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March 26, 2016

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2016

Sermon for Year C, Easter Sunday
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
March 27, 2016
St. Francis in the Pines Episcopal Church, Stilwell, Kansas

Good morning!
Let me tell you an Easter story.
When I was about ten years old,
 I decided that I wanted to go and see my friend.
I cannot now recall who that person was,
 But he was inspiration enough for me to want to hop on my bike and go see him.
We lived in a town with perhaps five thousand people at the time – not a really big place.
So, knowing that my friend lived all the way across town
 Didn’t seem like a big deal.
Late on a sleepy and sunny Sunday afternoon, my brother was gone
 And my mother and stepfather were napping in the living room.
Without a word I slipped outside, got on my yellow bike, and departed the house.
To your average adult, it was a fifteen-minute bike ride at the most, thirty minutes on foot,
 Uphill and pushing hard going out,
 And the promise of a fast ride downhill coming home.
My legs were shorter, though,
 And I recall pushing as hard as I could to get up the hill.
I pushed the bike and lifted my legs a good thirty minutes,
 And was still only halfway up that hill.
It was no good. I was not up to the task.
I jumped on the bike and coasted down the hill,
 Pulling onto our street …
   And into a scene that still gives me a start to remember.
There was a huge red fire truck in front of our house,
 And a green ambulance,
 And two police cars,
 All with their lights going.
My first thought, honestly, was, Hey, awesome – a fire truck!
And then I thought, Oh no – something terrible must have happened.
But when I got inside the front door,
 There was a rush of energy and noise,
   And I was suddenly caught up in my mother’s arms,
 And someone threw a blanket around my shoulders.
Which was odd, seeing as how it was the summer.
You could barely move around in our living room
 For all the police and EMT and fire personnel including, I think, the Chief.
Remember, this was a pretty small town,
 And lots of folks were on hand and showing care.
Even my big brother –
   Whom I distinctly remember had folded me in half,
     Like a garment bag, just the week before –
 Even my big brother seemed suddenly nice and caring. Man, what gives, anyway?
All of this, it turned out, was for me.
I hadn’t bothered to tell anyone where I was going
 When I’d jumped on my bike.
(Actually, I just didn’t want to wake anybody up.)
But after I’d left, my mother had woken up from her nap,
 Couldn’t find me, and went into Mom Mode.
Everyone, it seems, had shown up, and had helpfully assumed the worst.
Beads of perspiration sat on every adult brow; there were big exhales when they saw me.
For my own part, I just thought all the attention was great!

Someone asked me if there was anything I needed.
I thought about it, and I said, “ … Well, I haven’t had a chocolate malt in a long time.”
And from the back of the room, a voice yelled out, “Somebody get this kid a malt!”
And then, just like that, as memory goes, the house was small and quiet again,
 And I slipped out of my mother’s arms,
 And away from her hands that tousled my hair,
   As they would do even if she were standing next to me in the pulpit right now …
 And I sat on the front porch step, in the humidity of the early evening,
   The sky purpling, the cicadas deafening,
   Me scraping the bottom of a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon,
     Trying to get out the last of a chocolate malt,
   A little chilly for having eaten it,
     But feeling good with that blanket still wrapped around me ...
True love – the love of God for everything God makes –
 True love, sisters and brothers, will go to any length to retrieve its object.
There is no clearer reflection of that love, no stronger bond, no higher love to be found on earth,
 That surpasses the love of a parent for a child.
You can try to understand it, but it’s so much bigger than the mind can possibly comprehend.
Of course God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
Of course God raised his only-begotten Son to life.
The love of a parent makes everything else seem pale and insubstantial, and petty.
The love of a parent rears up and protects its young,
 Collects them when they are lost,
 And cradles them when they are found.
And so today, when we are confronted with the new paradigm of the risen Christ,
 The living Lord Jesus,
 Whose body bears the dazzling scars of the violence we put upon him, ...
   Who comes to us having broken the chains of death, ...
   Who bids us on to meet him in Galilee,
     … When we meet this One whose message has been spurned, by us,
        And who has been expelled and crucified, by us, …
   When we meet this one,
     We might only ask, as did the hymn writer, What wondrous love is this?

Why did he come all the way back for us after we abandoned and betrayed and murdered him?
Why would he be given to be raised from death,
 Scale the depths of hell itself, throw open the gates of heaven,
   And show himself to us, ...
   Not for revenge, but to wish us peace, and to breathe the Spirit upon us,
     And to eat breakfast with us on the shore,
     And to keep teaching us the sacred and imperishable word?
Why?

Because. Real love is total. It goes as far as it has to, and for us, that’d be a mighty long way.
Real parents are driven by real love.
It makes everything go.
It forgives at its own incalculable expense.

In a way, I might have had the same thought about my mother,
 Who, after all, whipped up every emergency service in town in less than ten minutes
   When she thought I’d gotten myself some place dangerous.
What wondrous love was that?

