy: to be co-workers with God in the work of shaping and loving and blessing. But we find ourselves far from living out this purpose. We find, rather, that we are broken in a thousand thousand different ways. And we find that we live in a world that is broken in a thousand thousand different ways. Far from living in the joy of Holy Communion, we are hurt and powerless, full of conflicting desires, disappointed, angry, ignorant, lonely, afraid. Far from delighting in God and in the life God has given us, we find that we are broken. Anxious, we struggle to prove almost against God that our lives are full and meaningful, we struggle to make ourselves the authors of our own worthiness, and in this struggle we end up breaking things. Attempting to prove to ourselves that our life is full, we consume things and use up the lives of other people, as if the purpose of everything else is to serve us. We are created for Holy Communion, but what we break is precisely communion, we break relationship, with others, with ourselves, with creation, with God

We live among the signs of our brokenness. Kim Jong-un is a terrifying sign of our brokenness. But who is free from the sin of pride, the desire to be recognized, or love of power? Attawapiskat is a sign of our brokenness. But who among us is free from every hint of prejudice? Who has never been guilty of a failure of compassion? Our overflowing prison system is a sign of our brokenness, as are our overflowing shopping malls. But who is free of the sins of frustration and anger, acquisitiveness, boredom? Our divorce rate is a sign of our brokenness. But who is has never been touched by the sin of lust or resentment, or by the bitter desire to exchange your life for another life? . . . Above all, Christ nailed on the cross is a sign of our brokenness – the sign that encompasses all of these other signs. For every sin, every one of the thousand thousand ways in which we are broken and which we break things, is, when you get right down to it, a way in which we break from God, a way in which we refuse the love of God, refuse the gift of himself in his son.

But, Hallelujah, the story does not end with this refusal. The story does not end on Good Friday, the cross or the tomb. The story does not end with all the broken things. It is this completely unexpected new beginning, this ‘Hallelujah,’ which we celebrate, in awe and amazement and joy, this beautiful morning. Christ was broken and God raised him from the dead, and so God manifested for us a reality more profound than the reality of our brokenness. He showed that love is the great mender, stronger than the powers which break us. Therefore our brokenness need not overwhelm us. Fear, frustration, boredom, anxiety, greed, despair: these things have gone away; but now they need not be what shapes our life. Easter means we are free people. We have crossed the Red Sea. Hallelujah!

Remember Mary in the garden, early on that first Easter morning. Jesus approaches her quietly and asks, “why are you weeping?” She weeps because she is broken. Broken in a thousand ways. All she has left in her to say is: ‘everything that was whole in me has been taken away.’ Jesus responds, calling her name, “Mary.” Hearing it, she recognizes him who alone has made her broken life whole: and her tears of grief turn to tears of joy. This morning for us is no different than it was for Mary so long ago. This morning Christ calls each of us by name. He offers us a new and mended life together; and calls us to respond with love to his love for us and thereby to remember who we are: a people intended for Holy Communion, consecrating the whole of creation in Thanksgiving to God.

Let me end by telling you an Easter story – the story of a person who, in the midst of horrific brokenness, chose to live by the light and power of Christ’s resurrection. Festo Kivenjere was a Ugandan Anglican priest and bishop during Idi Amin’s persecution of Christians. Festo’s friends were publically executed. On the night his archbishop was murdered, Festo himself got wind of a police ambush, and instead of driving home, drove through the night into the mountains. When the road gave out, Christian villagers helped him on foot over the border into Rwanda. From there, and wherever he went, Festo preached the gospel of love – love especially for Idi Amin, who he knew as a fellow broken child of God. When asked why, Festo often told this simple story:

One day, a little girl sat watching her mother working in the kitchen. She asked, ‘mummy, what does God do all day long?’ For a moment her mother was stumped. But then she said, ‘Darling, I’ll tell you what God does all day long. He spends his whole day mending broken things.

Jesus Christ lived, was crucified, dead and broken – and God raised him from the dead to mend all the broken things. God raised him from the dead so that now our song of thanksgiving, our Eucharist, might rise up again with one free and clear voice to God:

Hallelujah, Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed, Hallelujah!

