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 27th Pentecost 20, 2019                      John Marsh

Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

The earth is a place of remarkable beauty, diversity and fecundity…

Its web of life is an interdependent whole – all is connected, and all is affected…

And so, for us, as hopefully ones with awareness, our choices matter (and no, we are not the only ones with awareness) …

What we do – matters!

How we do it – matters!

And consequently, our self-awareness – matters!

How we see ourselves, how we see our relationships one to another, how we value others, how we see our gifts and whatever resources we have – matters!

And so we must ask:

Do our choices extend beyond ourselves?

Do we understand that interdependence entails mutual responsibility and accountability?

Do we understand that mutual responsibility and accountability requires those actions which allow, support and sustain the flourishing of the other as well as ourselves?

Do we understand that the flourishing of life requires a generosity of spirit, an openness of heart and willingness to commit and to work?

Do we understand that our generosity, our openness and our work requires enough honest awareness to recognize when we have fallen short and enough flexibility, enough heart (cour/age) to attend to how we act, which means discerning, readjusting and then acting time after time after time?

Do we understand that we are in this together?

Do we understand that we live not in a world best viewed as a mechanistic matrix but as an interdependent living system of which we are but part of a whole?

Do we understand that we need to live and breathe from within this sensibility?

Do we understand that all of these questions describe aspects of stewardship?

Do we understand that stewardship is not primarily a religious concept but rather a life concept – a question of how we live together, of how we use resources both natural and personal?

Do we understand that, as with all life concepts, we are forever involved and forever learning?

So as persons of hopefully some faith, let’s open to learning and, perhaps, discover the holy in life…

Two persons went up to the temple to pray… (See Luke 18:10a)

I hope that the one was later able to build on their obvious strengths (fasting, commitment, and generosity) in order to see beyond the expected characteristics of labels (tax collectors etc.) …

I hope that the other was truly able to embrace being at one with god and thereby able to raise their head and hold it up in order to better see the possibilities of life…

I hope that the one could assist the other in the learning because, as the prophet Joel has god say,

“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh… “(See Joel 2:28a)

On all flesh!

The utter shock of this radical democracy of spirit destabilises the presumptuousness of all privilege…

It is my hope, my prayer, in fact, it is the focus of my work, that such shock may crack open new awareness, new hearts, new minds and new actions, in order that in the end, whatever the end is, we may say/pray:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith… I was rescued from the lion’s mouth(See 2 Timothy 4:7,17b)


Is it possible, for us to see, or at least sense, the emergence of new beginnings within endings and live and work accordingly?

If so, if we are opening to learning, then maybe, maybe we can pledge our troth¹…

Maybe we can pledge our troth to the earth…

Maybe we can pledge our troth to honouring an awareness of inter-dependence and mutual responsibility…

Maybe we can pledge our troth to acknowledging that what we do and how we do it – matters…

Maybe we can pledge our troth to those actions which allow, support and sustain flourishing…

Maybe we can pledge our troth to those habits of the heart which honour and serve life – generosity, openness and willingness to discern and decide…

Maybe we can pledge our troth to begin again, to re-think, to re-envision when necessary…

Maybe we can pledge our troth to commit our resources (yes, that’s our time, our gifts and our money) to the service of life…


One final thought, albeit a personal one:

Earlier in the homily a question was asked:

‘Do we understand that our generosity, our openness and our work requires enough honest awareness to recognize when we have fallen short and enough flexibility, enough heart (cour/age) to attend to how we act, which means discerning, readjusting and then acting time after time after time?’

Years ago, when I was working in a parish in Southern Ontario, I could sense the possibilities within the community. I could see, in broad strokes, what it may look like to more fully embody god’s reign within that community. And so, I began to work. I preached, I taught, I organized, I met with groups and individuals, I invited new forms and expressions of leadership. And I may say, the work began to get traction, movement was occurring, people began to get excited, growth occurred. The energy was palpable.

At some point within the work, my then wife said, perhaps prophetically, “John you are working hard but you do know you can’t do it by yourself.” In reply, I said, “I can’t, watch me!” In hindsight, my hubris is obvious and so, perhaps inevitably, push back occurred. Without getting bogged down in details, elements within the community pushed back, pulled back, I do believe, from a communal breakthrough.²

This began a multi year personal reassessment. I moved, beginning a journey of discovery, or perhaps rediscovery, learning, all of which has led to my work over the past two decades and my place here with you. There were lessons, necessary lessons to be learned within the experience of loss and push back, not the least of which was a growing respect for the complexity of life, a respect for unknown, unexpected possibilities emerging; life is beyond control, beyond knowing.

Truth to tell, I am perhaps hard wired to be persistent, at times insistent (hear stubborn) yet, nevertheless, I have hopes, dreams; I have made decisions rooted within hopes and dreams.³ Over the years I have seen possibilities of life beckoning. I have sensed the reign of god pressing in, I have seen ways forward within the pragmatic ebb and flow of our living. And so, once again I have worked – worked with possibilities within communal lives, within endings, within beginnings. I have taught, organized, working for new communal expressions, new life arising from within traditions and context.  

Of late, I have been dealing with my stroke, as has the parish and, as we all know, I am not what I once was; I am hampered, disabled and my time is short, I’m on my way out the door, the writing is on the wall.

And yet, while I am but hanging on, I still have hope. I have hope in life, in the world and, as mad as this may sound, I have hope in this community; I have hope for individuals here; I have hope, sometimes hoping against hope, that something may be stirring here, something we did not see coming, something reminding us of generosity, something inspiring creativity, something inviting a radical hospitality, something we traditionally name as god. I hope that in some way I will be involved but in what way – I, we, don’t know. Nevertheless, I hope that I, we, may learn to live faithfully with what is unknowable.

And to this hope, these hopes, I pledge my troth!

 ¹ Troth is a person's solemn declaration that he or she will do or not do something. I use this ancient word because its lack of familiar usage may cause us to pause long enough to realize what we have committed ourselves to.

 ² The direction of the push back was a surprising personal attack which, while altogether unfounded, was particularly aggressive and that, coupled with the silence of the communal leadership, resulted in a parochial turning back, a refusal of an invitation. Of course, to refuse an invitation once does not preclude other invitations nor does breakthrough negate the need for ongoing breakthroughs. The community in question, while it once pushed back, is still gathering. I still have hope.

 ³ Of course, the problem with being hard wired is that it removes the necessity of decision and, truth to tell, I have not followed an inexorable path; I have made decisions.