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

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Sermon

June 21st Pentecost 3, 2020                     John Marsh


Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39



You will have perhaps already noticed that the readings are those for Pentecost 3 not those suggested National Indigenous Sunday and you may ask yourself why? To my mind, the suggested readings for National Indigenous Sunday are seriously hampered by their generic nature, allowing, perhaps encouraging, generic homiletic reflections, reflections neither attending to justice calls astir within Christians traditions, nor avoiding a certain reductionism of the complexity of First Nations cultures, reducing both to superficialities. In so doing, if I am not going too far, both are at risk of being reduced to hollow shells, perhaps pieces fit only for static displays in anthropology museums. Within what I am about to say – so I hope and pray – spirit stirs, calling us, each and all, to take up our cross, calling one to cease wielding it as a symbol of triumph seeing it more as a discipleship call of another way, calling the other, hearing a call to shoulder dignity, continuing to stand, stand up embracing the fulness of a long denied humanity¹…


~


Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;  

whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,  

whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 10:37-38


This sounds serious, seriously insane, or perhaps, seriously faithful…


Either way, I think that we should hold on because I suspect we’re in for an adventure.


Take up the cross and follow me.


Interpreted from a perspective where individuals are paramount, ‘take up the cross’ often means to personally persevere with the trials and tribulations of life – to endure (it’s the cross you must bear).

Such patient endurance may or may not be a good thing, but it can hardly be what Jesus was talking about.


Using Pauline language, to patiently endure does not get you killed by the powers and principalities² – it gets you sentimentalized (she never complained), romanticized (you’re so brave), or culturally canonized (he always paid attention to others, never to himself).


You’re lauded not executed³. Jesus was executed!


So, there must be more going on within the expression, ‘take up the cross and follow me’.

It is said that the powers and principalities can endure an incompetent life – personal or communal incompetence not threatening the system; but, if you challenge the system, if you threaten it, if you confront it, revealing its intolerant (violent) face, it will get rid of you by whatever means necessary – mockery, subversion, harassment, imprisonment, exile or if necessary, death.  


This is as true of government (even democratic expressions) as it is of other corporate or social institutions.


And the powers took care of Jesus - he was executed. ⁴


Jesus - what he taught about god, what he taught about the reign of god and the practices (the ‘how’s’) of citizenship within that reign - was a threat.


In the commonwealth of god, coercion, vengeance, revenge, manipulation and the seductive draw of violence do not have a place; we are not to do these things because they do not give witness to god’s desires for creation which is not to say that we have never exercised violence in the name of god.


Eschatologically seen, the world as it is, is coming to an end - The kingdom of god is near! (At least, so goes our prayer birthed of hoping against hope). The cross and the call to shoulder the cross is a call to a struggle, a very real struggle with the powers and principalities who lean into resistance of god’s reign.


We are called to witness with our lives - how we see, how we live, how we act and how we speak is to give testimony to the good news of ‘god in Christ’ (a favourite Pauline expression) - to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (see Isaiah 61; Luke 4). ⁵


We are called to follow and within our following to embody, proclaim, one who challenges the powers and principalities; we are called to embrace, using New Testament phraseology, the lordship of Jesus by living the practices of the way – compassion, hospitality, right relations, reconciliation, and shalom – which are determinative - so we hope and pray - for the church.


In the difference between our hopes and prayers and lived experience lies the distinction between ‘little’ church (the church of structures, positions, wealth, power and authority and little else) and the ‘big’ church (large on compassion, hospitality, justice making, risk taking, openness and self emptying).⁶


As church (big church if needs to be said), we are to witness, embody god in Christ. We are called, stirred by a voiceless call, to reveal the actual face of systems; as church, in matters great and small, we are to reveal that the powers and principalities are often not what they say they are, that often they are wolves in sheep’s clothing (this of course means that the Church - little church - is sometimes a wolf in sheep’s clothing).


So, let’s be clear, there’s a struggle going on and individually, we will tend to be lost, submerged, distracted in that struggle no matter how ‘heroic’ we think we are.


However, as a people, as ones gathered, gathering in a diversity of ways, we are called to witness that the shalom of god is possible – we share it (or at least we commit to its practice).


As church, as ones gathered, gathering in a diversity of ways, we are invited to witness, embody that the generosity of god is possible – we endeavour to share it in the use our resources, in how we break bread together.


As a people, as ones gathered, gathering in a diversity of ways, we are called to witness that new life and transformation are possible because we practice the reconciliation made known in Christ.


As church, as ones gathered, gathering in a diversity of ways, we are invited to witness to life’s giftedness within the height, breadth, and depth of that which we name as church, stirred, haunted by alternative visions of hope and love.


As church, we witness that the world as we know may not be determinative, another reality may be beginning, stirring – perhaps ‘god’s in the house’.


Yet, is not an objection looming?


Surely this cannot mean that family must be sacrificed, that that which we name as god requires that father turn against son and mother against daughter? Isn’t family the bedrock of society? Isn’t family the foundation of everything? Isn’t family the building blocks for god’s plan? Aren’t family values Jesus’ values?


Perhaps not…

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;                                                                 whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;


Perhaps our worth is grounded elsewhere…


Perhaps our worth is grounded not in the triumph of the self, not in the determinative demands of nation, class, economic status or family ties but in living responsively, respectfully to that which is within, beneath, before, beyond all – the elusive call of god, that hope stirring within the name, the voiceless voice of god. ⁷


Perhaps our worth is living the truth that our god, whatever is stirring within the name of god⁸, that invitations of faith, hope, and love, are to be more determinative than family, gender, nationality, orientation, or doctrinaire allegiance to Church.