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Good Friday, 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Good Friday April 14, 2107

It is true: our ancestors trusted you.

But then you had to make them wait.

It was cruel to make them wait so long.

Things got nasty.

You can hardly blame us for losing patience,

seeing we might take the Promise once and for all

into our own hands.

O my people.

What were you hoping for?

Look at me. Look up at me. I am still here.

Who is to say, even now, that it is too late?

When we were eighteen, when we were twenty,

what did we know then, of death,

when suffering meant only a momentary change of key

in a song already surging from our throat?

You never warned us of the danger.

Who was there, then, to hold us back?

It was you who laid the table,

you who welcomed us to the feast.

How can we be blamed for what happened next?

It was you who brought us out to stand upon the headlands,

you who bade us to gaze out over the waters of promise.

How were we then to understand

that the earth would never touch the sky;

that the further you drew us out,

the further everything would recede away?

O my people.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted;

and blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Exactly what were you expecting of us?

When you gave us youth and energy and appetite . . .

We were only taking hold

of all that you held out to us.

Did you not intend for us to take it?

In what way, then, did we disappoint you?

Because now we breathe the dust of frustration,

and it makes it difficult to speak,

it makes us tired and afraid and above all sick of hoping

for what looks more and more certain like it will never come.

You above all shouldn’t be surprised it ends like this.

Someone was always going to have to pay.

Why do you keep staring at us that way, from the place where we have nailed you?

We are not the ones to pity!

O my people. How have I wearied you?

My soul is very sorrowful – and it is time for us to weep,

to weep for your children and your children’s children.

Why don’t you show yourself, and come down from there?

O my people. What more could I have done

than I have not already done?

Come down! Come down from there!

What use has our faith been to us? Where has it brought us?

We cry out day and night. But you do not come. You bring no help.

They divide my garments among them.

They cast lots for my clothing.

I thirst!

Night comes quickly.

The ribs of the earth – is that what we hear breaking?

They jut from the ground like bone through shattered flesh;

like the gravestones of all that once had lived.

It is finished.

O Lord, where are you going?

Do not leave us.

Do not remain always so far away.

Palm Sunday, 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Palm Sunday April 9, 2017

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 27:11-54

FOR GOD IS AT WORK IN YOU: THE WITNESS OF HOLY WEEK

We often wonder how the same crowd which on one day welcomed Jesus as their King and saviour with palm branches, so soon afterwards scream ‘Crucify Him!’ But we shouldn’t wonder at this too much. We all know what it means to repeat today’s psalm in our hearts: “let them go dumbfounded to Sheol”—in other words, “make them shut up and go to hell!” We all know what it means to turn on those we love, or to be so caught up in our own certitudes, ambitions, frustration and fears that we want just to get rid of whoever is in our way. We all know, if we are honest with ourselves, what brought all those people to get caught up in the crowd screaming ‘Crucify Him!’ For ‘the people’ are not, in truth, actors of a drama that played out long ago; nor are they the non-believers, the ‘new atheists,’ the Christ-deniers. They are, rather, the people who welcome Jesus into their hearts and into their city. They are the people of God. They are us and we are them.

Because of our ambition; because we long for the role of master and refuse the role of servant, because we refuse to live by grace alone, because life seems to hold out a promise that we cannot make life deliver, in frustration we also yell, ‘Crucify Him!’ Jesus, on the cross, breaks the cycle of our violence and frustration by crying out to God – not for vengeance as the Psalmist does, but for the forgiveness of his persecutors. But more than this, he transforms even his murder into an act of unfathomable grace. And that is the real wonder. Jesus, after suffering that terrible litany of abuse – that mockery of a trial, those soldiers who so obviously enjoy the sport of humiliating him, the jeering and wagging of heads, even the derision of the robbers – he yells out, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Moments later, more terrifying still, he shudders with an inarticulate howl – the Word of God reduced to a senseless, animal howl. “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two . . . and the earth shook, and the rocks split.” All things begin to fall apart, for the one who through whom God brought the universe into being, is dead.

