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

November 8th Advent 1,  2020                John Marsh

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18;

Matthew 25:1-13


Alright, we’re about to begin a new season


So, let’s settle in and get organized

 

Gather into groups for support or should I say gather with our safe six


0k - check your supplies – make sure you have what you need


Keep your wits about you - we’ve got a long wait ahead of us


And finally, please remember  - we’re in this together


~

As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout… Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. (Matthew 25:5, 6a, 7-10)


This is dream language, perhaps a primordial tale told when vigilance and preparedness were matters of life and death, but dream language nonetheless arising from the mists of yesteryear.


The scenarios, the symbols and the metaphors speak to something transpersonal, something profoundly human for we’ve all had dreams where we’re late for work, the meeting, the class, the performance, the liturgy; where we cannot find our notes, our keys, our way; where we are continually side tracked or obstructed; where we’re not prepared, not ready; where, ready or not, we’re thrust into the spotlight.


And so, to read of a lack of preparedness or vigilance resonates deeply within…


In the gospel reading, we are connected to dream time, to primordial warning systems, to ancient lessons continually in need of being relearned if we are to survive and flourish.


And truth to tell, as human beings we do need to learn, perhaps relearn the skills of preparation; put most directly, we do need to do the work.


As communities of faith, to do the work is for us to do what we do: ‘to do theology’.


To do theology is to prepare, to practice, to embody, to embrace that demanding faith posture of respect while resisting evil, of repentance while proclaiming faith, of love and compassion while seeking justice and shalom.


To do theology is to keep awake.


And so, within dream language, there are always lessons to be learned…


But remember, there is also a need for fluency.


Dream language is a fluid resource: it ebbs and flows, swirls, and eddies; it does not demand or legislate but playfully suggests. Dream language concretized or literalized is the ending of dreams, the cessation of learning; it is the birth of nightmares, which is to suggest that theology is grounded within a theopoetics, within a certain fluidity, within the vibrancy of parables, paradox, song and narratives surprising.


To concretize metaphors of preparedness gives rise to the crassest forms of ‘the survival of the fittest’ and announces the ending of compassion, cooperation, and communal endeavours.  


Perhaps we need wisdom to balance preparedness with understanding and compassion.


So, let’s hear wisdom’s voice:


Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
13 She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
14 One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-14


Truth to tell, we should perhaps rethink our assumptions about passion and desire!


~

As with the gospel, so too with the New Testament reading:


For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so, we will be with the Lord forever. (1Thessalonians 4:16-17)


That we are concerned about the fate of loved ones and friends is not surprising nor is it a shock that we resort to such dream language to offer solace; to speak of rising into the air, floating in the sky, is reminiscent of those dream images of flying, those metaphors of freedom, release and transformation, those scenarios of reunion.


But again remember, dreamtime, dream language, is a fluid resource, it ebbs and flows, swirls, and eddies; it does not demand or legislate but playfully suggests. Dream language concretized or literalized is the ending of dreams, the cessation of learning; it is the birth of nightmares.


To literalize dream language of the afterlife is to turn metaphors of reunion, transformation and words of comfort into evolving justifications of death and desertion.


To illustrate, the theology of the rapture and the “Left Behind’ series of books and films are a case in point.


In the simplest of terms, concretizing dream language allows for all sorts of elaborate but dangerous constructions, constructions ultimately built on sand. As this ‘genre’ takes on a life of its own, the meaning of the biblical text becomes its opposite; the point of the ‘Left Behind’ series is not reunion or words of comfort but the prurient ‘thrill’ of watching those left behind and their imminent punishment. Given this new, radically altered scenario, for me and my house, we will choose to be left behind - it’s the only faithful thing to do!


To drill down on point, to literalize dream language is to concretize our convictions which is to lay the ground work for legislating faith in which we spell out the legalities of life, all life; this is the groundwork for all ‘bible-based morality’ and all other totalizing agendas.


Curiously, ‘bible based morality’ is light on the bible and light on morality as well which is to say, it isn’t worth much!


A totalizing agenda is where love is legislated, where compassion is controlled and where community becomes a totalizing gathering, which is to say a defended gathering clearly articulating, not only the marks of belonging, but delineating and condemning others as unworthy, unworthy of compassion and respect, deserving of divine judgement.


But we live with a faith – so I hope and pray - which seeks life, births life and nurtures life.


We seek a faith within which life flourishes, a flourishing which undergirds compassion and respect – compassion and respect for self and others especially those falling between the cracks.


We seek a faith which, despite drag, is capable of astonishing leaps of life and abounds with the surprise of joy, mercy, and reconciliation. To illustrate, the drag operative within life is perhaps our blindness and denial or our ongoing temptation to violent expressions and solutions or our tendency to confuse movement forward with driving in circles.


We seek a faith which, because it is alive, must continually be chosen and re-affirmed.


We must affirm, re-affirm, our commitment to god within life, to compassion and grace abounding within creation.  


As is said in Joshua:


Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua24:15)¹


Advent, in part, is about attending to this commitment of contemplative service, this vocation of justice and compassion, attending to the dynamic of ‘active waiting’...


And if you have waited, you know that waiting is not a passive exercise; it is filled with anticipatory energy, energy which if not attended to becomes increasingly anxious and dangerously unpredictable…


So, it sounds like we should prepare and attend to the work…



¹ Let’s be clear, while the Joshua passage does have problems - possession of the land is the manifest destiny of the people while ignoring the fact that the land was already occupied – the Israelites need to reaffirm that they are no longer Pharaoh’s servants but god’s servants. However, these reaffirmations mean that if you follow the covenant with god, you will understand that possession is dependent upon your faithfulness to the dream of the holy one which, in part, means you are attendant to the calls of community and justice – to the needs of the stranger, the orphan and the widow.