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

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Sermon

January 10th The Baptism of Jesus, 2021                         John Marsh


Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11



I pray your indulgence, hoping that you will hang in with me for a while…


Lest you think, dare I say, fear, that I have moved too far away from the faith – I may have – yet it is not my intention to trash Christian traditions, to reject Scripture as utter foolishness…


Truth to tell, I wish to reopen both, engaging, reading them as if for the first time, to borrow a phrase, releasing them from the dictates of dogma, be that secular censure or ecclesial protection.


Sacred traditions, religious thought, need neither be immunized nor immediately rejected…


I pray they be left unprotected while deeply read, read deeper still, as we feel around, endeavouring to tease out, sketch, outlines of justice, freedom, compassion, and hospitality, respecting the otherness of the text, dare I say those other, other voices, a plurality of voices, feeling around for events astir within, events not a historical occurrence but what is deeply astir within an occurrence, feeling for the pulse of the immanence of life, the rhythm of the life of immanence, of life and death, feeling for traces of whatever may be astir within the name of god…


So, may we dare to read, to hear, the texts as meditations, a poetics of the human condition…


Launching forth…


May we risk the depths of the genesis narrative astir within, perhaps, beginnings of a theopoetic trajectory, a pulsing potentiality, calls of the impossible, impossible possibilities with, perhaps, profound implications for life…  


Let’s hear the story again but now buoyed by the opening of Gustav Mahler’s 3rd symphony which may be understood as a kind of musical exegesis of the text¹…


When Elohim began creating the heaven and the earth, the earth was tohu vabohu,² waste and wild and darkness was upon the face of tehom (the deep) and ruach (spirit wind breathing) was pulsing and vibrating over the water – then Elohim said, “Let there be light…”                         (See Genesis 1:1-3ff)

 

Opening to theopoetic movement – feel the swell and trough of the deep – its ebb and flow – the pulse of wind over water – energy’s wave – vibrating upon the face of chaos’ depth – the waste and wild (tohu vabohu) – wet dark depths birthing light … shimmering on the face of the deep…


Truth to tell, as this creation narrative continues, it declares creation to be good yet the best we can say, echoing god’s hope expressed in an old Talmudic story concerning god’s attempts at creation – god failed in 26 previous attempts before succeeding – is, “let’s hope it works.”


Within creation, within hope deeply astir, our history, our story, is marked with a radical uncertainty, the beautiful risk of creation³…


Feel life’s pulse sounding and hear…

 Risking creation’s calls…


Within the beautiful risk of creation, within the depth of a cosmic awareness, within theopoetically ascribed ‘glory and strength’, within a hearing, perhaps, a voice thunders, perhaps a bath qol breaking, flashing, shaking water’s depth, a sounding breath breathing over an unformed, unfathomable potentiality, perhaps a divine voice inspiring⁴…


 Feel life’s pulse sounding and hearing…

 Risking creation’s calls…


‘John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…’ (Mark 1:4)


Within life’s pulse, John appears in a wild place, beyond convention’s constraints, proclaiming a message of old beginnings endings, of new beginnings birth – a baptism of repentance – a birth of a promise, of a return from separation, an ending of exile, the wildness of ‘going beyond the limits of one’s own mind’ – yes there is risk yet remove the risk, you remove its depth, its passion – more colloquially, ‘going out of your mind’, perhaps repentance as re-creation, suggesting new minds, new hearts, new hopes, new dreams…


Theopoetically heard, the baptism of repentance is going out of your mind, opening to the way of Yeshua ben Yosef embracing the risk, embracing, so I hope and pray, a way of calls, calls of compassion and justice, freedom and hospitality perhaps made real disrupting the primacy of the status quo; ‘going out of your mind’ feeling the depth of chaotic possibility, ruach hovering – vibrating – brooding – enticing – life – our life…


Feel life’s pulse sounding and hearing…

 Risking creation’s calls…


In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized… (Mark 1: 9)


Entering waters depth – Yeshua symbolically, poetically plunged into watery chaos – a new dream dawns – a wild thought – in waters one reborn wide eyed - sensing ruach descending, ruach hovering – perhaps ruach pulsing in hearing new words, within a new heart – ‘You are my son, my beloved; with you I am well pleased’…


Theopoetically heard, such is neither psychosis nor a literal hearing but, perhaps, ruach vibrating, a spectral sensing, perhaps a breathing of a call, risking response to a ‘bath qol’, in Hebrew literally meaning ‘daughter of a sound’, a theopoetic voice, perhaps a divine voice, a spectral insistence, ruach theopoetically sounding depths… ‘You are my son, my beloved…’


Feel life’s pulse sounding and hearing…

 Risking creation’s calls…


Paul…came to Ephesus where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers? They replied, “No…” [So] they were baptized in the name of Jesus…when Paul laid hands on them; the spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied… (See Acts 19:1-6)

 

This is an event, the chance of an event not a baptism event, deeper than the beginning of a sacrament. Truth to tell, history is more radically uncertain yet, perhaps, just perhaps, something is going on, astir within, within depth, within impossible calls…


Stirring deeply within narrative, something, perhaps ruach, came upon them, vibrating within –          

from within the watery unformed wildness of depth there is a hearing of spirit rhythm, of spirit song…


Continuing our reflection at depth, as for tongues and prophesying, I am aware that this is not normative speech in many Anglican circles, perhaps more surprising to hear from my mouth, however, theopoetically considered, tongues may be heard as perhaps modes of discourse refusing to conform to conventional definitions and rationalizations, hearing voices of those other…


Tongues – alternative speech – exposes an otherness otherwise hidden; alternative speech which exposes inconvenient truths, in the face of cloaking and dissembling…


Tongues an alternative way of expression that does not devolve into the inanity of being solely defined, limited, as charismatic expression…


The way of Yeshua, an alternative way, responding to calls of compassion, justice, freedom…


Prophecy is a risking of bold speech, that alternative sight, which challenges systems of oppression and

marginalization – both personal and systemic…


Prophecy is risking enacting a call of a bath qol, an alternative way of life, a way of enacted love, action, and commitment in service to others…


So, I pray, I hope and pray, as one’s baptised, that you will testify in word and deed, that you will testify and, if necessary, use words, that you are out of your mind; that you’ve gone beyond the confines of convention, that you dare to hope, that you dare to think, that you dare to work, responding, perhaps, to a bath qol, a spectral call but barely heard yet not easily forgotten…


I want you to testify with your life that you will refuse, that you will question the accepted script, the

expected discourse, that you will risk speaking of compassion, justice and right relations in a world caught up in endless justification and rationalization…


I want you to testify, in word and deed, that you will walk an alternative path, another way in which ‘the road less travelled’ is, perhaps, a path before all with or without the name of god, with or without religion, walking the path more important than the shoes one walks in…


I want you to testify, in word and deed, to the ‘tehomic’ depth of impossible possibility within life, as ruach theopoetically hovers over creation and broods within you…


Feel life’s pulse sounding and hearing…

 Risking creation’s calls…


 ¹ I would encourage those reading to buy or borrow a CD or go online and listen to the first 5minutes or so of the 1st movement of Gustav Mahler’s 3rd symphony.  

 ² Tohu vabohu is a Hebrew phrase most often translated ‘formless void’. However, as this misleadingly suggests ‘emptiness and nothingness’, the phrase is better considered poetically and translated as ‘waste and wild’ – ever suggestive of a potentiality energizing something dawning.

 ³ See John Caputo, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event, (Indiana University Press, 2006) p.55.

 Read Psalm 29 aloud better yet, sing it.