Jesus is torn from the Father. God torn from God. Who can fathom this mystery? Who can fathom what it means for God to suffer? Who can tolerate the idea that it is we, who can do nothing, who cause the Almighty so to suffer? We know about the tremendous destructive power of our nuclear weapons; we know about the tremendously destructive power of our industrialism, our consumer-society. But these things are only shadow-play next to the impenetrable darkness of that day.

Yet in the very silencing of the Word that is Christ’s cry of dereliction – comes the most wondrous thing of all. Though that cry expresses the abyss of death separating Christ from the Father, it also expresses God’s ultimate refusal to be separated from the very people wrecking this violence upon him. They, murdering him, hope to be rid of him forever. But he allows himself to suffer this separation from his Father, this descent into hell, precisely in order that his people might never suffer the same descent, the same separation.

This morning, for the sake of time, we read a shortened option of the full Gospel appointed for the day. The full option begins not with the trial of Jesus but a chapter earlier, with the story of the betrayal of Judas. It thus includes, along with the story of Judas, the account of the disciples falling sleep in Gethsemane, as well as Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus. And in the midst of all this, it also tells the story we commemorate on Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper and Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist. This is the most wondrous thing. The institution of the Eucharist was Christ’s new covenant with his disciples, his people. The institution of the Eucharist is Christ’s Promise that nothing, not even death, will ever separate him from them – and he makes this promise this right in the middle of the story of their betrayals, fear and duplicity. In the midst of our unfaithfulness to him, Christ makes a covenant of faithfulness with us. Not only will he not abandon us, but even our abandonment of him will not loose us from that purpose for which he has called us: to serve the world for the sake of the Gospel of grace. Christ makes even the death we visit upon him a vehicle of life and grace.

We read this whole story on this day, the first day of Holy Week, so that we can have the whole picture before us, and so prepare ourselves to take our part in what is to come. Holy Week is a time we are to grieve over all that crucifies Christ in the world, in ourselves and our families, in the Church and in our parish. Grief, if it is genuine, includes repentance. And Holy Week is a time to say ‘sorry’ – sorry that we have not lived up to the faith that Jesus himself has placed in us, sorry that we are so caught up in our certitudes and ambition, frustrations and fears, that we betray him and his love for us. Yet even as we take our place in the crowd, yelling ‘Crucify him!’ Holy week is also a time we are to wonder at the grace of God working in us, for God transforms our imperfect faith, our confusion, and even our radical refusal of his grace, into grace.

The amazing thing is this: when, during Holy Week, we simultaneously grieve and wonder, as we worship Christ at the foot of the very cross upon which we have nailed him, we become, by grace, the very people he has called and sent us out to be. We become witnesses of his grace – of a future, hope, and new humanity – which Christ holds out to us in the midst of death, our broken lives, our darkening world. God uses even our desire to remove God from our lives, as a vehicle of his never-failing presence.

This coming week, Holy Week, plunges us into the depths of the mystery of grace and the infinite faithfulness of God. God calls us all, every one of us here, to take our part in the telling of that story, recounted over Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Holy Saturday, and of course Easter, the Sunday of the Resurrection. That we turn on the one closest to us shouldn’t be all that surprising. But come and be surprised at God’s turning our hatred to love, our refusal to grace, death to resurrection life.

AMEN

Lent 4 (2), 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Lent 4 March 26, 2017

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

NOW THAT YOU SAY, ‘WE SEE’

The season of Lent is one of preparation. By fasting and prayer and almsgiving, during these forty days we are to prepare our minds and hearts to receive and conform our lives to the Easter mystery, the resurrection of Christ Jesus. In last week’s Gospel, the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, as well as in this week’s Gospel story of the healing of the man born blind, we are bidden to meditate on this theme of preparation in terms of what we might call ‘conversion.’ Conversion in both stories begins with a surprising and unasked-for encounter with Jesus and goes on to describe the often confusing journey of coming to see and understand who Jesus is: the Christ, the Son of God.

