St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1789

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca

Office hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10:30 am - 1 pm

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

June 30th Pentecost 3, 2019                      John Marsh


2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62


I’ve referred to this movie scene before, I mention it again because it is, after all, Monty Python…


The black knight stands guard at bridge charged with the task to let no one pass. King Arthur, king of the Britons, approaches demanding passage. “No man shall pass,” says the black knight. Arthur draws his sword, swings and lops off the left arm of the black knight. “Nothing but a scratch.” “What do you mean, you arm is off.” “No, its not!” the black knight shouts with defiance. Drawing his sword again, the king lops off the other arm of the black knight. “Nothing but a flesh wound!” proclaims the knight. Once again Arthur swings his weapon and cuts off a leg of the black knight. “Come on then, fight me, I’m invincible” bellows the knight. Swinging the sword once again, Arthur cuts off the remaining leg, “Alright we’ll call it a draw” says Arthur as he rides on by. The black knight screams, “Running away are we, you yellow bastard. Come back, I’ll bite your legs off”.


The humour of this sketch, from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, lies in its absurdity; its lesson lies in how close to home the sketch hits…


Are we willing to face it?


For all of Paul’s theoretical flights of fancy, he spends an equal amount of time reflecting upon how we actually live together. This is of particular interest because, generally, we pay little or no attention.


Why?


Paul lowers his gaze from ‘lofty’ matters because he knows that ‘how’ we live indicates ‘what’ we do despite our beliefs. Paul understood that there is nothing so lofty as when we attend to the work of the ‘down low’. Implicit in Paul’s theology is the understanding that how we live is our belief (this, however, is the topic of another homily).


We pay little attention to how we live, to do so would be to undercut the comfort, the solace we receive from the mythologies of our beliefs. To threaten the comfort, the security, the sense of place seemingly provided by our intellectual beliefs, is to run the risk of upsetting the apple cart, of revealing the lies we live by, of opening to the unknown of real change…


It is to threaten our intellectual commitment to transformation by demonstrating that our lives proclaim otherwise…


We love to pray for transformation, to preach the need for change, to sing of the ‘treasure’ of fulfilled hopes but to actually do it, well to quote a member of the community, “that sounds like work” …


How right they are! (Let’s pray that such honesty overflows into the depths of our identity) ...


The best way for the status quo to remain the same, to undercut the force of truth, to blunt honesty, is to foster the apparent rigors of intellectual debate and concern while obscuring that we have done little, that we do little, in the day to day reality of our lives, to put our money where our mouth is…


We may see the humour in the well worn maxim, ‘do what I say not what I do’, but have we learned its lesson?


Heaven help us if we attended to what we do - we may actually let freedom ring…¹


Heaven help us if we admitted to our wounds, avoiding the absurdity of the black knight – we may let justice flow like a river (see Amos 5:24) …


However, our resistance to change, our denial, is so fierce that we have come to accept the rigour of maintenance as normative, as life as usual. We have become so acclimatised to denial and deflection that we scarcely notice the effort necessary to maintain the illusion.


Those who point out the delusion of our illusions are projected upon, treated as agitators, radicals, dangerous, as potential enemies, those to be opposed by any and all sensible persons.


Perhaps the most destructive of responses to all who trouble our still waters is to admit to, to apologize for, to issue statements, to mount commissions and write reports…


To be clear, the problem is not the apology, the commission meetings or the reports per se but our confusion - we confuse necessary responses with sufficient actions…


In confusing necessity with sufficiency, we feel better, feeling better we assume we’ve done something; however, nothing really changes -remember Lyndon Johnson’s ‘war on poverty’, Nixon’s ‘war on drugs’,


Bush’s ‘no child left behind’ - did those campaigns really change things for the better?


To bring things closer to home, we are now more than willing to acknowledge that we live on the unceded lands of the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh nations; we perhaps feel warm and toasty because last week we celebrated National Indigenous People’s Day – imagine a whole day! Of course, Attawapiskat, to name but one location, still has deplorable housing, high unemployment, poisoned drinking water and children committing suicide because they have no hope in the future (no hope - you’re kidding me!).


Now let’s be clear, I am not saying that National Indigenous People’s Day per se is wrong or that it is an error to acknowledge whose lands we live on. In the critique of the statement, I wish to note that the mere repetition of a statement makes no substantive change and can obscure the lack of change. In my critique of National Indigenous People’s Day, I am not speaking to or for Indigenous peoples, those first nations for whom every day is an Indigenous People’s day. I am speaking to non-indigenous peoples, to dominate culture which has a history of appropriating other cultures, of ignoring the heart and soul of a culture while marketing or presenting select commodified cultural elements, while ignoring treaties, stealing land.


I am addressing dominate culture which has a history of confusing necessary with sufficient.


