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

August 2nd Pentecost 9, 2020                      John Marsh

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6,16-22; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33



To be honest I was hooked right at the beginning of the story, some may say side-tracked:


Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. (Matthew 14:22)


Jesus made them…


In fact, the original text is even stronger. The verb translated ‘made’ is better translated as ‘forced’ or ‘compelled’!


Jesus didn’t ask, he didn’t invite or convince; he didn’t give them a choice, he compelled them!


Physically compelled? The text is silent. However, Jesus’ life suggests, not physical coercion but a persistent insistence.


Perhaps, within life (within god?) there is a persistence of insistence…


Perhaps the disciples needed to be so compelled; perhaps they needed the insistence of Jesus.


While Jesus remained alone on the mountain top to pray, the disciples, at Jesus’ insistence, were in a boat being battered, literally being ‘tormented’ by the waves. They were tormented as we often are, yet the truth is - this may be a hard truth - sometimes we need to be in over our heads.


Sometimes we need to be sent into the chaos of the storm, into ‘the tumult of our life's wild, restless sea.’ ¹


Sometimes we need to be compelled to open to new situations…


Sometimes we need ‘a shock’ to spur enlightenment…


Sometimes we need the struggle to spur new insights, new understandings…


Sometimes we need to be forced out of our complacency…


That it’s often a hard truth is not because the disciples – we - are without worth, without recourse or without skill. To be of ‘little faith’ is not the same as being without faith.


The disciples were well acquainted with Jesus – are we? - yet still, they sometimes needed to be nudged, pushed. Sometimes we need to be ‘compelled’ by an insistence.


As the African proverb says, “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”


And, as with any test, the dangers are real, the risks are serious.


According to story:


The pit for Joseph was real.


The enmity of Joseph’s brothers was real – Joseph really was a royal pain in the ass.


The dysfunction of Joseph’s family was real.


The risks of slavery in Egypt were real.


The dangers are real yet, perhaps, this does not mean that god, that which we name as god, is necessarily absent or without possibilities (as so many of us hope and pray!).


As Joseph said to his brothers later in the story, Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today’ (Genesis 50:20)²


Perhaps Joseph was correct…


However, while god may be at work, in our day to day existence, it is sometimes difficult to discern god or even to hope and pray…


It’s easy to fall into the ‘pit’ of habitual responses to life.


A pause: this may be particularly difficult if our habitual includes a default to fear responses, apocalyptic or catastrophic thinking…


And yet, however easy it is to fall into the pit of the habitual, wellness and faithfulness insists we remember that the lure of the habitual can become a special form of insanity namely, that of ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’  ³


Sometimes we need the shock, the experience of being compelled, the persistence of insistence.


Sometimes we need a time of crisis.


Sometimes we need those situations where the dangers are real, where there is a risk of being overcome, where there is a risk that others may be misguided possibly dangerous.


Sometimes we need the experience of ‘dangerous opportunity’ where the dangers are real but so are possibilities within that which we name as god, possibilities within the vagaries of existence, those inherent crises within life, the possibilities luring if we so open to them.


To illustrate let us consider a couple of examples…


We have lived with the impact of covid on the world, the country, and the community with all of its fears, anxieties, confusion, it’s unknowns…


To be clear, I am not saying that God, Jesus, or any other Power Being brought this health crisis, compelling us to navigate such as a test of faith but, perhaps, we may sense that which we name as god within, within the crisis, within our selves, within our responses…


From a community perspective, we have tried to respond to newly mandated ways of worshipping, gathering, respecting physical distance, new ways of sharing ourselves, our dreams, our music…


We have discovered opportunities within the crisis and made the best of them yet, we also have profound sense of what we have lost, of how important gathering, singing, meeting, working together in person is…


It may be that the storm is dissipating yet, it may also be the calm before another storm as we know not what will happen as the cold weather returns…


We have no choice but to live with unknowns, so in the meantime…


In the meantime, next week we gather in person for church and then, we will begin to reopen the building, exploring tentatively, exploring how we will live and work as community…


In the meantime, we will live with restrictions that will certainly affect how we do things, how we offer

Eucharist, how we offer music, how we offer community song, how we offer support and shalom…


Echoing the story, we may have to leave the boat in faith, take the risk of sinking, of disappearing under the waves, taking the risk of making mistakes, missteps on the water may indeed be more disconcerting but, be of faith…