Often ‘conversion’ is depicted as sudden, an event that happens all at once. But even if God disrupts our life in a Pauline, ‘road to Damascus’ sort of way, conversion is a daily journey and thus a life-long journey. It is the life-long journey of learning to see God in Jesus (when all there is to ‘see’ is a flesh and blood human being); learning to see Christ’s presence in the sacrament (when all there is to see is a bit of bread and a drop of wine); learning to see the Body of Christ in the people and ministries of the Church (when all there is to see is a congregation of imperfect neighbours sharing our pew); learning to see Jesus in the face of every passerby (try this on Pandora Street, where we are challenged to see Jesus in the face of the drug addict whose life disturbs and frightens us); learning to see Christ in the natural world (when we have for so long been taught to see nature as a ‘resource’ without value in itself until turned into a product for human use and consumption).

Lent is all about conversion, from the ways in which the world teaches us to see, towards seeing all things by the light of Christ, seeing God-with-us wherever we turn our eyes. For seeing is not a passive activity. We do not open our eyes and see the world as it is in itself. We always ‘see’ by some light by which we interpret and understand what we see. To use a mundane example: I look out my window and I see not just strange, long, thin shapes suspended in the sky, by I see ‘telephone wires.’ But for me to see ‘telephone wires’ requires that I understand the place and purpose of those long thin things. I must already be aware of an order of the ‘world’ which makes them possible; I must already know the ‘place’ they occupy and their relationship to me and to the world as a whole.

In this way, seeing always involves a light by which we ‘interpret’ what we see and which thus gives things their ‘why’ and their ‘how,’ and their reason, so that I understand their place and meaning in the context of the world in which I live. The question that today’s Gospel puts to us is: by what light do we see? John presents two alternative ‘lights’: the light by which the Pharisees see and understand the place and purpose and meaning of what they encounter, and the light by which the man born blind comes, in the end, to see and understand.

There is not one miracle in this story, but two. The first, the one that gets everything going, is the miracle by which Jesus restores sight to the man born blind. This act of healing is important not just for its own sake, but because it sets off the whole debate about how we see Jesus, who Jesus is for us. Is he a sinner because he contravenes he letter of the Mosaic Law by healing on the Sabbath? Or do we see his healing gifts as a sign that he is sent to be God-with-us? The Pharisees interrogate the man and his parents in an attempt to prove the healing was a sham and therefore that Jesus is a sinner, an agent of darkness. But putting Jesus on trial in this way, they succeed only in bringing judgment upon themselves. Rather than proving false the blind man’s claim to have been healed and given his sight, the Pharisees prove only that they, who claim to be able to see the world as it is, are themselves the ones who are blind.

So this physical act of healing, of restoring physical sight to the blind man, is an important part of the story. But it is not of primary importance. The crucial emphasis is on the miracle of the man’s conversion. The story traces the journey whereby the man born blind is given not only to be able to see for the first time but, more importantly, he comes to see the Messiah, God-with-us, in Jesus for the first time, and so confesses “Lord, I believe.”

What has happened to that man? When he says, “Lord, I believe,” in what is he confessing belief? The man is pledging to Jesus his newly given insight that it is only in the light of Jesus that he is enabled to see the world as it truly is. His conversion is confusing and costly. It is confusing since it means abandoning his old way of seeing and sense-making, abandoning the ‘old order.’ And it is costly because the Pharisees drive him out of the synagogue, and thus also from his family and community, for they cannot understand him. But he has been given something more precious: for he now sees that the light by which the Pharisees see is darkness. The old order which he once understood gave meaning to the world he how sees to be disorder and confusion.

We live in great confusion because, living by our own ‘lights’ and thus estranged from God, we call the true light dark and the darkness of the world light. The greatest confusion of all is our insistence that we already see the world as it is – and that this is as obvious as opening our eyes! But it is only as we are ‘converted’ to the light of Christ, it is only as Christ Himself becomes for us the measure of what is possible and impossible, it is only as Christ himself becomes for us the Logos that gives to all things their ‘place’ and purpose in the world – that we begin to ‘see’ the world in reality and in truth. Then we are given to see Christ everywhere: Christ in the sacrament; Christ in our neighbour; Christ in our suffering and Christ in our rejoicing; Christ in our life and Christ in our death; Christ in the elder and Christ in the children; Christ in the trees, in the birdsong, in the mountain; Christ in the water and in the salmon; Christ even in our money and in our daily bread; Christ in the sick and the confused and the lonely; Christ in the smallest thing – even that hazelnut; Christ wherever we offer what is ‘ours’ for another, even to the measure of a grain of sand.

