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


February 23rd Transfiguration Sunday, 2020     John Marsh

Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 1; 2 Peter 1:16-21: Mathew 7:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."                          Matthew 17:1-4)

I need to be clear from the outset…

I have no need to dump on Peter…

According to the gospel narrative he did not get it – which one of us would?

That he wanted to hold on to this unexpected experience – who wouldn’t?

That he wanted to set up structures – tents, booths, buildings - does anyone want to live without them – be honest now. Truth to tell, given the realities of a Canadian winter I have little or no need to forsake the structures, just tweak them a little or a lot…

That he wanted to preserve, sustain, contain the moment, the experience of Yeshua being seen as the

Christ – again, who wouldn’t?

Peter, according to the narrative, was living where we all live…

He experienced something he did not see coming…

He experienced something he did not quite understand, adequate words failing him as they would most likely fail us and, if I may use my imagination, he fit his experience into expected, dare I say conventional religious tropes, “I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

It would seem that we’re all Peter…

So, if Peter, at least on my hearing, is not to be dumped on, what are to make of this narrative straining credulity, shattering well laid plans?

Is there anything we can make of this narrative, anything beyond the inheritance of traditional hermeneutics, not that such needs to be ignored, dismissed or ridiculed…

To my mind, something occurred that no one saw coming not even Jesus…

A sudden threshold moment, when perhaps you have a million reasons to walk away yet need only one good one to stay¹…

An unexpected transformation, a transfiguration of sight, awareness…

A religious experience beyond confession, perhaps immersed in confusion yet seizing heart and mind…

Is this not Yeshua bar Yosef of Nazareth yet one changed in our perception?

Is this not a glimpse of hope, life, faith within, beyond expectations?

Is this not impossible, this experience no one saw coming, no one expected, that never entered our minds, this experience of ‘the impossible’?

Is this not a story of becoming unhinged, a story of being exposed to something which overwhelms us, something we cannot manage, dare I say the impossibility of our own possibilities?

Is this not a story of religious depths, not so much a confessional religious story but a story of the religious edge of experience, all experience, life at the limits of the possible, with or without bishops, priests and deacons, with or without rabbis, mullahs or gurus, with or without religion?²

Is this not a story of a glimpse, a glimpse into depths which drop us to our knees in faith, hope and love, praying, hoping all the more? (Now that we are on our knees, aren’t you glad for the structures Peter built? Remember let’s be honest)

Is this not a story for lovers, lovers of life, lovers of dreams, lovers of justice, lovers of the excess, lovers of god?

Is this not a story worth its salt, a story perhaps inspiring a preacher who made a speech about a dream he had, a dream of the impossible, a story, a dream inspiring work?³

Is this not a story pushing the buttons of every loveless lout, religious or nonreligious, every person pursuing well laid plans, eschewing their passions, their hopes, fearing their well buried loves will lead them astray?⁴

Is this not a story of messianic hope?

Is this a story read in a community of messianic hope, a community where admittedly ‘every heartbreak makes it hard to keep the faith’?⁵

And if we are not a community of messianic hope, why not?


Perhaps a story of the impossible, certainly a story of something no one saw coming, a story of a call within a phone call, a call of something astir…

No one mentioned it, not the warden’s, not the parochial committee, the parish profile utterly silent. I was being interviewed to be the next rector of the parish and no one said anything.

Having been appointed, the phone call one late Friday afternoon, a few months into my tenure, was a surprise.


“This is Ms. Jones of Immigration Canada.”

“How can I help you?”

“I’m phoning to give you notice that your two refugee families will be arriving in 30 days.”

“Refugees, what refugees?”

“Is this the parish of St Michael and All Angels in London Ontario?”


“According to our records a few years ago your parish sponsored two families totalling 11 individuals, 4 adults, 7 children. They will be arriving in London in 30 days.”

“This is news to me. I’m the newly appointed priest and I know nothing of this, no one has spoken of this and to my knowledge no work has been done in preparation.”

“This is a problem.”

“Given our lack of preparation, if I were to say no, what would happen to the families?”

“They will stay in the refugee camp until someone else sponsored them if someone sponsors them.”

I paused on the phone wondering how the ball was dropped so badly by us

After a moment which seemed like a year, I said, “Ok… let’s move forward.”

“But did you not just say you have not planned for their arrival. You will need $40,000 to pay for their combined expenses for one year.”

“That’s my job to attend to. (And no, I wasn’t sure how or if we could do this) We will raise it. Could you please send me a fax with the personal information of the families. And may I have your phone number so I can stay in touch.”

Upon getting off the phone, I informed the warden’s, the bishop’s office and called a special council meeting. In one month, we did a crash course on sponsorship, formed a steering committee to oversee the sponsorship, rented two houses, furnished them, and organized two groups of support people, one for each family, to assist the families in their adjustment to life in Canada. And by the way, in one month we raised over $42,000.

Since this experience I have never viewed parish work in quite the same way, always seeing possibilities in impossible situations…

And yes, I may have lost my mind…

¹ Thank you Lady Gaga – listen to Million Reasons.

² And yes, to be clear, such deep religion can be found within religions.

³ With thanks to John Caputo for this idea. See, On Religion, 2nd edition (Routledge) p. 11-12.

 ⁴ The descriptor ‘loveless lout’ was used by John Caputo in On Religion 2nd edition. See p.3, in fact read the first chapter, ‘The Love of God’.

 ⁵ Once again, listen to Lady Gaga, Million Reasons.

 I was never able to definitively figure out what happened. Whatever happened involved the former priest who did not keep the matter before the parish, former wardens who, as it turned out, had left the parish and the Diocesan Refugee Committee whose oversight may have been problematic.