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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

Home Who We Are UAM What Is On Sermons Contact Us

The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

Worship Times

Sunday Eucharist

10:30 am


Contemplative

Eucharist

Wednesday 7:00 pm


Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

Sermon

June 9th The Feast of Pentecost, 2019             John Marsh


This faith story begins – if it is the beginning – with an interruption…an experience beyond words, more than words – deeply personal and yet beyond self…


Within, there was an insistent ‘call’, an unfolding, a luring into an intimate expanse… opening to an awareness, an awareness named as love, an awareness of a love inviting a never ending risk – “come out from within, come to voice despite the chance of being misunderstood or the real possibility of failing – risk study, learning, engagement” …


And so, a step was taken, followed by another until, with steps and missteps, life was risked, perhaps lived…


Years later, as the story was reflected upon, the most compelling element is not the experience usually described as ‘mystical’ but rather the work of risking ordinary life - risking common conversation, navigating relational unknowns and undertaking the labours of learning.


 ~


Given that the stories we read are within a book held to be sacred (Holy Scripture); given the varieties of rich metaphors and symbols within the narratives, it is understandable that we have come to think that spirit works within Christianity…


However, the truth is a little more complex…


Spirit, while within Christianity, is never contained by it¹…


As sacred narrative says, ‘spirit blows where it wills…²            


We have buildings, structures, programs and processes but spirit, as with the Human One, has no where to lay her head³…


Spirit is within but not contained by our religions, our spiritualties…


Our plans, programs, paths and purposes, even our confessions of faith are troubled, disturbed, interrupted, perhaps haunted by this spirit – this lure of faith, hope and love…


Of course, perhaps we are mad enough to respond, to follow, not a certainty but this lure, this possibility of living lives of hope?


Perhaps we can live hoping against hope in a promise of something to come, hoping that something may be worked out of what has been received?


Perhaps we may commit to the work of dreamers and other visionaries?⁴


Perhaps we are seized of enough madness to live lives of faith in what we hope for, but as of yet, cannot see?


Perhaps we are foolish enough to live lives of love, loving the unconditional, living lives of desire, of desiring with a desire beyond desire – an agapic Eros, an erotic agape⁵…


 ~

 

Once, a few years ago, our community was described as ‘extraordinarily small’. In response someone said, “That’s only partially accurate – it’s small but extraordinary!” On one particular Sunday, the community gathered for it’s Sunday worship. By happenstance, there were 3 people in wheelchairs, one of whom was accompanied by her attendant; the reader that day was legally blind; the deacon, in the role of deacon, was doing something she previously would never have dared to do. The singing, while not pitch perfect, was vibrant, with a sound belying the size of gathering. Prayers were said, healing prayer was offered, bread was broken. On that day spirit seemed to be in that place. After the liturgy, a woman, who attended only occasionally, said to the priest, “Perhaps this is what the kingdom of god looks like.”


Of course, the danger in such a wonderful comment lies in coming to believe one’s own press clippings. What is present one moment is gone the next, much like the flowers of the field which are here today and gone tomorrow. (See Matthew 6:28; Luke 42:27)


So, dare we ask – have we so believed?


~


Within our response to spirit’s call, much will forever elude our grasp but, as Paul perceptively and perhaps prophetically declared, ‘These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


Of course, any honest appraisal of our world, of our history, leads to an awareness that the works of love have had difficulty in execution…


We have often failed in response, we are commonly foiled by our foibles – our fears, our lack of foresight, our power needs, acknowledged or unacknowledged – and we are often countered by other agencies working against the works of love⁷…


But I must ask, ‘Is this not simply the way it is?’


‘Is this not forever true?’


Truth to tell, we are born into a world that has already begun – it has a story, a past, traditions and a history. We are all enculturated and it is both a blessing and curse but it is the way it is - it shapes us but do we not also have the possibility of response, the possibility of shaping it?