May this Lenten season be a time for us of converting to the light; and may we learn to see God-with-us everywhere we turn our eyes.

AMEN.

Lent 4 , 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Lent 4 March 21 (VST) & 26, 2017

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

NOW THAT YOU SAY, ‘WE SEE’

Today’s Gospel is all about sight. Seeing seems to us to be a passive activity: all we have to do is open our eyes – and we see what is there to see. I look out my window and see the neighbour’s house, the still-bare chestnut trees lining the street, a seagull passing overhead, telephone wires.

Yet the things that seem most obvious are often the most deceiving. Although it appears to us that we see just what is ‘out there’ to be seen, in actual fact to see is never just passively to receive neutral information of the world already there. To see, rather, is already to ‘place’ the things that appear to us within a ‘world’ of context and meaning. Thus, for example, looking out my window I ‘see’, not strange, long, thin, shapes suspended in the sky, but I see telephone wires. I immediately know and understand their ‘place,’ their purpose, what they are. To be able to see those thin shapes as ‘telephone wires’ is to be aware already of the ‘world’ in which they occur: what and why those things are, what is possible and impossible, their relationship both to me and to the world as a whole.

Take the seagull flying overhead. A hundred and fifty years ago, say, a farmer would have ‘seen’ the gull, not just as a random bird, but as an integrated part of the world which allowed him to ‘read’ the weather patterns of the season and the day. An ancient Greek might have seen the same bird and by its flight understood a message communicated from the gods. This was not just superstition. For the world he knew and inhabited was one in which nature itself was not ‘neutral,’ but full of divine communication and thus human-making significance. Or when St Augustine opened his window in the mornings, he saw – creation! When Augustine opened his eyes the world he saw was laden with God; he knew the world as a sacrament of God and everything he ‘saw’ received its place and meaning and possibility in that sacramental light.

So what do we see when we look out the window? What pre-conscious understanding of the world shapes how and what we see – what things are and why, what is possible and impossible, what our place and purpose is in relationship to the whole? That is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer – simply because when we open our eyes, we believe that we see the world just as it is. But, to repeat, we never do see things ‘just as they are.’ We always ‘see’ by an interpretive light by which things receive for us their place and their meaning in the world.

Jesus, of course, knew all this! And he came to teach us that he is “the light of the world.” That is to say, Jesus came to re-form how we see until we interpret all that we see by the light of his life, death, and resurrection. The healing story we read today is all about regaining the ability to see. There is not one miracle in this story, but two. The first, the one that gets everything going, is the miracle of restoring sight to the man born blind. This act of healing is important not just for its own sake, but because it sets off the whole debate about who Jesus is: whether he is a sinner because he contravenes he letter of the Mosaic Law by healing on the Sabbath, or whether his healing gifts are a sign that he is sent by God.

The Pharisees interrogate both the man and his parents in an attempt to prove the healing was a sham and therefore that Jesus is a sinner, an agent of darkness. But putting Jesus on trial in this way, the Pharisees only succeed in bringing judgment upon themselves. Trying to prove that Jesus is a sinner, they prove only that they themselves are groping in the darkness of sin. Rather than proving false the blind man’s claim to have been healed and given his sight, they prove only that they themselves, who claim to be able to see, are the ones who are blind.

So this physical act of healing, of restoring physical sight to the blind man, is an important part of the story. But it is not of primary importance. The crucial emphasis is on a healing miracle on a different level: the miracle of the man’s conversion to the light of Christ. The whole story traces a spiritual journey whereby the man born blind not only is able to see for the first time, but more importantly, he is able to see Jesus for the first time – to see that Jesus is the light by which alone we are able to see the world as it is.

Now, this conversion does not happen all at once. It comes in stages. To trace the story of how he comes at last to his full confession is the subject of a different sermon. But notice that the man does not first approach Jesus. Rather, Jesus first comes to him. He applies the poultice of mud, and only then requires a response: “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” At that moment he gives the man a choice: to obey, or to be offended and turn away. He chooses to obey. He goes; and by washing his sight is restored. There is an obvious reference to baptism here. The man’s first ‘yes’ – his first act of obedience – is to go and be baptised in the pool named ‘SENT’ – for he has been sent by Jesus to do the ‘work’ of the One who has sent Jesus precisely to restore sight to all people.

