St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca


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

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

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Phone: 604-877-1788   E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca

Sermon

February 26th, Ash Wednesday, 2020     John Marsh



A story told before:


Marcus Borg, a well known and respected New Testament scholar and author, was the theme speaker at a conference. The conference organizers held an morning worship service which Marcus attended. After the service, which began with a confession of sin, Marcus was heard to say, “It’s 9:00 in the morning and already we’re bad!”


Historically and experientially, I am sad to say, that the church and, too a large extent, our culture is screwed up when it comes to confession, sin and guilt…


We’re either confessing constantly in a largely perfunctory manner or we’re dealing with toxic understandings of guilt, taking on guilt that is not guilt, wallowing in guilt that is not ours, ignoring, dismissing guilt altogether…


Perhaps, we need to confess our ‘sin’ regarding sin and guilt, confession and reconciliation…


With regard to the story of Marcus Borg, as to whether it was appropriate at 9:00am to confess, I make no substantive comment other than to say, surely there are other tones which could be sounded if days such as this, days of solemn observance, are to have any transformative meanings…


Perhaps paradoxically, we must sometimes back off confession…


Perhaps, at times, we should say no to confession…


Once again, a story I have told before:


Many years ago, I was the chaplain at Huron College University. A young man dropped by my office and asked if he could make his confession - yes, Anglicans have private confession. As we quite often say, ‘nobody has to, everybody can, and some people should’ - I outlined the process and after preparing, he returned ready to proceed. When it was time for me to offer absolution, I had to tell him I could not offer absolution as what he had ‘confessed’ was not sinful but the normal, dare I say healthy, psycho-sexual dynamics of a young man. I strongly encouraged him to seek out some help in sorting out his sexual identity.


To my mind, to offer absolution in this situation would be to reinforce dysfunctional understandings of guilt, of body, to underscore distorted, possibly toxic understandings of heathy, human desires, to reinforce overly personalized understandings of sin with little or no social content, no corporate, structural expressions…


As we move beyond ourselves, sometimes we must confess, own, that which personally, we may not have done…


A story of my grandfather:


My grandfather was born in Germany in 1893, coming to Canada before the First World War, arriving illiterate, dying illiterate. I remember him being adamant, perhaps to the point of vehemence, that the Holocaust did not, could not have happened. Although horrified about his denial of what I knew to be historically true, I realized he was not anti-Semitic. He was, not unlike many German’s of his generation, anti-Jewish. He did not trust, know or associate with Jewish people. He was prejudiced. Jews were other. Not Christian, not Lutheran. But he wished them no harm, he simply did not want to associate with them. Furthermore, he could not conceive that the Germany he knew, that he had left decades before, could or would produce the Nazi regime which systematically murdered 6 million Jews. And so, in his mind it did not happen because he could not conceive of it happening.


Despite understanding his difficulty, I was always deeply embarrassed that a member of my family could say such things. I was too much the historian not to know how wrong he was. I was too aware of anti-Jewish bias not to recognize how easily this bias was but a heartbeat away from anti-Semitic complicity. I am neither anti-Semitic, nor anti-Jewish; I have not committed the atrocities of the Holocaust yet I am of a culture that must own responsibility; I am of religion complicit in both anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic behaviours; I am of a family, members of whom denied the undeniable. I am one who bears not personal guilt but a social and corporate guilt, a responsibility to confess anti-Jewish feelings and anti-Semitism stirring within country and culture. I am one accountable, bearing a responsibility to confess what my grandfather could not and would not. Throughout the years I am one who has deeply and profoundly chanted the following from Anthem 1 in the BAS Good Friday liturgy:

I grafted you into the tree of my chosen people Israel, and you turned on them with persecution and mass murder. I made you joint heirs with them of my covenants, but you made them scapegoats for your guilt.


It would seem that sometimes we need to own, confess social, corporate and structural sins…


If we ignore social, corporate understandings of life, aside from woefully overlooking the passage from Isaiah, we will be blinded, desensitized to the trauma, the pain, the consequences of social sin. To reiterate, we must understand that we need not be personally responsible to be accountable for social sins. Truth to tell, we may be involved without personally doing anything…


To this end, I invite you to risk a holy lent by quiet reflection, prayer, fasting, by acts of generosity and by meditating on god stirring within creation and sacred story…


I invite you to explore confession within a social, corporate container which, so I am praying, may alter, shift, personal understandings of sin…


I invite you to explore – protestants hold on – conversations with someone beyond yourself – risk private confession…


I invite you to a personally embodied, emotionally balanced, socially responsible, corporately accountable understandings of sin to release possibilities of well being, personally, communally and corporately…