It is within this possibility, impossible though it may seem, that spirit arises…


Within language, culture, history and tradition, spirit arises, luring, drawing, us into an unforeseeable and unpredictable future, daring work now…


As spirit arises, we are haunted by a dream, a hope, an insistence, a lure, a provocation, a solicitation if you will⁸…


We are haunted by a call, by desire’s, yearnings, to right the wrongs of the world – yesterday’s wrongs as well as those in process of being created and left as a legacy for others…


So haunted, we dream dreams of a new world, dreams of fulfillment and justice…


Being so spooked, we have often waited and hoped for a leader or yearned for a messiah to save us, to bail us out…


But the luring of spirit leads us to an impossible possibility…


Are we waiting for the messianic age or are we, perhaps, the messianic age with all of its hopes, dreams and pitfalls?


Is it possible, that the calls are for us, that we are the one’s called to right the wrongs of the world?


Is it possible, that we are the ones whom the dead expected, that we are the one’s others have waited for?⁹


Perhaps we will risk a possibility, an impossible possibility…


Perhaps we will run the risk of response, of seeking to fulfill messianic hopes in spite of knowing that we do so with weak powers…


We cannot bring back the dead, we cannot change the impact of the past but perhaps, just perhaps, inspired by a call, we can learn from their stories, their mistakes, their hopes and dreams¹⁰; perhaps, in remembering, we can mourn their loss by righting their losses, by addressing the injustices which wore them down in order that their deaths will not have been in vain…


Perhaps those of us who remember, those of us haunted by a hope, those haunted and inspired by the hazy figure of Jesus - who spoke of blessing those who are poor, those who mourn, those who make peace, those who yearn for justice and righteousness, of loving god, neighbour and enemy alike - perhaps we can risk living an inspired and inspiring life?¹¹


And you know, sometimes we get it right –


There is one body and one spirit.

There is one hope in god’s call to us.¹²


There are varieties of gifts but one spirit.¹³


I pray we listen and act…







 ¹ The spirit, or perhaps better, ‘that which we name as spirit’ is but one of many names we give to the unconditional. Contained within the name - spirit, god, the unnameable, the holy one – there is much of value for humanity. There is a call, an insistence, a lure inviting a hopeful response to life, a hope which we ignore at our peril – the peril of misreading human experience and possibility.

 ² See John 3:8

 ³ See Luke 9:58, Matthew 8:20. With regard to the use of the divine feminine, that which we name as spirit is not gendered; the spirit is within but not contained by gender. However, given the insidious effects of patriarchy, it is best to honour the insights of our Hebraic roots in which the word for spirit -ruach – was feminine.

 ⁴ Consider Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17

 ⁵ Within Christianity there has been a long standing tension between ‘eros’ and ‘agape’ two of the Greek words for love. Agape (the predominate word for love in the New Testament) has been held up as better expressive of Christian love over eros which has an energy, a desiring with which we have been historically uncomfortable. But if we attend to the Hebraic roots of our tradition neither captures the fullness of what sacred story speaks. The love of god, neighbour and enemy alike, the love spoken of by Jesus needs both the passionate desiring of eros and the relational strength and resilience of agape.

⁶  See I Corinthians 13:13. Better yet, read all of chapter 13.

⁷ For example, the tendency of institutions to seek self preservation as opposed to creativity and justice or the reality of bureaucratic entropy.

 ⁸ Personally, I am not convinced that there is a ‘being’, an entity up there or down here which is calling, luring or inviting. There is an insistence, a haunting but not, strictly speaking, an existence in the manner in which I exist. Spirit (god) insists but does not exist. As John Caputo would say, ‘god does not exist; god calls for existence.’

 ⁹ This is a key concept of Walter Benjamin, the German Jewish philosopher and cultural critic.

 ¹⁰ It may not need to be said, but inspiration and its cognates, comes from Latin roots which mean to blow into, to breathe. This expresses the Hebrew sensibility in which the word for breath, wind and spirit was one word - ruach.

 ¹¹ Perhaps it goes without saying that the gospel narratives do not present us with an historical account of Jesus but with a memory of an event affecting other lived events. That being said, echoes of Jesus can still be discerned within the text.

 ¹² BAS p.151

 ¹³ I Corinthians 12:4