Christ came so we might learn that it is only in the light of his coming that makes it possible for us to see the world as it is. It is because of sin, our separation the light of God, that we call our darkness ‘light.’ So we live in great confusion. And the greatest confusion of all is our insistence that we already see the world as it truly is – and that this is as obvious as opening our eyes! But it is only as we are ‘converted’ to the light of Christ, it is only as Christ Himself becomes for us the measure of what is possible and impossible, it is only as Christ himself becomes for us the Logos that gives to all things their ‘place’ and purpose – that we begin to ‘see’ in reality and in truth.

The miracle of this story culminates in the man’s confession, “Lord, I believe.” With these words, the whole world is, for that man, made new. To see by the light of Christ is to discover that the ‘light’ by which he once made sense of the world is actually darkness and confusion; and what he once believed to be darkness and confusion is indeed the order of God.

By the light of Christ, we need no longer see people divided between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘unrighteous’; we no longer divide the world between ‘us’ and ‘them’; we no longer see nature as a resource for our own use, but as bread, wine, water: sacramental vessels for the self-communication of God. In other words, by the light of Christ, we no longer perceive what is beyond our ability to see – the unknown, the stranger, the future, even death – as ‘darkness’ to be eliminated at all costs; but rather we are able to see even the Cross as the place of unforeseeable, unaccountable, and immeasurable grace. Resurrection grace.

May this Lenten season be a time for us all of converting to the light.

AMEN.

Last Sunday After Epiphany (A) 2017

“by Fr. Travi O’Brian”

Last Sunday After Epiphany February 26th, 2017

Exodus 24:12-28

Matthew 17:1-9

TRANSFIGURING THE CHURCH

Some Biblical scholars believe that the story of the transfiguration is a post-resurrection story that Matthew has inserted into a pre-Easter setting. Well, we don’t have to interpret the story in this way. Nevertheless, Jesus’ transfiguration obviously foreshadows the resurrection in some way. In fact, taken together with the words of the voice in the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” we are invited to understand that Christ’s Transfiguration occurs in a sacramental context, the double context of baptism and Eucharist – that is, the ‘new Covenant’ of resurrection promise.

When we read the Bible, when we read stories about the life of Jesus, we ought not to read them as just biography. We ought to read them also as parable. Jesus’ whole life is a parable. In critical ways, the Gospel stories about Jesus are also about us, about the Church, about the body of Christ. However much Peter, James, and John learned about Jesus that day on the mountain – in learning about him they were also learning about themselves, learning in particular about their new life as the Church. That is why, when they collapse on their faces at the sound of the voice in the cloud, Jesus says them: “get up, do not be afraid.” What they have seen happen to Jesus is also to be their inheritance as the Church. Their life together is to be a transfigured life, a life in which they are given to be ‘infinitely more’ than they can plan or intend for ourselves. For the Church is to be the sacramental bearer of “the presence of the reign of God in the life of the world.”1 And so the face of the Church is to shine, as filled with the glory of God.

This calling into the transfigured life is not otherworldly. But for a long time, the Church misunderstood this, and so misunderstood its calling. The Church, at present, is just beginning to awaken from a long period of Christendom or Establishment. The presupposition of the Establishment was that what was good for the state was good for the Church, and vice versa. Church and state were seen as one household in which there was a kind of division of labour. The state took care of all this-worldly affairs, while the Church took care of all other-worldly affairs. The state gave the Church jurisdiction over “the kingdom of heaven,” while the Church gave jurisdiction to the state over the earthly, temporal kingdom. But one result of this marriage was that, over time, the Church began to emulate the state in its earthly, institutional life. The measures and standards of the Church began to be “derived, not from Christ, but from the world and from society.”2

As so the Church over time began to forget that when Christ spoke of ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ he did not primarily mean the after-life. The Church began to lose sight of its calling to be leaven, salt, a mustard seed: “a sign, witness, and foretaste” of Christ and thus of God’s kingdom on earth. Somehow, in the Establishment marriage of church and state, we forgot that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the state, and what the state counts as wisdom is foolishness to God. We forgot that the life of Eucharist was never meant simply as a window into the afterlife, but that Eucharist is to transfigure the Church into a body of disciples who, together, are “taken up in the sacrificial action of Jesus (and) sent out into the world to bear the power of the cross and resurrection.”3 We forgot that Eucharist is the sign of deep incommensurability between the humanly constructed kingdom and the kingdom of God on earth.

