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

Home Who We Are UAM What Is On Sermons Contact Us

Sermon

April 19th Easter 2, 2020                          John Marsh

(Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31)


Mother Teresa, in a letter to spiritual confidant, Michael van der Pete, wrote, “Jesus has a very special love for you, as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear, the tongue moves but does not speak…pray for me."


Perhaps, beneath layers of popular sanctity, something is going on, possibly the stirrings of an alternative faith, faith committed to compassion while living in darkness and silence...


~

Once, when I was the chaplain at Huron College, during chapel intercessions, a student prayed, giving thanks that god had healed his cold. As chapel ended, another student made her way to the student who had offered the thanksgiving prayer. Approaching him, she said, “How dare you give thanks to god for healing your cold… my brother has aids and we’ve prayed and prayed for healing, for his health… my brother died this past weekend… so forgive me if I say that I don’t have faith, I won’t have faith in a god that heals colds and lets my brother die. Whatever faith I have or will have, it sure as hell won’t be that!”

To my mind, one person left the chapel justified, the other did not (see Luke 18:9-14) …

Of this woman, I tell this story in memory of her (see Matthew 26:13), in memory of her brother, in celebration of perhaps another expression of faith, a faith less dominant, a faith less certain…


~

It is possible that Thomas was too much the critical thinker to easily let go of doubt, perhaps too honest to be simply swayed by an experience he did not share yet also too committed to experiences of Yeshua shared with the twelve before the crucifixion to completely reject the stories of the eleven remaining disciples; so he requests, remaining with the others, perhaps open to possibility, the surprise of the unknown…


Is it possible, that his doubt is an expression of faith, perhaps a faith requiring new eyes and new ears?


Is it possible that faith and doubt are but two sides of the same coin?


~

Expanding on a thought expressed in my Easter homily…


I don’t know what I don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know. Yet such does not bring about the end of thinking, the termination of faithful reflection. Knowledge, faithful reflective thinking does not drive off a cliff…


As Gilles Deleuze says in Difference and Repetition,


How else can one write but of those which one doesn’t know or knows badly? It is precisely here that we imagine having something to say. We write only at the frontiers of our knowledge, at the border which separates our knowledge from our ignorance and transform the one into the other.¹


In other words, the limits of our knowledge are not a cap on our understanding but life’s lure, that draw into the unknown shorelines of our knowing ignorance, the softening of the waters of doubt, the lure of life’s possibilities, impossible though they seem, life drawing forth faith, drawing us onward, responsive, so we pray, to complexity’s call…


Truth to tell, faith is embedded in doubt, all the way down…


As Fr. John McNamee says in Diary of a City Priest, “the disciple who had such difficulty believing the whole impossible story of resurrection. I know that difficulty” ²


A question birthed of doubt: Is it possible that a faith birthed of doubt would be more humane deprived as it would be of the certainty fuelling fanaticism?


~

It is sometimes said that doubt is deeply corrosive of faith yet one needs to ask, what faith are we talking about?


If faith is but ideological posturing, religious or otherwise, doubt is corrosive but thankfully so…


Doubt need not be opposed to faith, in fact doubt may be essential to faith in so far as doubt asks questions, raises critiques birthed of human experience, all experience…


Doubt raises suspicions of ideological agendas, subverts the play of partisan politics and policies, sensing possibilities of life within the experience of human hope and horror…


Doubt works within the calculus of deep desires for life - life lived fully as well as lives damaged by defining impositions and controlling practices - clearing the way for discerning, listening, perhaps responding to possibilities, sensing something, something elusive, unknowable yet perhaps stirring, unfolding…


Doubt suggests a faith within the space between theism and a/theism, between affirmation and denial, perhaps faith in god after god, faith in flesh and in enfleshed dreams ³…


Admittedly, this is a smaller faith, a weaker faith, a less certain faith (depending on adjectival preference) but a faith deeply respectful of that which we name as god, of the unknowability of god, honouring a humility which allows room, in fact, requires the tone and tenure of human experience in all of it variability.


This is a faith willing to struggle with the angels of death and life, a second faith traversing the valley of the shadow of death in hope of a second natality, a new birth with new eyes and new ears⁴…


This is a faith acknowledging but avoiding a faith that kills…


This is a faith seeking to embrace life in all of its diversity…


This is faith in the god of the stranger, the god of hospitality not the god of fear…


It is into this faith, this second faith, this human possibility, that we were baptized…


It is my hope, perhaps hoping against hope, that we come to ever more deeply know the stories, the rituals, the practices which inform our way whilst refusing to freeze, define, categorize, those elements of identity, never sacrificing human possibility or experience to any absolutizing divine or religious concept…


And perhaps, in the end, we may all claim St Thomas, doubting Thomas, as our patron saint, the patron saint of humanity fully alive.






 ¹ Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, translated by Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994)  p. xxi. Quoted in Preaching after God: Derrida, Caputo and The Language of Postmodern Homiletics by Phil Snider (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, 2012) p. 32.

 ² John McNamee, Diary of a City Priest (Sheed and Ward, 1995) p.135

 ³ I write a/theism with a slash to create a pause, an interruption. In the face of the exaggerated claims of a new militant atheism, which in its eagerness often overstates its claims, I refer to the original meaning of a/theism, ‘without god’. Consequently, I speak of necessary denials of certain understandings of god (denials of the Master God), a stance, which, while at times dismissive, allows for god after god honouring a deep agnosia, the unknowability of humility.

This faith is different than belief. It defies definition pointing to a hope, a certain hoping against hope, a way of seeing life in which possibility is alight without burning realities lived, without denying the unexpected, the unknowable or the work attendant to living.