St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


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


May 17th  Easter 6, 2020                         John Marsh

Acts 17:22=31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Generally speaking, the gospel of John is known as the spiritual gospel, broadly ahistorical, consequently considered of little historical value, a spiritual meditation of sorts, ofttimes seen by those of a more conservative mindset¹ as offering ‘eternal’ truths of essential theological tenets – hear a certain understanding of tradition – passages such as, “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.’” (John 14:6, KJV translation intentional)

Of late, there have been shifts in understanding, more nuanced views, seeing John as expressive of a literary genre, purposefully contextualized, serving not historical needs but intensive communal pastoral concerns. In other words, the gospel of John is an extensive re-reading of the Jesus story in response to contextual realities, demands of the time. It is more pastoral homiletic than a presentation of eternal historical truths, the implications of which are enormously suggestive in much the same way Paul’s contextual reiteration of the Jesus story in Corinth is enormously suggestive, where one named as abba, a name astir with intimacy is also, perhaps surprisingly, one unknown.²

Truth to tell, we are offered opportunity to extensively re-read John, addressing our own needs, our communal contextual needs and concerns. Today’s gospel passage speaks to a very human reality, the fear we ofttimes experience when we lose someone who has played an important role in our lives. Those of us who have lost mothers, fathers, friends, partners, mentors know that we can be shaken to our core, disoriented, concerned about the future, birthing questions such as, ‘how will we carry on?’ or ‘how will we navigate this loss, this change, without the guidance, the presence of one perhaps deemed as essential, necessary?’ And, if it need be said, loss takes many forms and expressions.

Knowing the incredible difficulties of the nascent church – instability, marginality, evolving, fluid leadership -  is this not unlike today? – perhaps Jesus’ words of assurance were heard as a critically important reminder: we are not alone, we are not abandoned, we are accompanied although perhaps in

ways different, surprising, calling upon resources previously unknown.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. "I will not leave you orphaned…”                                                                                                                                                              (John 14:16-18)

Stirring within, perhaps within us, creation, community, is spirit, spirt of god, spirit of Yeshua; truth to tell, we are accompanied (parakletos), perhaps consoled in companionship…

Companionship by whom?

Good question, perhaps we should seek answers…

Humanly speaking, this is similar to our being accompanied, spooked by those who have gone before, that great cloud of witnesses inclusive of parents, grandparents, those religious, those not, those both common and extraordinary³, perhaps, dare I say, the spirit of the Human One.⁴

Truth to tell, in the history of the church, in stories of those faithful, whenever spirit rises in ascendance, barriers of sexism, classism, racism, prejudices of all kinds shake, sometimes being torn down…

Perhaps, in the face of the unknown, we may reaffirm a faith in a promise that we are not alone even though, at times we may feel so…

Truth to tell, the story of Jesus, the teaching of Yeshua, the hope of faith, is intertwined with our pursuit, our response to a spirit of truth, intertwining, opening discernments, glimpses, perhaps, of ever more faithful expressions of justice and hospitality, life and love; such is our prayer, our work…

Turning to our communal prayer and work, for now leaving to the side personal prayer and work – need to talk, call me – we have experienced loss, the loss of in person gatherings, face to face meetings, trying as best we can to worship, to gather, to pray in forms virtual, experiencing loss perhaps longings…

And yet, can we not say, we are not alone. Are things different, yes; is work required, certainly; are we abandoned, I hope not. If you feel so, perhaps call some one who can be for you a companion (parakletos), one with whom you can talk, share, one who will tell you when they see parts of you fading away⁵, calling you back, forward into life. If you feel there is no one to call, check your filters, asking who you are filtering out and why…

Truth to tell, our lives are not immune to loss, change, the vagaries of the unknown. As a community, we face impeding changes in leadership, perhaps ministry expressions, liturgical adjustments. We may feel lost, alone, disoriented yet, are we alone, unaccompanied, forsaken, and bereft?

Perhaps spirit is astir within change and loss, astir within new possibilities emerging, impossible though

they seem…

Perhaps we can risk ever becoming a community, a community of accompaniment, letting go of any leadership, ministry, discipleship which blames, shames, guilts or goads, any expression instilling fear, seeking to preserve the status quo, holding others captive to our agendas, letting go, not holding too tightly, long held clerical styles as absolutely necessary, not letting style be confused with spirit, spirit astir, perhaps becoming…

A note: As for the phrase ‘letting go of long held clerical styles’, modesty prevents me from naming to whom I refer…

 ¹ Although nothing is beyond critique, conservative should not read as inherently misguided.

 ² As was said above, the one named as abba in the gospels is one unknown, possibly unknowable, perhaps one absent, in absence a spectral spooky presence, a haunting, the mystery of ‘I am who I am’. See the Acts passage and Exodus 3:14..

 ³ That we are so accompanied cannot always be assumed as being for good. As needs be, we must discern, consider, argue but doing so certainly not alone. And no, that does not necessarily mean we are delusional; we are relational, those gone before us not physically present but influential, if we have memory, if we remember, valuing the memory, seeking not to freeze the memory but to repeat it forward into new contexts, new iterations.

⁴ The spirit of the Human One, the Son of Man, stirs within human memory and community, at times as one unknown, unnamed, one at times named differently, at times astir deep, deep, within, revealed within ones other, the otherness of class, race, gender, orientation, those different.

 This phrase echoes the statement of Emily Townes who said, “Keep integrated, resist pulling apart. Have friends tell you when they see pieces of you drifting away.”