St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


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


October 6th Pentecost 17, 2019                      John Marsh

Lamentations 1:1-6; Lamentations 3:19-26; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

An introduction:

In order to frame my comments properly, I must begin with a confession…

Despite appearances, despite my attraction to, my passions for mystical theology, radical theology, philosophy, deconstructionist philosophy in particular, I must come out of the closet…

There is more of an evangelical in me than most would ever suppose…


The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!". The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.                                                                                                                                                   (Luke 17:56)

Really, flying mulberry trees…

If this is not incredible enough, there is Matthew’s version…

He said to them, ‘… truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’                                                                                                                                             (Matthew 17:20)

Is this but hyperbole or is there something going on in these passages, something to be engaged seriously?

If so, what could it be?

Perhaps by way of answer, can we begin by ruling out literal interpretations as I have never seen nor heard of flying mulberry trees or hovering mountains on the move?

If this sounds too harsh, let me say that any who have heard of anyone causing mulberry trees to fly or mountains to hover and move, please contact me as I wish to purchase the rights to their story¹…

Truth to tell, you may think me to be unhinged to seriously engage these passages, so let me clarify…

I am…

To continue, wearing honesty on my sleeve, when I’m at my best I am unhinged, somewhat mad, risking a foolishness no proper person would dare²…

To say that I’m unhinged is, in the end, to agree with a question often asked of me by those incredulous or simply confused by my actions, “Are you some kind of a nut?”

To say that I’m unhinged is accept the descriptor ‘bleeding heart’ as true, at least in some sense…

To say that I’m unhinged is to say that when I’m at my best, I give way to my passions, give way to my loves, that I’m carried away by desires, doing things, having a faith I could have not asked for or imagined³.

To say that I’m unhinged is to say that I have often, quoting St Augustine, echoing Paul, ‘been made a question to myself.’

To say that I’m unhinged is to always question my life, my actions, my choices but this is - so I hope and pray – what gives my life its salt⁴,  to respond to the quest within the question, that which drives me onward, hoping to find answers to questions barely formulated, hoping to find love despite my fears, my lack of understanding…

To say that I’m unhinged is to look for that which, I must admit, will never be found – there is no grand Secret, there is no Theory of Everything, there is but the passion of the search, the journey, the passion which knows no rest until it rests in god (so says St Augustine), knows no rest until it rests in that which it cannot see coming, does not understand (so say I)…

To say that I’m unhinged is to hope and pray that I’m not alone, that I believe many are unhinged, just not enough religious people, who seem to think that there is ‘some Transcendental Super Force which communicates to us The Secret about The Meaning of our lives, or of the universe, or of good and evil, on the condition we pray and fast and have no impure thoughts.

To say that I’m unhinged is to confess to a faith that seeks to move mountains, to plant trees in oceans…

Such faith is a faith in the impossible, committed to that which we cannot see coming yet ever hope for…

Such faith is not a calcified creedal faith but one deeper, beyond/before creed, a faith in life, the awakening of a hope hoping against hope, of a love which loves despite, or perhaps, because of reality; such hope is not an institutional hope but stirs within institutions (perhaps) but is not contained by them, expressive as it is of an experience, the experience of Yeshua, albeit a mediated experience, where faith and hope is expressive of the faith and hope of Yeshua, one deeply concerned with the world, with god, in my language, with god emptied into the world…

This is a quantum shift in awareness, a turning toward what I and others call a religion beyond religion⁶, that life which embraces not ideas about god or the world but practices, not beliefs but faith: that particular way of seeing, understanding and feeling in which we experience the world as worthy of living for, fighting for and dying for⁷, that faith daring to move mountains no matter how long the journey, how endless and daunting the task…

This is the faith, the hope daring the love which dreams of things which have never been and asks why not?⁸

This is the faith summoned by a lamentation, by the blues, voiced by spirituals, embodied in protests, politically motivated freedom songs and movements, in art which challenges, stirring within those unhinged be they religious or non-religious…

This is the faith of those salty, a faith eschewing the conventions of the saltless, a faith expressing not a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of transformative power and of love and of self-discipline… (see 1Timothy 1:7)

This is a faith seeking to move mountains…

A story of mountain moving faith:

There is a story told of Clarence Jordan (the founder in 1942 of Koinonia Farm an inter-racial Xian community in Georgia and also influential in the beginning of Habitat for Humanity) of his discovery of fairly large fully integrated church in the deep south – here there were black and white, rich and poor.

He asked the old hillbilly preacher how the church got that way.

What way? The old preacher asked.

Jordan explained his surprise at finding an integrated church in the Deep South.

Well, the old preacher explained, our preacher left our small church and so I went to the deacons and said that I would be the preacher. The first Sunday I opened the book and read, ‘As many of you as has been baptized into Jesus has put on Jesus and there is no longer any Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, males or females because you is all one in Jesus’. Then I closed the book and said, If you one with Jesus you one with all kind of folks. If you ain’t, you ain’t.

Jordan asked what happened after that.

Well the deacons pulled me into the back room and told me that they didn’t want to hear that kind of preaching no more.

What did you do?

I fired them deacons, the preacher roared.

And then what happened?

Well, I preached that church down to four. Not long after that it grew and grew. And I found out that revival sometimes don’t mean bringing people in but getting people out that don’t love Jesus.

 ¹ Please, I beg that no one send me the name of the director James Cameron, citing the movie Avatar and the planet Pandora, a great movie but c’mon…

 ² By speaking of being unhinged I am not making light of mental illness, poking fun at those so troubled. Those who suffer from mental health issues deserve greater public compassion, considerably more medical and therapeutic attention, far more acceptance and care by religious bodies than they receive.  By speaking of those unhinged, I am speaking of those unhinged enough, driven mad enough by the arrogance of ‘Pure Reason, the certainties of ‘Absolute Knowledge’, neither of which have the first clue of the terrors of existence, of those attending to life close to the earth, those attending to the faith, hope and love stirring within the world, attending yet without certainty, those living by faith, hope and love.

 ³ Those perceptive will recognize that to give way to passions, loves and desires is not predictable, expressing actions not always laudatory, to put it mildly. All I can say is, that is the way it is. To bring too great a control to love, to rule passion and desire with too firm a hand, is to run the risk of extinguishing passion and desire, of making love loveless. At the risk of going too far, this is perhaps why bishops often don’t get it.

 ⁴ See Matthew 5:13.

 ⁵ John D Caputo, On Religion, (Routledge, 2001) p 20.

 ⁶ Turning towards a religion beyond religion is not to disavow religion inclusive of Christianity, it is to refuse to close it down, refusing to allow creedal formulations to calcify our hearts and souls, seeking to follow and honour the dusty memory of Yeshua, Jesus the Christ experienced as incarnating god, incarnating expressions of justice, compassion and hospitality, embodying the heresy of love, seeking a god wholly emptied into the world, one calling, luring, inviting.

 ⁷ This is also how I would describe being religious, not religious in the sense of religious people, those who go to church on Sunday morning but as the religious in all of us, as a basic structure of human experience on par with being political, creative, or artistic.

 ⁸ Remember Edward Kennedy’s moving eulogy of his brother Robert ‘Bobby’ Kennedy.