I don’t know why, but Andrew Wilhelm-Boyles has been on my mind a lot lately. Andrew was a beloved member of this congregation, and a deacon of the church. He served in a number of roles throughout this diocese, but chose us, chose St. Brigids as the place that he would serve as deacon in the last days of his life.
Andrew knew he was dying. His cancer had taken over his body, and he knew the end was near. And this is the place he chose to serve. To grow in relationship to us, and we to him. And I miss him.
As I was thinking about Andrew, my mind turned to Irish Philosopher Peter Rollins. It has little to do with St. Patrick’s Day yesterday, but more a conversation I had with Andrew in his last days. I told him of travelling to Seattle with David Archer and another friend to hear Rollins talk, and then offered to lend The Divine Magician, Rollins’ latest book.
It wasn’t until after he died that I found out that this had been the last book Andrew had decided to read. A mutual friend of ours approached me at an event to tell that the book’s questions and its answers were incredibly clarifying for him.
As I was reading this week’s gospel passage over the past few weeks, one of Rollins’ parables came readily to mind. And so, instead of a sermon, tonight I offer this lightly-adapted parable from Peter Rollins’ book, How (Not) to Speak of God.
Imagine living in a Vancouver where Christianity has become illegal overnight.
We all know Vancouver’s seemingly benign indifference to Christian faith. It’s what we – for many years – have taken for granted. It’s the character of this corner of the world. But imagine, just imagine that this city and province have finally realised that Christianity is, in fact, at odds with the desired civil order. Christians, true Christians, have become enemies of the state.
One night, a well-known preacher is arrested, accused of insurrection.
A week or two later, the preacher is brought before the court. Members of the prosecution have assembled a striking case. They start it all off by turning to the preacher’s Instagram feed. The occasional photo of a family member or a beautiful sunset from their west-facing balcony peppered in and amongst photo after photo of the preacher in church. Pictures at the pulpit. Leading bible studies. Lighting a candle. Sharing the Eucharist. Expounding on what the Christian life is all about. There are even some inspiring quotes from celebrity pastors next to food pics from the latest church potluck.
Image after image makes it obvious that the preacher spends much of their time in and around church. Religious events. Prayer services. Conferences.
And then there are the photos of the preacher’s bookshelf. All the latest theological titles. Some even signed by the author. Shameless selfies in coffee shops reading the latest titles. A scan of Twitter shows the mounting tally of retweets of favoured religious podcasters and musicians.
Next, the prosecution brings out the big guns, demanding an account of the jewellery, icons, religious art, and even design for a Jesus tattoo yet to be inked.
The prosecution continues to ramp it up, revealing the preacher’s earnest poetry and searching journal entries. Deep spiritual wrestling on every page. And then, in closing, the prosecution brings out the preacher’s well-worn bible. They point to the margin notes, passages underlined and highlighted. More and more evidence that the preacher has read and re-read this sacred book from cover to cover.
As the evidence mounts, the preacher begins to quake. Their brow saturated by sweat, they feel the pressure growing deep within. The knot in the stomach tightens. The heart beats faster and faster. Imprisonment – perhaps even death – is inevitable.
The preacher tries to keep it cool, feeling that they will deny Jesus at any moment. “It’s not true! It’s all lies! I renounce Jesus!” But they don’t. Even though the temptation is there, the preacher stays strong, and keeps quiet.
Before returning to chambers, judge asks the preacher if they have anything to say. They say nothing. They’re led from the courtroom as the judge ponders the case.
Time passes and passes until the preacher is summoned back to the courtroom to hear the verdict. The judge enters the room. Preacher and judge remain standing. The judge’s eyes lock with the preacher’s. Time passes. What is the judge looking for? A grain of truth? Confirmation of guilt? God knows what.
Then the moment of truth. “Of the charges brought forward,” the judge pronounces, “I find the defendant not guilty.”
The preacher’s face betrays a sense of disbelief. And then in a split second, fear and terror are transformed into confusion and rage. The preacher stands before the judge, finger pointing, blood boiling, demanding to know how such a thing is possible, in light of all the evidence.
“What evidence?” the judge replies, in shock. “I don’t see any evidence of Christianity here.”
The preacher goes back through the entire case, dumbfounded, pointing to sermon after sermon, to the well-worn bible, the religious music and books.
The judge smiles sadly and says again, “I don’t think that any of this warrants a charge. Your sermons show that you are a preacher and a poet. Your journals show that you like to write. You may have fooled others, and you may have even fooled yourself, but…”
The judge looks the preacher in the eye as if revealing a long-forgotten secret, and says:
“The court is indifferent towards your Bible reading and worship attendance. Until you live as Christ lived, until your body carries the scars of offering yourself in self-giving love for the life of your neighbour, and the world around you, I don’t see any reason to charge you.”
That’s how the parable ends. It strikes me that tonight’s reading from John’s gospel has a similar punchline.
A group of Greeks walk up to Philip.
Some tourists wander into a downtown Cathedral. Perhaps you too can hear them say “Hey Philip! Hey preacher! We want to see Jesus.”
 Adapted from Peter Rollins. How (Not) to Speak of God.