The Church forgot this – and began to measure its life according to measures which are intrinsically foreign to it. We began to measure success by numbers; to measure growth by budgets, and security by wealth. We began to try to manage the creativity of the Holy Spirit, to systematize the sacraments, to translate ‘ministry’ into ‘program’, to regard the Church as an ‘institution’ rather than a movement; a corporation rather than a family in God; to move from servanthood to authority; from vulnerability to mastery; from Eucharist to control; from Cross to calculation.

But, my friends, at some point, God seems to have decided that enough was enough. At some point God said, “in order that they might listen to my beloved son again, my Church must become confused about itself. My Church must fall on its face.” And so it has come to pass. We are in the midst of great confusion. Our old comrade, the state, has rejected us. The state has proven (at least to itself) that it is self-legitimizing, and no longer needs heaven to guarantee its authority. And so the state, secular society, has sent the Church a certificate of divorce. And this has caused the Church suffering and confusion, because truth be told, we had grown comfortable in the old arrangement. We knew then what we were about, our role in the household. But what if our current discomfort is the work of the Holy Spirit? What if God is recalling us to measure our work no longer by worldly measures, but to listen to His beloved Son? What if we are being called to a newly transfigured life?

The Church is confused, we are confused, because to a very great degree, we have not yet turned from the standards and measures that we learned in Establishment Christendom. And we will remain confused as long as we do not practise resurrection faith now, in this life. We will remain confused as long as we do not practice Eucharist in everything we do. As one writer put it, “The Church exists, primarily, not to make us good or to improve the world or to uphold the state (or to ensure the salvation of souls), but to witness . . . the glorious reality of God”4 and so to be a light of both judgement and hope, proof that the way of the world is not the only way, that the way of death is not the inevitable way. For we have inherited a promise, and in all that we do, in our meetings and in our governance, in our committees and in our programs, in our manner of talking and in our actions, in our decisions and in our priorities, we are called to listen first to the Christ, we are called to practice Eucharist, we are called to resurrection life here and now, we are to offer our life to God as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, free and unafraid.

My friends, we are the body of Christ. God calls us for this purpose: to live together as a sacramental “sign, witness, and foretaste” of the Kingdom of God in the world in which we live. May we receive such grace as to be transfigured in the light of this calling.

Amen.

1 Lesslie Newbegin, The Open Secret, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p.54.

2 Richard Holloway, “Anglicanism: A Church Adrift?” in The Anglican Tradition ed. R. Holloway (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1984), p.14.

3 The Open Secret, 54.

4 Richard Holloway, “Anglicanism: A Church Adrift?” p.15-16.

Epiphany 5 (A) 2017

“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”

Epiphany 5 (A) February 5, 2017

Matthew 5:14-20

YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

You are the light of the world.”

We are used to thinking of Jesus as the light – the light shining in the darkness. But in today’s Gospel, during what we have come to know as ‘the sermon on the mount,’ we heard Jesus turn to those who followed him up the mountain and say to them, “you are the light of the world.” I picture the twelve disciples in a close circle around him, the many others leaning in behind them. Jesus is addressing the disciples, but he is also speaking, as it were, over their heads, to the larger gathering. He begins, as we know, with that series of strange blessings, The Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek; blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers; blessed are those who are persecuted because they strive for right-relationship in the world – because they strive to be a sign and witness of ‘the Kingdom of heaven’ on earth.