It is the love of God, as of a parent for an only child,
 Manifest in the person whom we rightly call the incarnation of God.
The fierce protection, the great and immeasurable and infinitely forgiving love.
And now that you know this,
 You must also know this:
 That same love animated not only Jesus Christ in his life, work, death, and resurrection:
   It animated the world, and makes it still.
You can’t make God love you any more or less than God already loves you –
 There is no performance principle –
 It simply is.
And it not only is; it is total. Totally and utterly foundational.
If Christ teaches us nothing else, it’s that.
And I daresay that if you’d stood in front of me on that summer night years ago
 And attempted to explain all this to me,
 I’d have shrugged my skinny shoulders and just gone on my way.
Because to a child, who is already alive to such things,
 And who isn’t limited by what he thinks he knows,
 This is all completely self-evident.
This love is obvious.
You don’t need words to comprehend it;
 In fact, sometimes words can keep us from comprehending;
 What’s called for today is not an idea, but an experience of God, a relationship with God.
Look, all I know is this:
 That to this very day,
 Every time I give my mom a hug,
   I know beyond all knowing –
     Beyond all need of knowing, because I just know, automatically, already –
   That I am loved.
She throws her arms around me, and I’m ten years old,
 And with salty tears on her cheeks she tousles my hair
   And says, Welcome home. I love you.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon for Easter Vigil, 2016

Sermon for Year C, Easter Vigil
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
March 26, 2016
Grace Cathedral, Topeka, Kansas

Let’s just get all our cards on the table.

How do you even begin to name a mystery?
How do you give voice to something, when shock and surprise have stolen your breath?
How can you explain what you yourself cannot exactly comprehend?
How do you interpret your total joy, so that others can have their equal share?
How do you proclaim and apply words to the thing that just refuses articulation?

It’s like putting a rainbow in your pocket, isn’t it? or saving moonlight, in a jar, for later.
It really depends upon whether you saw it for yourself in the moment –
 “You sort of had to be there to fully appreciate it,” you might say, after the fact.
“Boy, oh boy. You really should’ve been there. It was like, I could feel the world turn.”

But. Thanks be to God, at least tonight, we are “there.”
For the moment, there is no other place to stand but here, no other time to be but now.
Everything – everything else has come to a sudden *stop*.
It’s deafeningly quiet;
 Something momentous is happening;
 And we have found ourselves, on this night,
   Standing precisely upon the most crucial moment in all of history.

This is the night, we heard a little while ago, in singing –
 This is the night from which everything else springs.
It’s the headwaters of our particular and peculiar faith system,
 The axis, the hub, the basis, the fulcrum, the measure.

We believe that Jesus was and is the Son of God;
 We always make room for doubt and questions, but we also say and believe
 That he was a one-hundred-percent real person, and actually all God, at the same time,
   And that this isn’t some math problem to be solved,
     But a relationship to be enjoyed.
We believe that this same man was murdered in a state-sponsored execution
 By people who were jealous of what he knew and afraid of what he was doing
   And by people who wanted to keep the peace and the status quo at all costs.

We believe that – well, would you believe it?
God did the most amazing thing possible by then raising Jesus from the dead.
We believe that this is a sign of love and grace and redemption
 Between the Holy and all creation, which includes you (!) and me (!).

And – AND, we believe that this small collection of facts
 Which I have just recited matters more than anything else that it is possible to know.

We really believe that this is the most important thing that you could ever know,
 Even though we have to admit that it’s not completely knowable,
 Because it’s a story about a mystery.
It’s a story about a strange but unstoppable, unconditional force called love,
 Which is a subject that’s always difficult to pin down.

We believe that if you chased the story for years with your life as so many of us have done,
 And tried to boil it down to its essence,
 You would have these statements, this mystery, these facts, this story –
   A purple morning sky, a hillside somewhere on the other side of the world,
     A hole in that hillside, a protective stone rolled away,
     And a man raised to walk in the newness of life,
       Fresh from the baptism of death,
       His body a collection of fresh new scars and bruises.
Walking away from the place his lifeless body had been ... walking away.
Walking away, not to escape, but simply into the next phase of his ministry.

Sisters and brothers, it may very well be simplistic,
 But if Jesus Christ and him crucified isn’t the heart of it, then what, I ask you, is the point?

Oh, but surely there’s been some kind of tragic mistake,
 Say the “cultured despisers of religion,”
 Or do dead bodies rise and walk on their own now? Or is it just this one?

As I say.
Always room for doubt and questioning. Always a place for seeking after truth.
How else can it work?

But maybe at some point the picture starts to resolve itself and a few answers come forth.
And this, to me, a simple man, after all these years of trying to find the truth –
 This, to me, is where I always go; it’s where I always find myself resting.
This particular night. This particular hillside.
 This particular man: Jesus Christ, and him crucified and risen.

Can you give yourself over to it?

If we give ourselves over to it,
 Eventually it will ask us to give up every last thing that gets in the way of that truth:
 Every last falsehood, every small withholding, every little shred of ego.
This truth is the irreducible minimum of the faith, the great and wide paschal mystery:
 Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
And as each year passes into itself,
 And with each celebration of the Great Vigil of Easter that I have undertaken,
 Like the waves that reset the beach,
   Slowly everything else has disappeared and been pulled out of view.

This night momentarily reflects and perfects that view:
 Christ alone, died, risen, come again.

Such a simple and glorious thing.
Such a mystery beyond telling.

And here we were, to witness it.

Thanks be to God.