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St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel St. At W. 14th Ave.

Vancouver, BC, V5Z 3T3


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

Worship Times

Sunday Eucharist

10:30 am


Contemplative

Eucharist

Wednesday 7:00 pm


Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

Sermon

March 24th Lent 3, 2019     John Marsh


Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9


Three years ago, on the Third Sunday of Lent, I preached for the first time after my stroke. At a certain point in the homily, I said, as I was still in recovery, “This may be the last homily I preach.”


That I am here now preaching, it was, obviously, not the last time – sorry to disappoint!


As you recover from your disappointment, reflecting on the gospel, dare we ask, is god, that which we name as god, in charge, coordinating creation, life, as god sees fit, rendering justice, blessing and punishment, as required by the divine economy?


Is the hand of god directing life, perhaps in preordained, predestined ways?


To answer in the affirmative is to set theology’s course, navigating issues requiring Herculean explanatory efforts, addressing situations of suffering, innocent suffering, raising questions skirting the edge of propriety, delivering answers straining credulity.


So…


What if - I’m just asking - life was marked, shaped by random occurrence?


What if god is so emptied into the world as to renounce imperial, imperious displays of power, being subject to the randomness of life, one subject to the uncertainty of response, our response, one ‘all in’ with but an insistence, one but a haunting, spectral presence?


To put it more colloquially, what if god played dice with the world? (Sorry dear Albert, who famously declared, “As I have said so many times God doesn’t play dice with the world.” 1)


To pursue this further:


What if life requires random chance?


What if life reverberates with the chance of grace and the grace of chance?


What if our lives are a function of fortuitous forces and chance combinations?


What if the stars took no notice of us and could care less?²


What if order requires probability, which requires possibility, which requires creative impossibilities inherent in ‘chaos’?


What if order was but a moment - a temporary ‘holding pattern’ of coalescing possibilities – a ‘breathing’ before giving birth to the random swirl of life’s impossible possibilities?


What if ‘imposing’ order was, in fact, a pre-requisite for the birth of violence and the forces of death?


Truth to tell, as humans we’re hard-wired to seek order, to ‘see’ patterns in random distributions, to connect the dots finding, dare I say imposing, meaning and interpretations… (Consider the constellations of the night sky)


That we are so created is not so much a problem as long as we recognize that the order we ‘see’ or the meaning we ‘seek’ says more about us than anything else…


If we forget this, we run into difficulties because when we connect the dots, when we see patterns, we often feel called to defend those patterns…


When we ascribe meaning and define that meaning as ‘true’ (by which we often mean forever true!), as godly (by which we often mean forever holy), when we seek to ascribe agency to random occurrence, then we run into problems – serious conundrums…


Truth be told, we often create gods in our own image…


We create gods with voracious appetites…


We create gods in need of placating…


We create gods demanding obedience, gods demanding the defeat of enemies…


We create gods destroying villages in order to save them…


We create justifications for our own control needs, justifications for our own domination, justifications for our own violence…3


And this happens, at least in part, because we cannot believe that ‘god plays dice with the universe’, that random chance is inherent to life, that chaos is integral to the cosmos and everything in it…


Or to put it more colloquially we have trouble believing that:


‘Shit Happens –

Sometimes’4


And truth be told, that ‘shit happens’ need not be a sign of the disintegration of the cosmos; it is perhaps better seen as inherent to the rhythms of living…    


So let’s be clear, that there is random occurrence is not necessarily to say that there is no ‘god’, that divinity is but an illusion – Sorry Sigmund…


It is not to say that plans cannot be made, that strategies cannot be planned, that goals cannot be set or that there are no rules…


Quite simply, goals, strategies and plans are inherent to our lives; we will always make use of them for we are so created…


But perhaps we can risk honesty recognizing that sometimes we get it wrong, at times profoundly so…


Truth to tell, we can and do ascribe meaning to purely random events and then declare that ascribed meaning as the will of god…


We can and do form opposition ‘out of thin air’…


We can and do start arguments or create conflict out of nothing and, once created, we usually defend our systems with a passion…


(We are very good at self-justification)


Yet, nevertheless, our lives can turn on a dime, heading in a completely unanticipated direction…


Let me illustrate…


For no apparent reason and no known cause, I had a stroke, impacting my life, the life of my family and this community in many ways…


As I’ve said before, we can seek meaning in all of this (perhaps I am a great sinner); we can seek to discern the hand of god, the will of god in all of this (perhaps god is teaching me a lesson) …


Personally, I feel no need to do any of this…


For me it is enough to say ‘Shit Happens’…


What this means in light of today’s gospel, not to speak of life itself, is that although Pilate kills, we need not find a theological rationale for it. Truth to tell, death happens to everyone and it is always painful...


