St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

Home Who We Are UAM What Is On Sermons Contact Us

Due to COVID-19 pandemic the church is closed until May 2020

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June 2nd Ascension Sunday, 2019                       John Marsh

(Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53)

Today, as I begin to speak, I invite you to explore an alternative landscape, what some call a theopoetics¹…

So, ‘Come and see’ - you really have nothing to lose and perhaps much to gain…


To my mind, the most revealing and perhaps honest comment contained within the ascension narratives is the question, ‘Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’ (see Acts 1:11a)

It seems we’re easily confused, and consequently misdirected about where god is (on high we say), about heaven (the highest heaven we believe), about the best way forward (take the high road we counsel) or even our often unconscious needs (to be highly praised so we hope).

We may no longer believe in the literal ascension of Jesus but it seems that we still believe in the heights: many still gaze heavenward hoping in a life beyond this one; many still yearn for a messiah to come from on high to save us and most still hope for a leader to ‘rise above’ the situation and show us the way.

Given the lure of the heights, should we be surprised that there seems to be no shortage of people offering themselves as leaders?

However, despite our confusion and, in light of our misdirection, perhaps we can dare another question, ‘Is our fascination with the heights expressive of the way of Jesus?’

It may be the way of the church, the way of our culture and the raison d’etre of our political systems but is it honest?

Is it truly faithful, deeply loving or genuinely hopeful?

Truth to tell, the point of the ascension narratives is the point of ‘the way’ - it’s not about Jesus; it’s about us living in the world with no illusions, no distractions, no saviours or scapegoats…

The point of the ascension story is that Jesus needs to leave if we’re to have a chance at transformation, any chance at seeing anything beyond him (remember it’s not those who say “Lord, Lord” who will gain the kingdom of heaven.²)

It’s as if the angelic presence says to us, “Lower your gaze and extend your vision”.

The commitment to the heights is usually unconscious and often obscured by secondary concerns. This is well illustrated by the first occasion in which I used the phrase, ‘Lower your gaze and extend your vision’.

I was the guest preacher at an Ascension Day celebration. The pulpit, from which all homilies were delivered, was exceedingly high. While I began in the pulpit, I knew that I wanted to embody or dramatize the point of the phrase. And so, as I said, ‘Lower your gaze…’ I descended from the pulpit and began to speak from the centre aisle. The effect was dramatic; as I descended their gaze lowered, as their gaze lowered their anxiety rose. Some looked away, some looked down, others returned to looking up, almost no one met my gaze. It was as if I exposed myself in the sanctuary which, in a manner of speaking, I guess I did; now on their level I was little different than themselves – it was as if, in their eyes, my authority to speak suddenly lessened.

Truth to tell, ‘God’, or that which we name as god, is neither ‘on high’ nor in a realm far away – there is no somewhere over the rainbow, there is no there there. All we have is within – god within the cosmos which is within us, creation and the world…

There is life, there is creation, there is the world as we have made it and, there is the call to live within them responsive to the deeper structures of faith, hope and love...

Birthed of the ascension is an awareness that there is more within the world than conventional definitions, more within us than defended positions or worldviews be they religious, political or economic; there is, perhaps, a whispered call, an invitation to dare a response, to risk acting on a possibility of a love with no guarantee of success…

The implicit point of the ascension narratives is an invitation to move from a religious worldview (faith in Jesus) to a faith which embraces the world regardless of worldviews…

With the withdrawal of Jesus, the ascension story suggests that there is no entity, no institution, no church, no program that will save us; within the narrative there is an implicit affirmation that the sacred and the secular are more intertwined than separate, –  one but different expressions of life…

The church, if it is honest, will reveal its own cosmic nature – it has no mystical power to make us whole; all it is has to offer is what we all have – each other, failed and flawed perhaps, but open, if we choose, to faith, hope and love…

If we are going to choose to ‘rise’ above our pretentiousness, our projections or our illusions, we must admit that we are no better than others, that we have no answers, no guaranteed way forward…

All we possess is a hoping against hope⁴…

Truth to tell, it is exceedingly difficult to rid ourselves of our illusions and our projections as is evidenced by the following story concerning two high ranking religious leaders who meet in a place of worship⁵.  When the first religious leader enters the building, she goes to the altar, bows and says, “I am nothing but dust from the earth”. The second leader enters and kneeling before the altar says, “Here I am, nothing but dust”. As the two religious leaders talk, there is a caretaker in the room quietly mopping the floors. When he is finished he too goes to the altar, kneels before it and says,” Dust I am, and to dust shall I return”. At this, one of the religious leaders turns to the other in disgust and says, “Who does he think he is, claiming he’s dust!”

Given the unacknowledged pretence within the story, why would we look up?

That the ascension narrative ends with the disappearance of one thought to be the indispensable leader⁶ points to what some may find to be an inconvenient and paradoxical truth – it’s up to us, all of us.

While it is true that we can do nothing without god, it is also true that god can do nothing without us – we’re all needed…

Within the ascension story is an invitation for us to realize that the incarnation, the existence of god is ultimately a task for us to accomplish⁷...

All we have for the task, all we really need, is an insistent whispered call of the reign of god inviting an admittedly risky exploration of the deeper structures of faith, hope and love…

 ¹ Theopoetics is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines elements of poetic analysis, process theology, narrative theology, and postmodern philosophy. It suggests that instead of trying to develop a "scientific" theory of god, as systematic theology attempts, theologians should instead try to find god through poetic articulations of their lived ("embodied") experiences. Theopoetics is incredulity about theology, the end of strong theology. The gospels are first order theopoetics – narratives, parables, striking sayings etc. Weak theology is the second order articulation of theopoetics, faithfully observing theopoetic forms, finding figurative means of expressing what is happening to us under the name of god, avoiding going higher, heeding Daedalus’ warning of flying too close to the sun.

 ² See Matthew 7:21, Luke 6:4

³  See Acts 1:10

 ⁴  If you are up for it, I recommend reading John Caputo, Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Post-Modern Pilgrim (Fortress Press) 2015

 ⁵ A story told by Jacques Derrida and recounted in the book by Peter Rollins, The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and The Discovery of Faith (Howard Books) 2015 p. 166.

 ⁶ See also the Road to Emmaus story -  Luke 24:13 -35

 ⁷ As John Caputo would perhaps say, it our task to bring the insistence of god into existence.