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St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1789

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca

Office hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10:30 am - 1 pm

Home Who We Are UAM What Is On Sermons Contact Us

The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

Worship Times

Sunday Eucharist

10:30 am


Contemplative

Eucharist

Wednesday 7:00 pm


Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

Sermon

December 9th Advent 5, 2018     John Marsh


Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6



‘…to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death’ (Luke 1:79) the message of advent is about truth telling while waiting in the dark…


To tell the truth, advent is about a level of honesty that some may find troublesome…


But such truth telling may be – so I hope and pray - a refiner’s fire’ purifying, clarifying, our thoughts…


The ‘refiner’s fire’ is perhaps the light of god which ‘will break upon us…to guide our feet in the way of peace.’ (See Luke 1:78b; 1:79b)

  

So, with the way of peace looming, perhaps we can risk honesty…


As I’ve said before, as others have said before, the church was never the plan…


The message of Jesus concerned something else: the reign of god; the message of Jesus concerned the commonwealth of those seeking to live an alternative way – the way of justice, the way of compassion and reconciliation, the way of radical hospitality and generosity, dare I say, a way of god…


At best, the church was ‘Plan B’, which means – now let’s remember that we’re being honest – that our church, as dear as it may be, is not the expected plan; it’s not the goal we seek!1


At best, the church is a backup plan to hold open a space; it opens us to the possibility of another way which impossibly beckons, calling us to dream, to do our best to move ever closer to actualizing the fire of our dreams²…


This means that whatever we’ve done is but ‘a finger pointing at the moon’


To put it differently, the church, is one of the things we do ‘in the meantime’; it’s one of the things we do as we wait, as we work, as we pray for the coming of god’s reign…

 

In the meantime, the church, our church is meant to be provisional, to provide for the present needs of those on the journey towards god’s reign…


Whatever we’ve done is but an invitation to move, to take the next step on our journey and it’s the journey that is our home…


As the journey continues, any and all constructions may be taken down, moved about or left behind to best address changing needs…


In the meantime, the church, our church, if it is to be faithful to its origins, must always be ready to move on, to give way to the kingdom, to proclaim the ‘dangerous memory of Jesus’, to seek daring ways of embodying the passion of Jesus…


This means that we must open to, remain open to, an incessant, insistent communal renewal, what John Caputo calls, ‘auto-deconstruction’, without giving in to setting up shop and staying put…


Perhaps this ‘auto-deconstruction’ is a ‘refiner’s fire’, that ‘sacred word’ which comes to us in the wilderness – a word of judgment, a call to repentance…


This is the ‘truth telling’ for ‘those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death...’ (Luke 1:79a)


However, if we’re honest, the purification of a ‘refiner’s fire’ usually makes us uncomfortable; generally, we prefer the unconditional and uncritical acceptance of ‘Just As I Am’


Consequently, we approach the ‘refiner’s fire’ with some trepidation; we approach it with apprehension…


Yet, if truth be told, we may be right in anxiously anticipating the pain of purification…


The truth may set you free, but it may hurt as well…


So, let’s begin slowly…


We are haunted...


A people, individuals haunted by the insubstantial, by spectral memories…


A people, individuals haunted by past choices, decisions past, experiences of yesterday, experience enacted and inflicted, things done and left undone…


We are a community haunted…


A community haunted by spectral memories of our past, haunted by the spooky promise of hopes, dreams and desires…


As a community formed of two older communities, we bring together our hopes and dreams, our willingness to engage possibilities as well as that which haunts us - past assumptions, hurts and blindness, the daunting impossibility of tasks ahead, tasks calling, tasks, perhaps taunting. Sometimes we allow past experiences to overly shape present realities, sometimes we’re overwhelmed by impossible calls, fleeing or folding before them.


Which is to say that while trying our best, we have sometimes failed, been blinded, stepped out of line, avoiding work before us, work both personal and corporate…


We are a community graced with power and authority to act, individuals empowered to act but that means that we sometimes get it wrong, we sometimes make mistakes, we sometimes ‘sin’


If we wish to claim our personal authority, our authority as a faith community, we must acknowledge that we will accumulate ‘impurities’ which need to be cleansed…


And it may be, now in a time of waiting in the dark, that we can commit to that process of incessant renewal, of auto-deconstruction to see anew, to see again as if for the first time…


We may yearn to proclaim that god is ‘Immanuel’ - god with us – but sometimes the meeting with divinity is not quite what we expected…


As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in an Advent sermon, preached in 1928:


It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previous peoples trembled at the day of God…We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver…that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience…God comes into the very midst of evil and death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, cleanses and sanctifies us and comes to us with grace and love.3


No wonder Malachi says, ‘who can endure the day of his coming and who can stand when he appears? (Malachi 3:2)


Who can stand the call to repentance?


Well, risking delusion, perhaps we can - maybe…


Maybe we can endure, not because we are worthier, not because we are right or steadfastly righteous but because we are part of ‘all flesh’ who perhaps, risking response, ‘shall see the salvation of God.’ (See Luke 3:6)


As we risk response, we are the flesh of the incarnation, possibly a site of messianic becoming, perhaps recipients of a promise made to our forbearers that:


‘the dawn from high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace’ (See Luke 1:78b-79)


To tell the truth…


We are not the promise made to our forbearers; we are recipients of a promise to be guided into ways of shalom…


We are church, an expression of ‘Plan B’; an alternative community renewing itself – ‘a finger pointing at the moon’…


So perhaps we can dare to look…


‘To know god means to know what has to be done’

Emmanuel Levinas




1 The church as ‘Plan B’ is to be found in two books that I am aware of: John Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? (Baker Academic 2007) and Anne Lamott’s, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (New York: Penguin, 2005).


² ‘The fire of your dreams’ was my then, four year old son’s definition of passion.   


3 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ed. Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson (New York: Harper San Francisco 1995) pp.185-6