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


June 28th Pentecost 4, 2020                     John Marsh

Geniesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

A preface:

To suggest that ‘sacred scripture’ be approached as story in the broadest possible sense is in no way to diminish its ‘sacredness’. It is rather to release possibilities, freedoms, layers of meanings, to allow for stirrings, alternative insights to emerge…


Beneath the superficiality of literalist readings something stirs within narrative depths…

Within the depths of the narrative of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, there stirs reflections, meditations on violence, of the violence within sacrificial systems, of the violence attributed to, required by, projected onto god, of the violence within us, of the horror and the lure of violence.

This depth is pointed to in a story involving philosopher Alasdair Macintyre. During a lecture, MacIntyre referred to the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac; a student, not knowing the story, asked what MacIntyre was talking about. MacIntyre spelled out what god asked Abraham to do. The student then asked about the outcome of the story. MacIntyre replied “We do not yet know.”

That “We do not yet know” suggests that the story is still being worked out, that we are part of the story, that we are forever part of the story, that we must forever confront, reflect upon, our violence and our proclivity to project it onto others.

That “We do not yet know” suggests that we are a storied people, a people formed by story which of course means that we are of the story, affected by the story but not the only writers of the story.

“That we do not yet know” suggests that the story holds us to a higher account, that when we reduce meanings within the story, we demean the story, we demean ourselves, each other, perhaps even that which stirs within the name of god.

So, looking at the troublesome story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac - and it is deeply troublesome - if it is not yet finished, if it is our story, “what is the spirit telling the church, telling us?”

From the outset, it is clear that this narrative is a serious story; neither the story nor god are nice or warm and fuzzy. That we feel revulsion at the story is possibly part of its meanings and, let’s be frank, it certainly grabs our attention, perhaps necessarily so. Within the narrative, we are presented with inherently troublesome questions:

What is the lure of violence within our world, our community, ourselves?

Where does violence, in any of its expressions, lie within?

With what, with whom do we feel revulsion?

Where is this revulsion operative in our lives?

Why is it that we project violence onto god?

If god is violent, how do we reconcile such with compassion, forgiveness, god’s ‘hesed’?¹

As we move around the hermeneutic circle, approaching the narrative from alternative perspectives, if we wish to claim freedom from the burden of violence, are we willing, relationally responsible enough, to claim, live with the burden of freedom, hearing freedom’s lure, expanding its promise wider still? Are we willing, relationally responsible enough, to do the work of freedom, the work of risking response while owning the consequences of failure, owning the imperfections of our response?

After reading the narrative in which the voice of god, the enacted voice of Abraham, is clearly heard, are we willing to hear other voices? (Do we hear Isaac’s question, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"

Are willing to allow other voices to disturb our plans, our instincts?

Are we disturbed by the profundity within Isaac’s question: ‘who or what will be sacrificed?’

Are we willing to ask Isaac’s question against itself: ‘are we prepared to do the work of sacrificing sacrifice?

In other words, given the power of speech, I wonder what sheep and rams would say about sacrifice?


The sacrifice of Isaac reminds, leads me to considerations of my own sacrifices.

Abraham almost sacrificed what he loved; I have sacrificed what I dearly loved.

Abraham did so after hearing the voice of god directing him. Of course, if it needs to be said, the more certain we are of hearing ‘the voice of god’, the more we should step back and consult with others, many others.

I, on the other hand, did not hear god’s voice but the voice of parishioner at a vestry meeting. A couple of weeks ago, during the response time after the homily, I made a somewhat veiled refence to this story of outlandish untrue accusations. That such statements were made perhaps did not surprise me, that were made of me personally angered me, that those who knew the falsity of the statements remained silent added fuel to my reactions. Outwardly I handled the situation, inwardly I was, as I said, angry – incredibly angry. Coincidently, at this time my then wife had been offered a job in Vancouver at VST. We were considering the offer, at least in my mind, leaning toward remaining in Ontario. Coming home seething, I uttered the fateful words, “Forget them, take the job”. My reactivity, my acting on it, set in motion a chain of events by which, in less than 5 months, the Vancouver job was accepted, I tendered my resignation, the house was sold and I found my self in a locale more different than I could have imagined.

The point is that I sacrificed a community I dearly loved, a community who, within its complexity, was faithfully responding yet, angry at disrespectful accusations and the silence of inaction (legitimately so) I acted, reacted (stupidly). Perhaps, putting it playfully, I listened to voices, those inner voices of ‘lesser gods.’ Perhaps, as with my admonition to Abraham, I should have consulted more, much more, with others. Acting as I did, I have dealt with the consequences ever since which is not to say that all of the consequences have been without value nor even that reactivity is always problematic.

At times, fast reactions are of value – survival, life, justice may depend on them. But at other times, reactivity burns us, burns others, burns bridges.

Owning our reactions, reflecting, attending to them, perhaps we can temper, work with them, toughening when necessary, clarifying when needed, acting as required.

 ¹ Hesed is a Hebrew word meaning ‘loving kindness’ and is closely connected with the concept of tikkun olam meaning repairing or healing the world.