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


July 5th Pentecost 5, 2020                     John Marsh

Genesis 24:34 - 38, 42-49, 58-67; Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Romans 7:15-25a;

Matthew 11:16-19, 25

Paul said it, I’m just quoting:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.                                                                             Romans 7:15, 19

So now a question: Why is it that one named as a saint seems not to know himself?  

Is it not rightly assumed that one so named would be so knowledgeable, responsive to calls of holiness?

After all, does not the old maxim say, ‘Know thyself’…¹

Perhaps not…

Perhaps saintliness, dare I say, humanity, is intertwined within the unknowability of life, that we do not really know ourselves?

Is it not possible that change is intertwined within unknowability, that which haunts, surprises us, perhaps the looming lures of transformation, the surprise of conversions unexpected, unanticipated?

Perhaps, as André Gide wrote in Autumn Leaves (1950), know thyself is ‘a maxim as pernicious as it is ugly.

Whoever studies himself arrests his own development. A caterpillar who seeks to know himself would never become a butterfly.’²

Perhaps the question is not whether one can ‘know thyself’ but whether one can love thyself and then so loving, love the other, the other within, without…

Or perhaps, as Carter Heyward says, ‘we can truly know only that which we are not afraid to love, and we can truly love only that which we are not afraid to see.’

Perhaps we may hear and respond to the voice of the beloved:

"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away!  

Song of Songs 2:10

As we risk response, giving way to love, life’s lure, perhaps we will see that…    

There is fluidity to her movement – flow to her dance

She moves as she wills

Expresses herself where she wills and so…

Life’s children

Who are they?

They are varied, many, diverse

As different as John was to Jesus

All beloved

This is the poetic of life’s inherent vibrancy – creation fully alive, divinity perhaps breaking through!

This is the dynamic promise within life - our lives transformed and transforming

The dynamic Eros of divinity within all life

It is this dynamic pulse of promise which invites us to understand Paul

Law – all law not simply Jewish law, even divine law - can only inform

It provides only information not transformation

Law defines – brings knowledge – yet cannot ensure compliance ³

This is not to dismiss law as useless but to recognize that where law defines

Life dances, leaps

By which I mean to say that law can never define life

Life must animate law

As we have often said of the ‘spirit’ of the law as opposed to its ‘letter’

But we know – do we not – of the imposition of the letter of law

The force and power of legal definition in our collective story

At one time by law

Women were not fully human

First Nations were not fully human

 Jews, Blacks, others of colour were not fully human

It was illegal to love certain persons

Such a heavy yoke, all by force of law!

Which is where sin comes in –

In the stiffening, the rigidity, the defining

So easily becoming the silencing, the binding, the confining, the judgment

John was demonic, Jesus a drunk and glutton ⁴

This has profound political and social repercussions: pogroms, enslavement of all kinds, segregation, poverty, hunger, and illness

And, not surprisingly, our personal lives are not immune

As we unleash the force of judgement on ourselves, others, binding, confining

This cycle of silence, isolation, pain, and suffering becomes hard to break

The weight of political, social, economic, and when required, religious strictures collude with archetypal fears and anxieties

 We are mired down and entrapped

As Paul says,

‘That which I should not do - I do and that which I should do - I do not’

But this seemingly hopeless trap carries within spirit’s explosive dance


It lies precisely within the silencing, the isolation, the segregation…

End the silence, refuse the isolation, crack open the segregation

Paul breaks the silence

He admits, writes, speaks, accepts, and acknowledges

This is a bifurcation point of grace – the unexpected fork in the road

In taking the road less traveled cracks open in coming to voice, in breaking the silence

In coming to the table, in engaging, risking sight and hearing

And then - perhaps

 We played the flute for you and you danced, sang, moved⁵

So, understand

‘Come to me all you that labour and carry heavy burdens...Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. My yoke is easy and my burden light’ ⁶

¹ The Ancient Greek aphorism "know thyself", is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. By Socrates’ time it was accepted wisdom.

 ² Autumn Leaves is a collection of autobiographical essays by André Gide one of the great twentieth century French intellectuals

 ³ As with speed limits, setting the law, posting the speed, does not mean compliance.

 ⁴ See Matthew11:28-19

 ⁵ See Matthew 11:17

 See Matthew 11:28-30