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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 16th Trinity Sunday, 2019                      John Marsh


Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15


This homily may be a most unusual offering on Trinity Sunday…


Given the variety of metaphoric language used this day, my use of different language (which is never to be understood as a censure of metaphor) may perhaps strike some as odd…


But it is what it is - nothing more than a finger pointing…


Occasionally, one comes across a body of work, a passage, a thought, an insight, that is much like a light in darkness.


Personally, the work of Meister Eckhart is such a light.¹


Years ago, Eckhart’s prayer, ‘I pray to god to rid me of god’², burst upon my consciousness in a manner which continues to illumine the dark corners of my awareness or perhaps more honestly, in a manner which allows me to pray more faithfully in the midst of darkness.³


This prayer, this paradox, this foolishness is worthy of reflection, of being pondered daily, held deeply in our hearts and minds. It reminds us that the god Eckhart is trying to free us from ‘is a god of our construction, a god cut to fit the size of our images and concepts, propositions and arguments… of anything and everything we think we can say of god.’


Eckhart was praying for god, who can never be mastered and domesticated, who we never see coming, to rid us of the god we think we have in our sights, under our control.


Praying to god to rid us of god is not, despite surface appearances, the simple end of god⁵, but rather the beginning, a breakthrough into the depths of god – the god beyond god.⁶


So, if we wish to be responsive to the deep call of god…


If we wish to honour sacred story...


If we wish to be faithful to the way of Jesus….


If we wish to respond to the luring of Abba⁷…


If we wish to respect our created condition, then the feast of the Trinity should be a time of conceptual humility…


A time to extend our vision…  


A time to embrace linguistic playfulness⁸…


The doctrine of the trinity points to a manner of speaking of god which is flexible and responsive to life or, at least should be…


The concept of the trinity, despite its predisposition to metaphoric richness, has an apophatic quality to it, which is to say that the mystery of the trinity suggests a manner of saying something without saying it⁹…


Any and all metaphor (all language concerning god is actually metaphoric) is best understood as saying something without saying it, like a finger pointing, so let’s not fixate on the finger…


This means that the trinity, in fact all godly speech, suggests a manner of speaking, of saying something without saying it, to cover our tracks as we journey, to obscure our way as we are called forward, much as Hermes erased his tracks as he stole Apollo’s cattle¹⁰…


Trinity suggests such stealth if it is to have the flexibility and responsiveness of life giving discourse…


Discourse about god requires Hermes’ stealth and creativity¹¹; faithful discourse requires the playfulness of saying, for example, “modesty prevents me from taking credit”, which is to say something without saying it…


The concept of the trinity, despite it’s supposed specificity, is a way of asking ‘what is going on within the name of god?


It is a way speaking about god that does not stop with god, a way of thinking of god which explores the depth of god’…


The real concern of the concept of trinity (in fact, all theology) ‘is in something deeper than god, deep within god, and deep within ourselves, something older and deeper than the debates which rage up above about believing or not believing in god¹²…’


So, what is going on when say god?


What do we mean when we say the name of god?


Are we perhaps saying something about the works of love – justice, compassion, hospitality, reconciliation, mercy, grace – for which we apply the name god?


What are we saying when we speak of father, son and spirit?


To where or to what is the finger pointing?


Perhaps we are saying something about creation, birth, our birth, our humanity, of the ties that bind, of hope hoping against hope?


Perhaps we are speaking of the lure of dreams, of possibilities, impossible though they may seem?


However, we need to remember that when we speak of that which we name as god, we are not speaking of a ‘being’ who is the fulfillment of our needs, our hopes or our dreams. God is not the one who fills the gap in our lives. This is to view god as something, some entity, an object, a god-product, ultimately an idol trapped in the loop of wish fulfillment. ¹³


This is not the god I believe in…


I will go further, this is not the god, god believes in…


Hence, both god and (dare I say it) I yearn – I pray and god strives to rid us of god, to breakthrough into god without god; god without god does not fill the gap, god opens the gap, luring, inviting, soliciting a response to perhaps a deeper way calling us onward¹⁴…


Onward to what?