While accidents occur, we need not seek a ‘moral’ cause - they must have been sinners


That we seek to determine cause and effect, that we seek someone to be responsible, something to blame or that we yearn to establish some ‘reason’ or rationale behind it is understandable – we are so ‘hard wired’…


But we must remember, life is intertwined with random occurrence…

      

And, perhaps surprisingly, life works with it!


From a cosmic perspective - life depends on it!


This does not mean that we must become ‘laissez faire’ about life…


Fatalism is not the point…


The point of living, the point of Jesus, is to open to the rhythms of the cosmos, to dance the dance of life…


As the book of Deuteronomy says:


I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life… (See Deuteronomy 30:19)


(I’m now begging a pause…


As I pause before a binary, I recognize that we often prefer the simplicity of order, the clarity of an either/or, yet, the complexity of life seldom fits…


Pausing before a binary, I pray to open to nuance astir within, opening to other voices, other stories, others spectrally adrift, haunting our choices…


Truth to tell, life cannot be reduced to a simple either/or choice; it is too complex, too contextual, too nuanced to be so reduced. There are too many possibilities to make a simple decision of this or that…


So, I pray…


I pray in the face of a binary, hoping that what follows honours the biblical text and life, that what is said honours my prayer…)


Perhaps paradoxically…


Perhaps counter-intuitively…


Choosing life is choosing paradox, mystery, chance, and randomness as prerequisites for living…


And choosing death is determining and setting order, certainty and control as necessary for life…


As a community we are faced with choices…


We can choose to continue fights of diminishing returns by any means necessary - here lives the fantasy of the superhero, divine or otherwise, here lives life defined by death…


We can choose to open to the possibilities inherent in the random chance of creative chaos…


We can choose life, opening to spirit’s movement, to the height, depth and breadth of life’s call…


We can choose death by endlessly attempting to control, analyse, parse, and defend, by any means necessary, our ‘precious’ constructions…


The issue is not that we experience something we name as god but that often we say too much about invitations whispered in our ear…


The issue is not that we have plans or proposals but that we do not hold them with an open hand…


The issue is not that we discern, make choices or respond but that we so easily come to believe that our discerning, our choices and our chosen paths must be correct – after all, we chose them, and we must be right…


Our ‘sin’ is not that we are human with limitations; our sin is that we forget our humanity and come to believe our own PR so that our story becomes ‘the story’…


Our labour serves life and love only when we recognize that our attempts to defend interpretations or prescribe meanings opens us to death masquerading as life…


So perhaps…


Perhaps we can open to the random ‘dance of life’…


The more we ‘screw’ around with things (by which I mean, prescribe meaning which we latterly defend as absolute truth) the greater the chance that we will ‘screw it up’ and screw it up with greater and greater consequences…


The more we ‘screw’ around, the greater the likelihood that we will refuse to respect ‘the roll of the dice’…


Perhaps ‘repentance’ is to learn to respect life which means to respect the roll of the dice…


Perhaps this is what it means to thirst for life, to thirst for that which calls us, invites us to the delightful excess of living unfolding possibilities…


Perhaps…


1 Einstein’s statement is less a theological statement than an expression of his concerns with the uncertainty principle and quantum physics.

² To this point, John Caputo says, “Of course the universe does not need us – we are gratuitous, the effect of cosmic dice – but it has us nonetheless, need us or not…We are the place in the history of evolution where ‘evolution’ gets itself named, where living beings evolve who can point out that living beings evolve, the place where the universe does its thinking and jots down a few notes about itself. The mistake is to think that this recenters everything around us instead of seeing that our eccentric, marginal, and fortuitous condition is part of what is being pointed out.” The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps, p.213-214.

3 If you wish to believe in the existence of a supernatural being named ‘God’ with traditional attributes, you are free to do so. Personally, I find such beliefs increasingly difficult to hold with any degree of integrity.

4 To say that shit happens is not to engage in adolescent behaviour – well perhaps it is – it is to affirm that life happens as unpredictable as this is.