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

June 14th Pentecost 2, 2020                      John Marsh


Genesis18: 1-15; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:23


Of late, I find myself remembering, thinking about old stories…


A story of my early days as a priest:


Many years ago, some time well after midnight, the doorbell at the rectory rang, rang repeatedly. Rousing myself from sleep, I went downstairs, approached the front door and turned on the lights including the porch light. Through the curtain I could see the outline of person. Opening the door, I greeted a stranger, a very large, First Nations man, agitated, smelling faintly of alcohol.


“Are you the priest?”


“Yes, I am. Can I help you?”


“Can I come in; I really need to talk with you!”


Admittedly, I hesitated for a moment and then said, “Sure, come on in. Let’s sit in the living room.”


Sitting down, the man, appearing to be in his mid to late thirties, fidgeted, his eyes darting about.


“You seem to be concerned, upset about something. What’s going on?”


“I’m in trouble, I mean real trouble. I live on the reserve near Thamesville – a town nearby – and when I went home, when I went into the house, I heard sounds, scrapping noises, what sounded like voices. I looked around, no one was there. I mean…”, his voice dropped to whisper as leaned toward me, “no one was there. I looked out the windows, no one was outside. I ran out of the house, got to my car and drove. You’ve got to come, come back to the house with me and do an exorcism. I believe my house is possessed by the devil. Please, please come!”


In case you’re wondering, I had no intention of going in the middle of the night, with someone I did not know, to drive into the middle of nowhere to neighbouring priest’s parish, to do an exorcism because of unknown sounds.


Truthfully, I had hunch that this may be more a mental health issue than a need for an exorcism.


“What’s your name?”


“Tom”


“Tom, I’m John. You seem to be quite frightened.”


“Frightened, I’m terrified!”


“Okay, do you have some friends who live nearby, someone who you could call and stay with?”


“Yes.”


“Alright here is what I can do for you now. Call your friends on our phone. See if you can stay tonight. I will call the priest in your area tomorrow morning, tell him about your concerns and, if you give me your phone number, I will pass it on to him. Is that okay?”


“Okay.”


He called, made plans to stay with his friends and giving me his phone number, he left.

I called his parish priest the next morning, explained the situation, expressed my concerns and left the matter with him. I never heard from my midnight visitor again. I did hear that the priest blithely did the asked for exorcism.


I was concerned and remain so.


~


Truth to tell, when hospitality is referred to, it usually means more of the same, little more than honouring reciprocal obligations, little more than the invitation of those eerily like one’s own self. That we engage in such acts of hospitality isn’t saying much.


Hospitality, at least when it is more than a pious character trait, more than a moral virtue, a virtue among virtues to be cultivated, is opening to an unknown, saying ‘come’ without knowing that what may come may be trouble, a demand laid upon oneself or addressed to one’s community. Hospitality is the possibility of addressing the stranger, one other, one strange, the possibility that business as usual may be disrupted, perhaps forever changed.


To be clear, hospitality is not a commitment to suicide, to do something that everyone in hindsight will say, “I told you so”. It is simply to say that there is no way of knowing, no way of removing the risk, the possibility of trouble. Most simply, hospitality is an expression of love and compassion with no way of knowing outcomes.

Hospitality is to say “come” to the unforeseeable, to act, leaving open whether the stranger is venerable or troublesome as when Abraham sees the approach of three strangers (see Genesis 18:1-2).¹Biblically speaking, ‘hospitality cuts deeply into the fabric of the... name of god, where the invisible face of god is inscribed on the face of a stranger, as if god were looking for shelter’²


Hospitality, if it has grit, is to hope for peace while recognizing that what may come is trouble. It is to say ‘come’ to fleshy, embodied needs, issues, demands.


Two weeks ago, in the homily, I made mention of differing bodily viewpoints, that for Jesus, unlike the Greeks, bodies are fleshy with real needs, that their shortcomings, afflictions, weaknesses, burdens, possibilities, invite (demand without compulsion) response, that insistence requires existence. Which is to say, that the trouble with hospitality is that hospitality may be trouble, that the weaknesses of the flesh may intensify life, raising it to a fever pitch. Hospitality, if it retains its grit, opens us to demands, changes, struggles and conflicts we may come to regret. In other words, be careful what you pray for, you may get it!


Hospitality – the hospitality stirring in the story of Abraham and Sarah, the story informing Rublev’s icon, that which perhaps haunts ‘no belt, no money, no gold, no bags, no staff’³ – may stir us to action, to flesh and blood decisions, to conversations, arguments, indecisions, irritations, actions both good and bad, perhaps, even a few eventful…


So, what will we do or not do for that matter?


Hospitality lures, haunts, points to an unknown, the unknown demands of a mundane world inviting us to risk the infidelity⁴ of allowing the commonplace to destabilize mystification, allowing fleshy needs to disturb our days, our nights, our dreams and desires, setting us off on a long and winding road into the unknown. Truth be told, faith, in so far as it is faithful, always requires a certain infidelity!