It is to them, to this collection of misfits, that Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” You who are poor, meek, suffering – you in other words who have not received worldly blessing and who have learned, in your poverty, what it means for God to be your wealth, your security, and your hope – you are blessed. And you, the powerless and voiceless, you know what it means for God to hear you – and so are blessed. And you who are literally less than nothing in the eyes of the world, you have learned what it is to be loved, to mean everything to God – you are blessed. And you that mourn after having lost everything in this world and who thus have learned that God is everything – you are blessed. And you that are merciful, pure in heart, peace-makers, you know what it means to grieve because the world only pays lip-service to Love. While the powerful seek power and the wealthy seek wealth and the ignorant seek congratulation, you who cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?”– and so reach out for God even in your dereliction, you are blessed.

You who have left your life behind; you who have traveled up the mountain, you who have taken up your cross and who know what it means to need God to be everything – your one hope, your one help, your pearl of greatest price – you are blessed; and in that strange and difficult blessing, you are made to be the light of the world.

My brothers and sisters, why do we ‘come’ to Church? Why do we climb up the mountain to gather around Christ, to hear his word, to receive his life into our own? What does all this mean? For generation upon generation, the primary answer has been something like: “so that I may be saved; so that God will receive my soul into heaven when I die.” This answer has been a sustaining source of comfort and hope for countless faithful Christians. And I am not going to stand here and say that it is mistaken. But I am going to say that it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. We have heard, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” But the “kingdom of heaven” doesn’t primarily mean the life after this life. The “kingdom of heaven” is Christ himself. Wherever Christ is – his ‘word,’ his life – there the kingdom of heaven is, and there is the light of the world. Christ says to this tattered gathering of folk: the promise and blessing of the world come to nothing, but you to whom life has taught this lesson and who have come to hear my word and to receive my life, you are blessed, for in my word God’s word is fulfilled; and in my life is the fullness of God.

In the life of Jesus is the fullness of God. But Jesus came to give his life away. Our calling to be the Church is to be a sign, sacrament, living witness of this life, this ‘law’ of self-giving love. It is as ‘sign’ and sacrament that we are made to be, in grace, “the light of the world.” The first and always primary purpose of the Church is not then to help individuals get to heaven when they die, but to be the sacrament of Love in and for the hurting, dark, confused, ignorant, selfish, prideful, world.

It is true, as I said, that the old belief, the belief that the primary purpose of the Church is to provide the word and sacrament necessary to be received by God after death, has given comfort and strength to many. But there has been a dark side to this belief as well. For it has lead the faithful to believe it to be a duty, and even an expression of love, to coerce and ‘convert’ whole tribes and nations, to baptise them into they knew not what – to force children into schools far from their homes – for the sake of their eternal salvation. Even if in this life they do not understand why, one day (we have told ourselves), in the next life, they will understand and they will be eternally thankful . . .

Today, thankfully, we are learning to be repulsed by this error. We rightly see it as violent – ‘colonial,’ ‘patriarchal’ – far from Christ-like. Yet we continue to link ‘church’ in our minds with personal salvation and life after death. But since we are no longer comfortable with the missionary logic that seems to go hand-in-hand with this understanding of ‘church’ – to ‘save’ as many souls as possible, in our discomfort, we the ‘liberal’ Church wonders whether, after all, there are not many paths up the mountain. We begin to question the uniqueness of the light of Christ.

So it seems we are led to a denial of Christ because we have seen that the Church’s coercion of others in the name of Christ isn’t Christ-like . . . But what if the purpose of the Church is not, after all, primarily, to ‘save’ souls? What if the purpose of the Church is to be a sacrament of the Kingdom of God, the ‘law’ of the Cross and Resurrection? What if it is not power to make others like ourselves, but rather willingness to die to ourselves – blessed in the knowledge that God is everything for us – that gives Christ’s Church to be “the light of the world?”

I have a dream for St Barnabas. I dream that we become, more and more consciously, what we are: a people called out of the world for the sake of the world: a people who, in our care for one another, in the way we look always for the good in each other, in the way we welcome the stranger, in our patience and hope in the face of loss and disappointment – a people who become, in our life together, a sign and sacrament of Christ: in the darkness shining with the light of Christ in everything we do. May God’s Holy Spirit bless and inspire us to make it so.

AMEN