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

July 12th Pentecost 6, 2020                     John Marsh


Genesis 25:19-34¹; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


After consulting those who garden, the issue for them in the parable is not the seed but the soil, attending to the work of working the land such as it is…


A Story:


As for why he was in the bishop’s office, memory faltered. Did he, did the bishop, request the meeting?

What was remembered was that the parish was yet again being questioned as to its viability and sustainability. It was undeniable it was financially skating on an edge but, if honesty prevailed, what parish was not; surely, they were not alone – truth to tell, they were not. Admittedly, the parish  was something of paradox: A community deeply engaged in neighbourhood and community, one deeply creative, one pushing conventional assumptions and theologies to the limit, one expressive of other ways of being church yet one always struggling to balance the books. That they were often misunderstood goes without saying.

That they were always trying to find ways and means to express themselves can be assumed.


The day before the meeting with the bishop, the priest asked the office staff to print off a copy of every poster of every event they had undertaken, sponsored or co-sponsored in the last year. Once again in the bishop’s office, the priest found himself, repeating many of the things that had been said before. It was obvious from the conversation that little new was happening, assumptions were setting in, assumptions about what church was about and how it was to function. Finally, the priest said, “Forget everything I have said. It’s about the work! It is all about the work, the work that we believe is called for in the reign of god. Let me show you.” With this he pulled out the stack of posters and began to place them, one by one in the bishop’s office. They covered the couch, the coffee table, the side chair, spilling on to the floor around. “This is a visual display of what we have done in the last year alone not including our Sunday worship and not including those rhythms of life intertwined within and through all of this. It’s about the work. The work is our viability, our sustainability for now. It’s about the work…


Some of you may have guessed that the parish in question was St Mark’s, Kitsilano and that I was the priest.


Was I understood?


That St Mark’s is now closed and sold – probably not…


Yet, while I hesitate to refer to anyone or any situation as rocky soil, a hardened path, a bed of thorns, the point of the story is about the work, the work of tilling, preparing, metaphorically working the soil, working with what you’ve got…


Perhaps, I hope and pray, something of the work continues albeit in forms different, hopefully evolving…

It’s about the work, perhaps the work of working ‘in Christ’…

~

At times, meanings may be different than literal meanings, there may be nuances within meanings shaped by context, usage…


To illustrate, when a young woman, recently arrived from Newfoundland, applied for a job in Toronto, she

was asked, ‘What did you do in Newfoundland?’ She replied, ‘Cuttin throats mainly.’ This caused quite a stir in the office until it was clarified that she worked in a fish processing plant.


At times, we may think we understand, as with ‘Get on the go’ meaning ‘Let's go’, yet not grasping that it's also a common euphemism in Newfoundland for partying. We may understand surface meanings yet miss layered meanings. ²


Which leads us to Paul’s usage of ‘in Christ’ or ‘in the spirit of Christ’. These phrases are central to Paul’s thought and, I would suggest, foundational to our future, possibly a future calling us, perhaps uncertainly, into our present. ³


As is often the case with language, there are meanings, layers, nuances within ‘in Christ’…


Of the various meanings within, ‘in Christ’ is similar to ‘in country’ or ‘in the world’. One is ‘in Christ’ in a manner similar to being in the world. It is to be of, rooted in, shaped by, in this case, the way of Jesus, which thankfully, is not necessarily the way of the church. In a phrase, it is about how one lives responsive to the reign of god. Within ‘in Christ’ there is a certain ecology, ecological echoes, echoing the etymology of the word, referring to the wisdom of the household, to how one lives responsibly, relationally within…


In other words, ‘in Christ’ is profoundly relational, which is to say, it is personal without being individualized, inter-relational, inter-personal pointing to a communal web of connectivity…


Consequently, ‘in Christ’ is also communal, pointing to an alternative community not shaped by the dominate mores of the world, living within with respect for all life. Whenever you hear Paul speak of ‘spirit’ as contrasted with ‘flesh’, it is this relational alternative communal wisdom that is spoken of: a non-hierarchical redefinition of power which recognizes the interdependence of all life, the eco-wisdom of being ‘in Christ’, a living out of the dream of god birthed in Christ Jesus.


