St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1789

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca

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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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Sermon

September 1st Pentecost 12, 2019                      John Marsh


Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 19-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

                                                                            

Where you to attend to the flow of meal narratives involving Jesus and the Pharisees in Luke, you would be forgiven if you thought that the Pharisees were a rigid, arrogant and disingenuous group, a potentially, if not actually, hostile presence in the life of Jesus… (see Luke 7:36-50; 11:37-54; 14:1-24)


However, by continuing to issue invitations for Jesus to share meals, by warning him about Herod’s plots, they were, were they not, keeping the dialogue open… (e.g. see Luke 13:31)


Perhaps the bad press has more to do with the context in Luke’s time as opposed to Jesus’¹…


If we set aside Luke’s staging, perhaps the Pharisees were but authentic inquirers, struggling to be sure with the message of Jesus, yet no more than the disciples were or we ourselves are…


Is it possible that the reading which casts the Pharisees as ‘bad’, as stubbornly refusing, rejecting the message of Jesus, blinds us to deeper readings in which we too, in which any reader needs to wrestle with the insights, the worldview, the wisdom spoken by Jesus? ²


Are we any more prepared than the Pharisee hosts to wrestle with seeing, acting beyond the bounds of convention, social mores and cultural assumptions, especially when such are not simply the matter of our personal choices but part of a wider web of socially reinforced notions of appropriate behaviours, the ground of ‘that’s just the way it is’?


Jesus was questioning, perhaps severely so, a system of honour and shame which categorized/ castigated people, prescribed actions, reinscribing reactivity, diminishing the flexibility required of compassion and justice…


We can almost hear Jesus say, ‘let you without sin cast the first stone…’ (see John 8:7)


We do hear – so I hope and pray - Jesus’ invitation to subvert honorific systems with the words, ‘do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’


But for god’s sake (this is my invitation) do not turn this into a rule, to do so is to remove the need for a decision, the necessity of the struggle, to drain the life out of the words, to lead eventually to those endless campaigns pandering after donations, allowing life as usual while assuaging our guilt, quietly assuring us of our virtue (too sarcastic - perhaps)


Faced by our reputation, can we hear the incisive question, ‘why do you call me good?’ or for that matter, ‘why do you call bad?’


Can we imagine the replies – ‘Well, you have a title, social standing, position, wealth’ or ‘you did this, you did that’ therefore….


Do we sense the presence, subtle though it may be in our culture, of a social caste system? ³


Through the lens of the gospel narrative, do not invite the poor etc. because you wish to subvert the status quo, to contravene convention, to make a moral point - is this not but a variant of maintaining appearances? (see Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)


Is this not but reducing people to objects for use in your campaign, be it a political, a proselytizing or a fund raising endeavour?


Invite those who cannot reciprocate because you desire their companionship, you wish to share your table, to come to know them as people, to learn from them as neighbours…


Do it because of a commitment to mutual love, a commitment to practice generosity and hospitality with strangers, to forsake greed… (see Hebrews 13:1-2,5)


Do it because, perhaps, hopefully, it’s the truth of you⁴…


Do it because it’s a question of character born of walking the way of Yeshua…


And finally, shifting from those honoured to those shamed, labelled, categorized – dare the shame⁵…


Act up, act out… claim the shame, use the name intended to shame (yes there will be a cost!)  


As one group once powerfully announced, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!’


I invite claiming the shame, even if the shame is self inflicted - try not to back away, deflect, deny or fabricate a story, try not to do a Trump…


And last but not least, despite the temptation to reduce all that has been said to an imperative, the need to simply follow a command, claim instead the discerning, learning process of character formation...


After all, whether we like it or not, we’re all in process for good or ill…



 ¹ By Luke’s time (50 or so years after the death of Jesus) the Pharisees were certainly more different than the ever developing early church. Is it a surprise that difference became ever more mutually oppositional? See Amy Jill Levine, ² The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (Harper One) 2006 p.39

 When the Pharisees are described as bad, we cannot help but hear ’bad Jew’, the adjective being redundant! Oh, the impact of unexamined assumptions accepted at face value.

 ³ Admittedly, our culture, is not as obviously driven by an honour/shame dynamic, although there are such cultures in the modern world (i.e. the Middle East). It would, however, be a mistake to assume that the drive for honour or the need to avoid shame are absent. More subtly, certainly, we too, culturally speaking, value honour, avoid shame, seeking wealth, position, reputation, social standing as expressions of our ‘good’, laudable character.

⁴  When my daughter was about six, she would regularly stop and talk with street folk. Once, when out with her mother, she stopped to speak with a man in front of our neighbourhood grocery. Afterward, her mom spoke to her praising her interaction. She replied saying, “You don’t need to tell me this mom, I know this. It’s the truth of me!” It is my hope that she has not forgotten this truth.

Shaming is not directed to owning one’s mistakes. Shame is imposed on us by voices without or within. To be shamed is to suffer from the ‘blunt force trauma’ of humiliation.