To attend to hospitality in its grittier form is, perhaps, to give mission meat, to put flesh on the dry bones of mission!


Faith, at least in a biblical sense, is faith ‘that the name of god is the name of a deed, a mundane work of love and hospitality… tending to the quotidian world.’⁵


Perhaps we may risk heeding Meister Eckhart’s advice that we make ourselves adverbs of god, tending more to how we do things, disturbing the serenity of nouns and verbs, allowing room for other qualities, viewpoints, manners, ways and voices. As an ancient proverb says, ‘God is a rewarder of adverbs not of nouns.’ ⁶


Perhaps, with hospitality beckoning, disturbing, we may attend, not simply to what we do but how we do it.


Truth to tell, it has long been my hope, my prayer, at times my work, that church may be transformed, structured differently, corresponding more to the osmotic structure of a cell, whose membranes, boundaries are not rigid and impenetrable but semi-porous, allowing for flow in and out, without losing identity or specificity…


Of course, as was said, you need to be careful what you pray for, you may get it!


And truth be told, we may be as one’s sent like sheep among wolves which must be madness, foolishness, yet perhaps, the foolishness of an unconditional hospitality luring us…


~


Another story told of yesteryear:⁷


Some 16 years ago, I worked as the missioner of the Jubilee Cluster. As missioner, I had responsibility for coordinating the work of the ministry team, exercising oversight of administration, pastoral care, planning and visioning for the four parishes within the cluster. Once, when working at St Michael’s, Vancouver, one of the cluster parishes, I received a phone call from the Vancouver Association of Survivors of Torture (VAST), a refugee advocacy organization in Vancouver. The executive directive director, who I had met very briefly at a large gathering, was asking for help. She had an Iranian man, a convert to Christianity, who was to be deported to Iran in 5 hours. As a convert, his future was bleak if deported. She said she was desperate. She had approached other Anglican parishes, other churches asking them to offer sanctuary to Amir, in hope of buying time to work with Immigration, hopefully the Minister, in reviewing his case. They had declined.


Over the years I had been approached many times about offering sanctuary and each time I said no for a variety of reasons. This time, for reasons I still do not really understand – it may have been the spirit stirring, the witness of the executive director as she was quite the character, it may have been practical matters as St Michael’s had an enormous amount of unused space which made sanctuary viable – I said yes, bring him over.


I immediately began to create a check list, an ever expanding to do list, a list which would extend into years to come. Phone calls were made to wardens, the Bishop, the Executive Archdeacon, the parish deacon and the rest of the ministry team and my spouse. Short term needs were attended to - a cot, blankets, some food, a light, a radio.


Any thought that this decision would be greeted with congratulations was shattered the next morning. A parishioner, hearing of the decision, was livid and as I parked the car, practically climbed through the open driver’s side window, yelling, screaming, that I was destroying the church, that I must be nuts and, by the way, what authority did I think had, who did I think I was? All I could say was to ask if I could finish parking before being yelled at.


With Amir’s presence in the church, many conversations began with council, parishioners, other’s in the diocese. Educational events about the situation in Iran, the nature and history of sanctuary, financial implications and plans, the offering of emotional support, were held within the parish and the wider church.


Thus, began the development of an ever-widening web of people, churches and organizations each contributing what they could.


Amir settled into what was the side chapel, turning it into a reasonably comfortable studio apartment. For over four years, people worked and strategized, speaking endless times with ministry officials, national church representatives, doing countless interviews with newspapers, radio, and TV.


Eventually, Amir was given permission to remain in Canada and I believe that he is now a Canadian citizen. I say I believe that he is a citizen because I’ve lost touch with Amir. With the freedom to leave the church building, to begin to build a new life, our relationship shifted and changed as it should.


The one thing I’m not now nor was I ever clear on, was put to me in a question asked by an immigration official,


‘How sincere is Amir’s religious conversion? Is it simply a matter of convenience?’ I responded, ‘I don’t know his heart but if it is a matter of convenience, his conversion, in the event of his deportation to Iran, is hardly helpful to him.’ The official then asked, ‘Can he recite the Nicene Creed from memory?’ I replied, ‘If reciting the creed from memory is a sign of faithfulness then many within my parish would not be faithful.’ The official laughed.


Is Amir a faithful Christian? Perhaps…


Were we conned? Perhaps…


What I do know is this, he is now legally resident in this country, able to live, love in a freer way than before.


Personally, it’s enough…




¹ Admittedly, the text ‘cooks the books’ by identifying the strangers with god.

 ² John Caputo, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (Indiana University Press, 2013) p.39

 ³See Luke 9:3.

 ⁴ Indelity is from the Latin meaning the opposite of faith. Obviously, or perhaps not, by infidelity I referring to the opposite of creedal faith, those ‘beliefs’ which so often insinuate themselves, supplanting life and mundane needs.

 ⁵John Caputo, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (Indiana University Press, 2013) p.262

 ⁶Quoted in the Oxford English dictionary entry for ‘adverb’.

 ⁷Why? I’m an old guy and this is what old guys do – tell old stories…