Onward to perhaps – to a possibility of desiring with a desire beyond desire, of perhaps responding to something which calls upon us to transform our lives…


Which suggests that the Supreme Being is a may-being – a perhaps, an insistence luring our response, our response perhaps bringing insistence into existence¹⁵…


Know the truth and the truth will make you free – well maybe, if we but risk response¹⁶…


Believe it or not, my point is not to deny, to reject, the concept of the trinity. Despite what some of you may be thinking, I take god, or to be consistent, that which we name as god very seriously. God has a claim on me…


I have never been able to shake the experience of god, the call of god. My commitment to the name of god has certainly shaped my vocation and, to be honest, obstructed my career (this is no great loss, it is, in fact, a blessing or again, perhaps more truthfully, I have usually come to view many losses as a blessing).


It is my deepest desire to call for a conceptual and linguistic humility, to solicit a verbal playfulness which allows, in fact demands, a fluidity of thought and expression.


It is my hope to perhaps extend our vision, to move beyond ‘creator, son and spirit’ without denying the formulation; to perhaps, playing with the Cappadocian fathers¹⁷, to open to ‘light, illumination and warmth’ or, risking the guilt complex of St Augustine, to dare ‘lover, beloved and the love shared’. It is to invite an openness to the mystery of the sacred interdependence of all life - life within that which we name as god, life within the cosmos, life within ourselves within creation.


Hoping against hope, I pray that we remember that within the trinity, or within the name of god is a call, a lure to respond to the works of love.


In the end, I pray that we may be stirred by the words of St Augustine, ‘You will see the trinity when you act lovingly.’




 ¹ Meister Eckhart, a 13th century mystic and theologian who, at the time of his death, was unjustly on trial for heresy, and then marginalized, if not forgotten, for five centuries before being rediscovered in the late 19th century and eventually reclaimed, not as a heretic, but as one of the most profound mystical theologians of the faith.

 ² See Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises and Defense, ed. Bernard McGinn and Edmund Colledge, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1981) p. 199-203.

 ³ My love of Eckhart is wide and varied, my S.T.M. thesis concerned Eckhart’s concept of detachment.

⁴  John Caputo, The Folly of God (Polebridge Press 2016) p. 12-13.

⁵ It is though a death of god, the death of the mythological projection of the sovereign, mighty powerful god.

⁶ It should be said that we must be careful to avoid the pitfall of confusing ‘beyond’ with above. This god to whom we pray is not a being in the highest but a god, perhaps, who is the ground of the soul, the groundless ground lodged in our hearts and minds (consider the work of Paul Tillich). We must endeavour to avoid the lure of high theology, of thinking that god or the name of god dwells on high. God is not a higher power opposing the powers and principalities (a counter-principality). Such is the imposition of a might mythology which has so often scuttled our expression and actions. We need to think down not up, daring to look around. Of course, it must also be said that as we explore the depths, we must avoid being seduced by that depth to go beyond our capacity to go if we are not to arrive at a similar conundrum. Yet further, praying to god to rid us of god is not speaking of the unknowability of god, where unknowability is a silence which is the highest form of praise (God beyond (higher) all names) but the silence birthed of disorientation, of not understanding. Hence we pray god to rid us of god – such a task is beyond us.

 ⁷ Abba is the Aramaic name for god used by Jesus.

 ⁸ Playfulness should never be understood as not serious. Seriously!

 ⁹ Apophatic which is usually defined as a negation actually means that we should speak (phasis) in such a way as to speak away from (apo) what has been said, to obscure our way as we are called forward.

 ¹⁰ Any who are interested can read online the Greek myth of Hermes stealing Apollo’s cattle when he was but a day or two old.

¹¹ Creativity, stealth are suggestive of a wily disposition and as such are apt descriptors for hermeneutics (the theory of textual interpretation especially biblical texts, wisdom literature and philosophical works) derived as it is from Hermes stealthy ways.

 ¹² John Caputo, The Folly of God p.19

 ¹³ This is the heart of the Jewish/Protestant refusal of the idol, a refusal to domesticate god and for Jews the refusal to even say the name of god.

 ¹⁴ God opening a gap, not filling the gap, is a central concept of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his last work, ‘Letters and Papers from Prison’.

¹⁵ Consider the work John Caputo in particular, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (Indiana University Press) 2013.

 ¹⁶ See John 8:32

 ¹⁷ A favourite analogy of St Gregory Nanzianus, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Basil the Great.