This is not faith as magical flotation device, this is faith risking missteps, taking other steps, steps trying on different forms of musical expression, different rhythms of worship not necessarily as permanent but as attempts at voicing our community’s inclusive prayer and song, steps risking the creativity of conversation, steps risking misspeaking, misunderstanding, miscommunication, steps risking reconciliatory calls…


Our fear or anxiety or confusion need not sink us, our refusals to cry out may do that…


According to story, Peter’s little faith did not drown him, it taught him something… he, the one whose faith was to be, metaphorically speaking, the rock upon which the community was built, was one of little faith…


So, cry out… offer comment, offer feedback, say what works for you, what doesn’t, share ideas, insights and receive them and perhaps together we may sail until the winds cease…


Turning to our other example…


Last Christmas, I announced it would be my last Christmas with you as priest of this parish…


What was then months and months away is now but a matter of weeks…


Truth to tell, I need to offer my profound gratitude for the community’s ongoing commitment, it’s willingness to engage, more personally I need to offer my gratitude for its willingness to offer its understanding, it’s support, as we have had to deal with the fact that I am not what I was…


As honesty compels, I need to say that I have said to doctors, my wife, that I made a critical mistake in returning to work as it has drained me much more than I thought it would, bringing to the edge of collapse.


However, my wife ever perceptive, asked, “But, would you do it again?” to which I immediately said, “Yes.”


That I am stubborn and persistent is beyond doubt, but the community’s commitment allowed my stubbornness to be sustained by grace, a grace which has touched me deeply…


To continue, over the last few years, you may have noticed some shifts in liturgy, language, expression, at times alternative hymnody, alternative prayer forms. If not, we may have been too subtle…


We have explored our liturgical, theological expression not to change for the sake of change, but to inquire “What are we doing when…?”, “What do we think we are doing?”, “How do we best worship in a flexible, movable space?”, “How do we pray?”, attending to theological expression, opening to theopoetic sensibilities, taking god, god language, seriously, writing, rewriting prayers, opening ourselves, the church, to the outside world, committing, doubling down on our commitment to UAM…


We have done this but admittedly my fingerprints are all over things …


It is my hope and prayer that these sensibilities continue, my previous comments notwithstanding, yet I pray that they not become sacrosanct, solidifying into St Mary Mag’s ways of doing things, shutting down to calls…


These are uncertain times for all of us…


We do not know who the next priest will be…


On a personal note, I pray that though I retire, the priest will be agreeable to my participation after my retirement. It is my hope that after my last Sunday on October 25th, I will be here in church the next

Sunday – consider this fair warning…


I pray that what is the heart and soul of this community will be respected by those who follow yet not in a manner closing us to transformation and conversion…


I hope and pray that there is, using my language, a luring, a persistent insistence within our midst as we navigate crises…


And I wonder, is it possible that we are, each and all, being lured (compelled?) in these transitions to open to a haunting, a spectral promise, a calling but barely heard, called by a god (so some may hope and pray), called by life, by a faith, hope and love?


Is it possible that we are called to be spectral people, a community spooked by a promise, a messianic promise, spooked by a haunted hospitality in which risk is our companion, a hospitality which is a proverbial ‘pain in the ass’ (hello Joseph!), spooked by lures of justice, love and compassion, spooked by life, haunted, not by our ability to organize around shared beliefs, but by our hope, our faith that we may affect outcomes by the work of our spectral living?


Is it possible that we could be spooked by a faith, a life, more a promise than a program?


Is it possible that…


Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult
of our life's wild, restless sea,
day by day his clear voice soundeth,
saying, "Christian, follow me;"



I am seeking at/one/ment,⁶ to be ‘at one with’ those who lean into life, because for me, this is what it means to follow the way of Jesus, the way of honouring the image of god within and around me…


 ¹  From the hymn ‘Jesus Calls Us! O’er the Tumult’ #432 Common Praise, Anglican Church of Canada, 1998

²  The stories of Joseph are part of the larger Jacob/Israel narrative and are much like a novella, a novella in which god is involved with the ups and downs of our lives, working with the foibles, peculiarities, shortcomings and chaos of our existence, making a way out of seemingly no way. In fact, the patriarchal narratives speak of god drawing possibilities out of seeming impossibilities. Imagine telling a childless old man and woman that they will be the parents of a child, the beginning of a great nation.

 ³ Attributed to Albert Einstein. Of course, it may be that this statement has become cliché, allowing the work    justice to masquerade as nothing but the spinning of wheels or driving in circles (i.e. doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.)

 Verse 1 from the hymn, ‘Jesus Calls Us! O’er the Tumult’ #432 Common Praise, Anglican Church of Canada, 1998