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January 26, 2015

Called


Sermon for Year B, Third Sunday After Epiphany
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
January 25, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

Jesus calls Simon and Andrew and James and John to follow him;
 They do so, right away, putting up no arguments --
 And their lives are just as complicated, in many ways, as our own.
When God calls, you have to drop what you’re doing and deal with it.
That’s how the Christian life works.
Sure, sometimes what you’re doing is absolutely vital and needs tending right now,
 But as soon as the patient has been sewn up, as it were, it’s time to heed the call.

For far too long, The Episcopal Church --
 And I suspect many of the other arms and legs of the Body of Christ --
 Episcopalians and others have talked about the call of God, and following the call of God,
   As something really only meant for those
   Who think they’re destined to become ordained clergy.
I know I’ve suffered under the same delusion myself.
That’s balderdash, of course.
We are excellent at doing discernment for those interested in holy orders,
 Which is how you end up with deacons, priests, and bishops.
Some of you may remember sitting on a discernment committee for just that purpose --
 For Linda Mansfield, here at St. Thomas,
   Or in my case, for a guy named Curtis; in Jacquie’s case, a guy named Steve.
We learn when we do this that we have books and trainings and many rich skills in this area.
We need these kinds of ministers in the church.
But we are terrible at deploying all those resources for the greater -- the much greater good.
What a waste this is.
We need to give some serious thought to how we are using these tools.

If we have these tools and all this collected wisdom, let’s put them to work on a broad basis.
For instance, how many people are there right now in this city this morning
 Who are wondering if they are in the right job,
 Or if they should reconnect with some old love interest,
   Or whether they should call their parents after twenty years of estrangement?
Without getting specific, I would guess quite a few.
And they might never stop to think that answers to such burning life-questions
 Could be found within the walls of a church.
Yet this is precisely the kind of thing that Episcopalians of Siouxland should offer the world.
Everyone’s calling needs to be discerned, listened to, and followed through.
If we think we have a knack for doing a valuable public service,
 Perhaps we had ought to be more up front about it.

Because here are the facts:
 God has vested you with certain gifts and talents, and interests,
   And God wants to see you using those out in the world to make the world better,
     In the name of Christ.
We all have a calling in this life -- even if it’s seen very dimly right now.
Can we all agree on this?

Would you kindly turn to someone and say what you think you’ve been given? --
 A gift, a talent, an interest that you have?
Please, do that now ...
Thank you.

Can we agree that each of us has a calling in this life?
A calling -- the calling of God -- God tugging, pulling, cajoling us:
 Come on -- come on and use your gifts already. The world needs it.
It doesn’t have to be high and mighty;
 It’s just a question of what is already there -- naming it, following it, discerning it.

For five short years, Jacquie and I worshipped at an Episcopal church in Castle Rock, Colorado.
To describe it in any depth I would have to write you a book.
I’ll just say it was transformational.
And on many a Sunday, we would go up and take the bread and wine,
 Or stand at some other moment to sing a hymn,
   And these words written by James Kilbane would fall out of us as we sang loudly, all as one:

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them, They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them.
Whom shall I send?
Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
I, the Lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them,
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide,
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give My life to them,
Whom shall I send?
Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

It’s a story about hearing the call, understanding the work to be done,
 And responding -- Yes, Lord, I will go, -- and this is the key -- if you lead me.
Be assured.

And how will you know you’re on the right path?
Frederick Buechner says,
 “The place God calls you to is the place
   Where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”
I just think that’s worth hearing again --
 “The place God calls you to is the place
   Where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”
 
One last thing.
Our church, like many, has a lot of retirees and folks over the age of 65.
I want to say that I recognize this is a very special time of life.
The family begins expanding; there are grandkids and great-grandkids to love on.
Opportunities to serve in a volunteer capacity start expanding.
It’s a chance to travel, to read and keep learning,
 To keep the body moving.
For some, there’s still a need to keep working
 In order to ensure that things like medical and grocery bills can be tended to.

Recognize this:
 Your great calling in this life was not just to do something for a living,
   Then be rid of it at retirement.
That’s called a job.
No, every day we are alive there is some kind of calling --
 Some kind of God-ordained calling -- on our lives.

What you do matters so much.
Even and especially right now, later in the second half of life,
 Listen for the call of God and follow it.
That’s the place of vitality, meaning, and purpose.

I guess in the end, that’s about all any of us really wants:
 A life of vitality, meaning, purpose, and faithfulness to God.
I don’t know what exactly Simon, Andrew, James, and John were thinking
 When they left their work to follow Jesus,
 And I can’t imagine they had any sense of how important it was that they do that,
   How much was riding on their response.
But boy am I glad they did it.
Their found energy and a sense of meaning and purpose for their lives
 By following the one life most especially given for us --
   That of their master and Lord, our master and Lord, Jesus.