‘In Christ’, there is a radical equality which grounds Paul’s obsession with circumcision - nothing must be imposed upon the radical equality of the divine dream. Consequently, there is no ‘Jew or Greek’, ‘slave or free’, which does not mean that there are no differences but rather that differences are not to be categorized by political/religious/social categories of value and superiority. There are various parts but one body, different gifts but the same spirit, different activities, or roles but the same god…


‘In Christ’, ‘in the spirit of Christ’, suggests a spirit transplant, that living ‘in the spirit of Christ’, that living ‘in Christ’ is living with new eyes, a new heart, as a new creation. This necessity of transformation grounds Paul’s critique of all law, remembering that law informs but cannot transform, that to be ’in Christ’, ‘in the spirit of Christ’ is to practice the relational way in which consciousness changes, awareness shifts. This new consciousness is that which enables an awareness of the difference between the way of the ‘flesh’ and the way of the ‘spirit’…


The way of the flesh is fixated on the finite, the partial, the wisdom of this world in which domination and the justification of violence flourishes in all forms...


To be clear, the way of the flesh is not the condemnation of the body, both the way of the flesh and the way of the spirit are embodied states. The way of the flesh is naming the destructive expression of power as dominance and division (enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissention, factions, envy) as opposed to the relational eco-wisdom of interdependence (love, loy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, self-control).


‘In Christ’ there is a new identity, not so much a new individual identity but a new personal/communal identity, a new relational identity within creation which is alternative to the normalcy of the wisdom of this world, an alternative eco-praxis giving birth to transformative processes…


So, as Paul says, perhaps prays:


If then, there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in full humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 2:1-5)


A final suggestive story:


The parish had committed to building a parish hall. Unfortunately, the only way to access the building site due to the surrounding cemetery was down the rectory driveway. To stabilize the driveway to permit the large trucks and cranes to access the site tons of stone and screening were poured on the driveway and alongside the house, burying flowerbeds. This was done and in September construction began.

Easter was late that year. The day was warm and sunny. And, there they were, green shoots pushing through a foot and a half of stone and gravel screening, new life emerging through the rockiest of ground…

This story is my way saying of saying that the phrase ‘it’s about the work’ is more than me saying, ‘just suck it up buttercup’…


The work, no matter how difficult, may always open to the impossible…


So, I hope and pray and, dare I say work…



































You’ve got to be kidding me?




 ¹ That the judgement of Esau is so extreme – to my mind, greater than the act itself - suggests an ulterior motive, an agenda whereby the victor justifies, legitimizes, their victory. The elder is now ‘other’, perhaps a family member recast as enemy, difference portrayed as dangerous, disloyal, despicable. Do you feel the tides rising?

² On the go’ by itself can also refer to a relationship similar to a dating but hazier. The term also refers to drinking ‘gettin on the go tonight’ meaning, ‘going out drinking tonight’.

 ³ See the Pentecost 3 homily.

 ⁴ This radical equality is why our setup - if you remember how we set up - is the way it is: there is no preferred seating, no presidential seating, no architecturally indicated hierarchy, no indication that this is more sacred than that. A final note, that I sit in the same place pretty much every week is not to indicate presidential seating. Please do not understand my being a creature of habit as indicative of anything other than the habitual, most certainly not a holiness of place.

 ⁵ John Caputo may perhaps term ‘the way of the spirit’ as living haunted, spooked, lured by possibilities.

 This is not to suggest that ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ are matters of simplistic opposition (right/wrong, good/bad) nor necessitate endless binary battles. Within Paul’s thought is the recognition that the lines between are often blurred, often bleeding into the other. That Paul spends so much time writing about practical problems points to this. The question is not, ‘Are there entities and strife, quarrels and divisions?’ but rather ‘How do we deal with such things?’ We all know how the church has dealt with them historically, perhaps those ways are the problem.