Perhaps our worth is found within living a vision, an understanding that being ‘in Christ’, to use one of


Paul’s favourite terms, is to undergird how we live and understand family, gender, nationality, orientation, class, or economic status.


As Paul said, ‘in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female’ (See Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11)


It’s not that we cannot or should not love family, it’s that our love for family is lured by an alternative calling, perhaps our being ‘in Christ’, in our shouldering of the cross in resistance to the work of violence and false divisions.


As disciples, we are invited to live gender from the vision of the kingdom – now there’s a challenge to patriarchal systems.


In Christ, there is no male or female.


As disciples, we are invited to live nationality following the way of the Christ.


In Christ, there is no Jew or Greek.


As disciples, we are invited to live orientation following the life of the Christ – now there’s a radical response to embodiment.


In Christ, there is no straight or gay.


As disciples, we are invited to live class from the upside-down vision of the kingdom where the first are last and the last first – now there’s a truth which exposes the lies of all domination systems.


In Christ, there is no rich or poor.


All of which is to say that the divisions, the delineations, and the value judgements of the world are not to be determinative among us if we live ‘in Christ’.


This is not say that there are no differences; it is to say that those differences are to be seen ‘in Christ’.


This is not to say that there are no missteps, misperceptions, mistakes, or outright failures but that even these are to be seen ‘in Christ’.


Our worth is to be found in living family ‘in Christ’.


Our worth is to be found in understanding our gender, our orientation, our nationality, our class, and our wealth ‘in Christ’.


As Stanley Hauerwas has said,


Christians are not called merely to do what is right, or merely to observe the law, though doing the right thing and observing the law are not irrelevant to being good. Rather, for Christians the moral life is to be seen as a journey through life sustained by fidelity to the cross of Christ, which brings a fulfillment no law can ever embody.


This quote orients us to a truth: our lives are not - never were - about being right or even doing the right thing. Our lives are directed to faithfulness to Christ, a faith beyond faith, whether we hit the mark or more especially, when we don`t. As followers of Christ we need not back off this truth of our existence for we believe that truth will set us free. (See John 8:32)


It is my hope that we live lives’ worthy of that which is stirring ‘in Christ’.


It is my prayer that we can love Jesus more than husband or wife, more than parent or children in order that we can love them ‘in Christ’. In other words, it is my prayer that husband, wife, parent, child, other are loved within an elusive, haunting love ever stirring…


It is my hope and prayer that we lift up the cross following Jesus in whom there is no Jew or Greek, male or female.


It is my hope and prayer that as church, as those gathered, those gathering in a diversity of ways, we lose our life for Jesus’ sake and in losing it that we find it…




 ¹ Perhaps the creation of a national Indigenous Archbishop and the creation of self determining Indigenous Church within the Canadian Anglican Church will enable First Nation people’s a full voice in determining their faith journey. As they say, the proof will be in the pudding.

 ² The meanings of the ‘principalities and powers’ may be elusive to us given our tendency to gather around the poles of extremes of literalism or dismissal. Suffice it to say, quoting Walter Wink, ‘that the ‘principalities and powers’ are the inner and outer aspects of any given manifestation of power. As the inner aspect, they are the spirituality of institutions, the within of corporate structures and systems, the inner essence of outer organizations of power. As the outer aspect, they are political systems, appointed officials, the “chair” of an organization, laws, in short, all the tangible manifestations which power takes.’ See Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New  Testament (Fortress Press, 1984) p.5. I also highly recommend the other two books in the trilogy by the same author, Unmasking the Powers (1984) and Engaging the Powers (1992).

 ³ It needs to be said: to endure abuse in certain personal situations – spousal abuse, child abuse or sexual abuse – involves a silencing which allows for great evil and great harm. There is a profound difference between patient endurance and silencing.

 ⁴ Perhaps the most commonly used response to systemic challenges is to co-opt a few superficial elements to avoid true change. Our culture has co-opted a watered-down version of Christianity to inoculate itself against the threat of the gospel. That they have done so is not surprising; that we have so accommodated ourselves to such cooptation is profoundly sad.

 ⁵ Stirring within ‘the year of the lord’ is the lure of jubilee’s reversals which, if not history, are invitingly holy.

 ⁶ This distinction between Little Church and Big Church was made by Marguerite Porte (d. 1310) in her book The Mirror of Simple Souls. Marguerite was a Beguine, a suspect group of lay women in the late Middle Ages. Marguerite was a fierce, educated, aristocratic lay woman who ran afoul of the ‘Little Church’, eventually being burned at the stake more for who she was than what she taught. That her book remained in circulation for centuries ascribed to a male author speaks volumes. The difference between Little and Big Church should not be understood in terms of binary opposition, those moved deeply by a ‘Big’ Church ethos can be found within Little Church. How else do you explain Pope John XXIII or Pope Francis!

 ⁷ Hearing the voice of god is always a bit of a problem. The more certain we are that we hear the voice of god, the more questions we should ask. Truth to tell, it is always convenient to ground our actions in a ‘call’ (listen up Abraham), the ‘voice’ of god directing our actions, our choices, our avoidance within decisions. Historically speaking, how often have we remained self-protected, defending callous, harmful actions as the will of god.

 ⁸ There are many things signified by the name of god not all of which are hopeful or helpful.

 ⁹ From an article On Keeping Theological Ethics Theological by Stanley Hauerwas. The article is contained in the book The Hauerwas Reader ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright p.70.