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 23rd Pentecost 12, 2020                      John Marsh


Exodis 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew16:13-20


A prelude


In the summer of 1977, I was working at Huron Church Camp as the head of maintenance – that was an exercise in humour. One of our larger projects that summer was the building of large gabion baskets to protect the bank and to maintain the beach. Hours were spent in placing these cages, filling them with large stones and closing them with wire. Tons of stone were thrown by hand into each basket. Toward the end of the job an accident happened. Just as I paused and momentarily rested my hand on top of a nearly filled basket, another tossed in a large stone which landed squarely on my thumb. The pain, which lasted far longer than I could imagine, was intense.


The experience taught me a few of things:

- one should savour sudden creativity with language…

- never underestimate the significance of pain…

- be very, careful around ‘hard things’ – stones, concepts or people…

The question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16:15) is a question which, in its answer, may introduce us to hard people, hardened concepts, people, concepts perhaps inflicting pain, pain at times eliciting a creativity with language – thanks be to god…


Truth to tell, we have been haunted by this question for centuries...


We know the biblically based, orthodox answer…


"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16b)


Or, as we sometimes say it, ‘You are Christ – the anointed one’¹…


But we need to be honest²…


Jesus Christ is not always heard in a manner liberating, Jesus Christ hardening into a confessional title, a confessional litmus test of acceptability, whether you will be included, with little or nothing of the fleshy insistence of Yeshua stirring within…


Remember, Peter got the title correct but later, according to narrative, demonstrated a woeful ignorance of the work, the implications of the work, stirring within the realm of god, Peter, that rock becoming a hard place … (see next week’s gospel)


In so far as we remain with the title, stuck within confessional configurations, certain absolutes form, a certain fleshiness disappears, obscuring the dusty presence of one from Nazareth…


As Catherine Keller writes in a contemporary parable:


A man died. The people who knew him gathered to share memories. Finally, a portrait was commissioned. But as generations passed the painting did not seem fine enough. The heirs of the portrait, who had become wealthy, created a new golden frame, immense, carved with motifs from the portrait and encrusted with jewels. People began to feel that the old portrait of that dark fellow with the haunting eyes pulled the effect down. As it began to peel from age, they extended the frame inward. One day the frame covered the entire canvas.³


Playing with the parable, I have a hunch that perhaps we need to remove the frame, peeling back layers of dust, dirt, and debris, to sense, to glimpse, the life within the portrait, to engage those ‘haunting eyes’, to re-discover the mystery driving the parable. Perhaps we may sense those ‘haunting eyes’ of Yeshua ben Yosef…


Perhaps we should pause, pause to remember those haunting eyes, pause leaving space to breathe…


You are Jesus, Yeshua – teacher – prophet – healer – mystic…


Perhaps we need to allow for Jesus the Christ, one Yeshua ben Yosef, to breathe within us, allowing space for spirit – perhaps the breath of god - to remind us of the ‘fleshy’ life of Jesus and the sacred grounding of our own fleshiness.


Is it possible we need to remember the fleshy Jesus who lived and breathed, Yeshua, who taught, healed and prayed, who suffered with courage but not without fear, who lived faithfully unto death and, enigmatically, was later discerned as alive beyond the realm of death?


Perhaps we need to remember the embodied one who was open to the profundity and mystery of god, that dusty itinerant rabbi – the Human One - whose ‘haunting eyes’, whose visage speaks, asking, ‘Who do you say that I am?’


Maybe we need the force of the question to remember the dynamism of the early follower’s discerning of identity – theirs and Jesus’.


And maybe, so remembering, we will discern a movement of spirit within – within our hearts, our community, the world – perhaps discerning spirit birthing new identity’s.


Perhaps, under spirit’s direction, we can look at Jesus ‘slant’,⁴ coming to see Jesus the Christ as an icon, a parable, a mystery - as all of us are a mystery, even to ourselves – the mystery inviting an interaction, a conversation, a journey⁵…


This is not to obscure ’the truth’ but to reveal false certainties concerning truth, concerning Jesus the Christ…


This invitation is to allow the mystery of Yeshua to lure us, to allow those haunting eyes to disturb...


The invitation is to sidestep, as best we can, that hardening of faith (theological sclerosis) and that dissipation of energy (spiritual entropy) which gives rise to rigidity, reactivity, separation, abuse and collusions with dominant power.


Maybe, with fleshy hearts and embodied minds, perhaps with troubled minds⁶, we may be transformed, enabled to discern ‘truth processes’ embedded in the question ‘Who do you say that I am?’


Perhaps we may be blessed by truth unfolding within sacred questions, blessed to act in alternative ways within the world, within creation…


Perhaps we may enact, embody, the faith and cunning of Shiphrah and Puah, the mother and sister of Moses, embody the courage of Pharaoh’s daughter, to act differently in our own neighbourhood and community…


Perhaps…


So, as Jesus asks


‘Who do you say that I am?’


¹ Christ – Christos, meaning anointed – is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word ‘mashiach’ (in English messiah) similarly meaning anointed.

 ² Let’s be clear, honesty is often the forgotten virtue of the church. Honesty is always more than the endless repetition of long cherished beliefs or that which we hold, either personally or culturally, to be ‘factual’. It is astounding the dishonesty which we hold to be beyond doubt. Honesty is that process of probing discernment which explores the edges of our history and the depths of our souls – maybe we should take seriously Paul’s letter to the Romans, I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,* by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual* worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what the will of God is — what is good and acceptable and perfect.’* (12:1-2)*

 ³ Catherine Keller, On the Mystery Fortress Press p. 133

 ⁴ This is a reference to the Emily Dickinson poem, Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant.

 ⁵ The icon resists idolatry only with the iconoclast, the parable within paradox, the mystery within the knowing unknown.

 A distant echoing of the healing possibilities of the pool of Bethesda see John 5:2-9.