Paul was too intelligent and sensitive a soul to ignore the powerful reality of how we actually live together, attending to what we do and how we do it, not being distracted by what we say…


If we are committed to living in faith, hope and love perhaps we may attend to the consequences of our political failures; perhaps we will face the devastation of our cultural blindness and indifference; perhaps we will own the pain, the suffering, the prisons of our personal inheritances and actions; perhaps, despite the understandable lure of avoiding pain and suffering, we will face the truth in the hope that the truth will set us free, set us free to work; perhaps within the experience of guilt we will notice the stirring of profound religious value, that we bear responsibility for each other, the stirring of an infinite mutual responsibility, that we are our brother’s or sister’s keeper?²


Once again, let’s be clear…


I am not saying that we are all clinically delusional. I am saying that we are subject to those cultural, religious and political forces invested in maintaining the status quo, those forces which lead us to confuse transformation with rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


For those of us who follow Jesus, it’s a question of character, of how we live in such ways that others may say, “See how they love one another!”³


For followers of the way, we need to open to a ‘spirit transplant’, attending to ‘how’ we live.⁴


We need to commit to a fundamental honesty, an honesty in which we refuse the rationalizations of ‘I will follow, however let me first bury my father, let first me first say goodbye.’ Truth to tell, if you weren’t busy rationalizing, you would simply bury your father, say goodbye and follow. The reasons to delay, to sidestep life’s demand are endless.


We who follow are committed to a proclamation of who we are by how we live, to let our love, our commitment to justice be less carried by words and more by our actions. We are to embody the wisdom of St Francis of Assisi who said, “Proclaim the gospel always and if necessary, use words.”


Perhaps now we will open to the risk of hearing Paul:⁵


For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:1, 13-25



Appendix One


Let Freedom Ring by Bill Gaither (Bill Gaither is a singer/songwriter of contemporary Christian music)


Deep within the heart has always known that there is freedom
Somehow breathed into the very soul of life
The prisoner, the powerless, the slave have always known it
There's something that keeps reaching for the sky

Even life begins because a baby fights for freedom
And songs we love to sing have freedom's theme
Some have walked through fire and flood to find a place of freedom
And some faced hell itself for freedom's dream

Let freedom ring wherever minds know what it means to be in chains
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
We can be free and we can sing - let freedom ring

God built freedom into every fiber of creation
And He meant for us to all be free and whole
When my Lord bought freedom with the blood of His redemption
His cross stamped pardon on my very soul

I'll sing it out with every breath, I'll let the whole world hear it
This hallelujah anthem of the free
That iron bars and heavy chains can never hold us captive
The Son has made us free and free indeed

Let freedom ring down through the ages from a hill called Calvary
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
You can be free and you can sing let freedom ring
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
You can be free and you can sing let freedom ring
You can be free and you can sing - let freedom ring - let freedom ring

"I Have a Dream"                                                                                                                                                                      (A public speech delivered by American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.)

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatise a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a cheque. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned. Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad cheque, a cheque which has come back marked "insufficient funds". But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this cheque - a cheque that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilising drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquillity in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvellous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realise that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realise that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"



 ¹ I encourage you to compare the text of the ‘I have a Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King and the lyrics of the song ‘Let Freedom Ring’ by Bill Gaither. They use the same phrase, ‘let freedom ring’ but the specificity of language, the particulars pointed out, are vastly different. See Appendix One.

 ² Here I am citing Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan, The Violence of Othering: Hate Your Neighbor As Yourself, DRAFT for Oral Presentation, Updated May 26, 2019, who in turn is citing Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press), 1985.

 ³ This is a comment made by Tertullian (c.155 – 220 CE) taking note of what Romans would say of Christian behaviour. The 2nd century apologist, Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165) sketched Christian love this way: “We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.” Even though this statement portrays Christians in the best possible light, it nonetheless points to the presence of a unique and alternative character.

 ⁴ This term ‘spirit transplant’ is used by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg in their book, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon, to speak of what it means to live in Christ.

 ⁵ Let’s deal with obvious problems within the text: fornication, desires of the flesh, desires of the spirit may not be what they seem to be to us. Fornication is not a condemnation of sexuality, it is a reference to forms of sexual expression open to coercion, the lack of respect and dignity, and economic manipulation. Given the complexity of human sexual identity and expression, this is an area demanding work, but such lies outside our present concerns. References to flesh are not references to being embodied; it refers to a way of being embodied, a way of domination, inequality or exploitation. The desires of flesh are not necessarily sexual desires (although they can include such); they are those desires for power, wealth, victory, or domination. Those desires of the flesh tend to be destructive of being embodied. Desires of the spirit are not ‘spiritual’, something ethereal, they are those alternative ways of building and sustaining relational integrity.