So listen, pray, discern, and follow Jesus.

That can be the great pattern of our lives.

January 16, 2015

Ramp


Sermon for Year B, Second Sunday After Epiphany
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
January 18, 2015
St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Des Moines, IA

Good morning! There is a beautiful and simple point to be made today,
 And it is well encapsulated by this exchange between Jesus and Nathanael:
 If Nathanael acknowledges Jesus as both Son of God and King of Israel
   Just because Jesus saw him sitting under a tree and wanted him for a disciple,
 Then how much more will Nathanael have to proclaim,
     And how much more loudly and insistently,
   Once he has seen heaven opened and angels ascending and descending upon Jesus?
It’s a warning and a promise: Nathanael, ... buddy, ... you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Stick around.

Stick around, and wake up. Wake, up, Samuel. Did you catch it in the first reading?
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days,” and “visions were not widespread,”
 And yet the Lord came to Samuel anyway and shook him awake.
And Samuel got up fast and bid the Lord,
 Speak, speak, for your servant is wide awake and listening.
Why do we read this like it’s some distant fable on the page, when it’s today, it’s here --
 It’s happening now!

Stick around. Wake up and turn on your ears and open your eyes wide, and listen and look!
There it is in our Psalm for the day:
 The Lord is doing amazing and miraculous things all the time, so eyes open, please.
No more sleepy time -- time to rouse ourselves out of bed
 And stand up and witness these things and proclaim them.
Don’t worry about what you look like, because we all look pretty horrible when we wake up.
The point is to perk up and get the message and move it down the chain.
Pass the coffee! The Lord is coming! The Lord is speaking!
 And that’s just more important than bed-head and morning breath.

Stick around and wake up and look and listen and pass it along and don’t worry about externals.
Oh, and you’ll end up changing your life when you do this, by the way.
Did you catch that in the Epistle?
You can’t do everything you want to do anymore -- not if you’re up and awake
 And listening to the word of the Lord and passing it on.
If you’ve ever played The Telephone Game, you know --
 Correctly receiving messages and relaying messages (even in a child’s game)
   Means eliminating every possible distraction.
Paul says a Jesus-follower is someone who was bought with a price -- a high price --
 And therefore has to act like it.
If you’re in Christ, you are not your own anymore, Paul says. For “I live no longer, not I.”

And now what is the message? What is it that we’re supposed to hear and pass along?
The message is Mount up, get ready, here it comes. Epiphany -- God incarnate, man divine.
God incarnate means a tangible force for goodness -- THE force for goodness,
 From which all good proceeds. Watch it, imitate it, talk about it. That’s the message, the call.

Gil Bailie says -- and a hearty Amen from me -- that Jesus is a revelation:
 Formerly, we worshipped God in an “age-old sacrificial system,” in a temple.
It was tragic, bold, and dangerous for the Romans to tear down that temple.
But just as bold, and just as dangerous, is the coming of Jesus, “the God-Man”:
 Because now, “access to God is ... to be had through a human being.”
And just about every preconception we have about God is up for inspection and challenge.
The game-changer is on the scene: the story’s getting set up:
 In Epiphany, the manifesting of a star, the arrival of magi from the east;
   The escape to Egypt, the slaughter of innocents, Christ among the doctors;
   Jesus baptized in the Jordan and turning water into wine at Cana.
It’s all here, in this time between incarnation in a manger on Christmas
 And ashes-to-ashes at the start of Lent.
Epiphany is the run-up, the setting-up, the ramping-up
 Of this man and his ministry and mission among us.

Our message is that man, and all Christians are called to voice that message.
If we don’t have that man to discuss, we don’t have a message worth putting out there.

A few years ago, my colleague Jim Naughton
 Wrote an article titled “A dumb question I’ve been meaning to ask.”
Jim was then the editor of a web site that I used to help out on a little, the Episcopal Café.
He has a way of saying things that,
 Once you’ve heard him say them,
 You smack your head and wonder why you hadn’t thought of it yourself.
He’s a former baseball reporter who writes in snappy sentences that clear out the fog.

So. Here’s what Jim wrote:
“I have had [a] question on my mind for a few weeks
 That I have only recently decided is worth asking.
Is it important that we speak compellingly about Jesus?
“The answer might seem obvious.
 Of course, as a Christian church, we need to speak compellingly about Jesus.
“And yet, I don't hear that many preachers – even good ones –
   Speaking compellingly about Jesus.
 I don't know of many dioceses in which Episcopalians
   Are being taught to speak compellingly about Jesus,
   And even when people say that we need to preach the Gospel,
   I experience this as a call to spread certain values,
     Rather than as an invitation to figure out what Jesus was up to.

Jim went on to write, “I am not an evangelical.
 And I understand … contemporary seekers
   Might not immediately be interested
   In a set of … propositions.
 I am aware that the Bible has been used as a club
   Against minorities and marginalized people of all kinds.
 Still, if we aren’t offering people a deep and abiding encounter with Jesus,
   Then I don’t understand what we are up to as a church.
 To my ears, we don’t sound like a church
   That takes this encounter as its reason for existing.
 But perhaps I am wrong about our purpose, or am not listening to the right people.”

Jim kicked up quite the discussion with that item,
 And he left that one statement kicking around in me,
 All the way up into the pulpit this morning so I could share it with you:
 “[I]f we aren’t offering people a deep and abiding encounter with Jesus,” he wrote,
   “Then I don’t understand what we are up to as a church.” ...

It’s been two-and-a-half years, and I’m still chewing on this.
But I have decided a few things,
 And foremost is this:
 Christians have a very specific job -- to speak to the world about Jesus,
   And to use the Jesus they know from their Bibles and their prayers and community life
   To talk about what God is up to in this world.

It doesn’t matter what you want to call it: evangelism, articulation, advocacy, witness.
Maybe you’re just putting words to your thoughts and feelings.
The message we send --
 And we’re all sending some kind of message all the time, consciously or unconsciously --
 The message we send, it needs to be clear and compelling.

But Episcopalians are polite! We don’t evangelize! We aren’t pushy!
That’s why we come here.
What I think I hear when I hear this refrain from people
 Is that they are afraid of being lumped in with other “kinds” of Christians
 Whose opinions are at variance, whose righteous judgements are front and center,
   And whose condemnations are too readily deployed.
You’re thinking of the angry man with the sandwich board on which has been written
 A laundry list of behaviors that will send you to hell.
You don’t want your evangelism to get lumped in with his.
My only response is this: One, How could that possibly happen?
 And two, Has there ever been a better or more opportune or more exciting moment
 To root out that dark narrative of a hateful, vengeful God
   And to plant instead the seed of a God who tenderly loves and cares for each one of us?

Now, you, St. Paul’s, are on the cusp of getting some new leadership.
This is a good and joyful thing!
Believe me -- I’ve been with you on this for a while now.

It happens that I have known Troy Beecham since 2007.
And I can tell you a little bit about what he might bring to the table.
I’ve never known him as being anything
 But faithful, prayerful, gentle, funny, clear-minded, and deeply insightful.
Troy is very quick on his feet, but he isn’t afraid to say that it’s time to stop and pray.
He will tell you what he thinks but not in order to dominate or close down a conversation.
He isn’t self-defended; he’s kind of an open book.
Matter of fact, he will come to you with his mind open and his arms open and his heart open.
He won’t be throwing his agenda at you.

He’s the right person for the job.
The Holy Spirit has been good to us; God has been gracious.

I know you will welcome Troy.
Please do whatever it takes to integrate him into this church community and this city.
Throw him a grand entrance.
Explain to him that you understand you only have to learn his name,
 While he has to learn all of yours.
Tell him you’re all taking up your part in your common life,
 So he can rest assured knowing it’s not all riding on his shoulders.
Let him breathe and look around and take it in at his own pace.

All of that is say this ...
 What could you do now -- right now, a week before Troy’s here, and after,
   To begin tilling the ground for the next phase of mission and ministry
   In the life of this Cathedral?
What could you do?
Because I think it has something to do with this moment, with Epiphany, with ramping-up,
 With the call to wake up and listen and witness and pass the word about Jesus.
Something to do with the excitement
 Of starting something brand-new,
 Being on the crust of a new ministry --
   Not just Troy, but everyone here.
Something to do with rubbing the sleep out of our eyes
 And being able to hear old stories and old truths about God
   Expressed and interpreted in new ways.
Something to do with a sense of calling and excitement and response
 About really committing to becoming a part of the Body of Christ,
 Maybe for the first time.

So... Be Samuel.
Listen for the Lord to speak, and wake up and stand up and be faithful in relaying the word.

Be the Psalmist.
Look around you and see the marvelous things God is doing, and be faithful in reporting them.

Be Paul.
Evolve at all costs in order to become a suitable vessel for the Gospel;
 Encourage one another in this evolution;
 Leave behind whatever has dragged you down.

Be Nathanael.
Stand amazed at what God has done in Jesus Christ Our Lord,
 And give witness to it.

And be Jesus.
Be his hands and feet and voice --
 Serving the world, making it better, declaring the year of the Lord’s favor,
   Spreading expectation and joy and deepening the knowledge of God’s presence
     Everywhere you go and in everyone you meet.

These things are all happening.
As I said at the start, they are happening right now.
But let’s be party to them, eh?
Let’s be conscious participants -- full participants.

Let’s light it up, and bring it to life.