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April 16, 2015

Commissioned

Salvador Dali, Ascension (1958)

Sermon for Year B, the Third Sunday of Easter
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
April 19, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

“...[T]hat repentance and forgiveness of sins
 Is to be proclaimed in Jesus’ name to all nations.”
This was the mission Jesus gave to his disciples
 When he showed up among them following the miracle of his resurrection.
Repentance and forgiveness proclaimed in Jesus’ name to everyone.
That mission has not changed.

What Luke gives us a taste of here is also known as The Great Commission,
 And it finds its fullest expression at the end of the Gospel According to Matthew.
“The eleven followers went to Galilee,
   To the mountain where Jesus told them to meet him;
   And when they saw him, they bowed to the ground before him; although some hesitated.
 Then Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying,
   ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
    Therefore go and make followers of all the nations,
    Baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
     And teaching them to lay to heart all the commands that I have given you;
     And remember, I myself am with you everyday until the close of the age.’”

Let’s slow that down for just a minute. Here’s the breakdown of the logic.
Jesus is the authority, and we do what he says;
 So: what does he say?
He’s telling us, first of all, to GO, that is, to leave the place of proclamation,
 And to MAKE disciples,
   Which consists of BAPTIZING them into the household of God
     And then INSTRUCTING them as to the faith.

Go ... make ... baptize ... instruct.

And what is the content of the faith in which they must be instructed?
Luke makes it clear: repentance and forgiveness proclaimed in Jesus’ name to everyone.

Now, I don’t think this could be any more plain.
And the whole thing seems to hinge on the notion
 That the base of Jesus-followers will grow itself,
   Because all of us disciples will be busily commending the faith that is in us,
   As in 1 Peter 3:15: “Worship Christ as Lord of your life.
     And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”

I look around me, therefore, and I am deeply conflicted.
Because I do not see a self-replicating and growing base of Jesus-followers.
I see very dedicated people who seem to have been commissioned
 To serve individual congregations, or this or that cause,
   But I have lost sight of any sort of growing, replicating base of followers.
At least, not in the numeric sense.

Why aren’t the followers of Jesus speaking up?
Why aren’t we following this most basic element of the Great Commission?

I see four causes.
One, Episcopalians (and there are many other Christians besides just Episcopalians!) –
 Episcopalians have tended to let the following speak for the faith that is in them:
 Buildings, organs, priests, choirs, food pantries, pews, bishops, prayer books.
Two, we live in a culture now in which all opinions are so equally valid
 To the point where civil discourse is basically impossible;
 “Conversation” is just people trying not to offend each other,
   And the prevailing cultural stance is “Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.”
Gotta look cool at all times; no one can afford to be shocked by anything new.
So there’s no shocking us anymore; there is seemingly no new information,
 Even though, of course, we say all the time that God is speaking Right Now.
Three, the rank behavior of some who call themselves Christians
 But whose behavior is completely unchristian
   Is enough to make us want to say, “Lord, save us from your followers!”
And four, despite hearing so much Scripture Sunday by Sunday,
 And supposedly running to encounter it every day in our prayer lives,
 We mostly defer to people who misuse the Bible’s every word in order to be annoying bullies.

This is quite a pickle!
That in an annoying, loud, and benumbed world where learning is no longer expected,
 The only thing we have to use as a bullhorn is basically a couple of books.
Just when we remember that we do actually possess the prophetic voice
 And the gift of proclamation of Christ,
 We very often find we’re too afraid to use it.
Jesus as the incarnation of God is absolutely central to who we are as a people,
 Yet his name is so besmirched by those who claim to follow him
 That we don’t want to be confused for them.
By and large, all of this together has somehow taught us exactly the wrong message –
 That it’s just too risky nowadays to risk for Christ;
 And we have come to live off of the sacraments as a baby at the breast,
   Who expects to be fed without ever having to rise in defense of his mother.

Go ... make disciples ... baptize ... instruct.
There is a massive, vastly distressing gap between belief and practice.
What Jesus instructed us to do and what we have done are miles apart,
 And most days it’s about all we can do to haul ourselves up to confess it.

If Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life, proclaim it.
It’s right there, black and white, in his commissioning of us.

When you go from this place of proclamation, you go into the mission field.
It’s right out that door.
Make disciples.

Bring them back here to be baptized. Then go back out again.

And memorize your points so you can make them plain, and instruct.
Saving knowledge: restoration, freedom, forgiveness.
What an amazing gift of God!

It is the job of each and every baptized person to do this.
No one skates away. No one walks between the raindrops.
We have the enormous privilege of being able to stand in this room and say,
 “Praise to you, Lord Christ,” as we just did.
And so it is absolutely incumbent upon us all to follow through.

Each and every one.

April 12, 2015

Awake

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Bernardo Strozzi

Sermon for Year B, the Second Sunday of Easter
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
April 12, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

Here we are, sitting in a church building named after Thomas the saint,
 And I’m not sure I’ve ever really gotten what Thomas is about.
The further away I go from this reading,
 The more apt I am to say things like “Doubting Thomas.”
This, of course, is the label famously applied to anyone
 Who cannot be trusted because he himself cannot trust anyone,
   And so it puts him on the outs, socially.

Well, sisters and brothers, the issue isn’t trust.
It isn’t that “some of just have to be shown.”
It’s presence versus absence.
Thomas isn’t present when the first round of folks is witness to the resurrected Jesus.
Thomas isn’t there; he shows up later; he misses the scene the first time around.
BUT once he has shown up,
 He requires no greater burden of proof than any of the rest of them do.
He’s not some special hard case.
And of course he has that one beautiful line,
 “My Lord and my God!” –
 Which seems like a terrific summation of the entire Gospels to me:
   It slowly dawns on us that God is trying to save us from the worst of ourselves,
     And we finally have enough vision to be able to see that and be thankful for it.

So it isn’t about Thomas’ doubt.
It’s simply about whether he was there to behold the truth.
At first he wasn’t. Then he was.
We should cut him some slack.

I think, sometimes, that this little moment with Thomas
 Is not only a good summarization of the Gospels –
 It is also a lovely metaphor for the human condition of a life lived in Christ.
Because I, like you, am both here and not here at the same time.
My brain is drifting in and out of this space and this sermon.
I can be thinking about any one of a hundred different things right now.
I can check out and check back in again,
 And everyone will think I’ve been here the whole time,
   But the truth is, I haven’t, and you haven’t, and if we’re all honest, none of us has been:
     We’ve been with to-do lists and shopping lists and old memories and relationships;
     We’ve been with the boss we’re going to have to deal with tomorrow;
     We’ve been with spouses and children and grandchildren and mom and dad;
     We’ve been with something we read or saw or heard that we’re trying to remember now;
       We’ve been with exercising, or castigating ourselves for not exercising;
       We’ve been with whatever we’ve eaten, or what we should have eaten,
         Or someone we would like to be with or not be with,
         Or whatever has us anxious or worried or hopeful.

And, as long as we’re in church, we’ve been with the need to pray more,
 Or with the earnest desire to give more money or time,
   Or Why don’t I read my Bible more?
   Or When did I sign up for coffee hour?
     Or anything – ANY thing.
The brain is a very clever distraction device,
 And it will take us into a thousand different guilt-inducing self-improvement schemes,
 Or down some well-worn path of worry and insecurity,
   And yes, some of them will be related to church,
     But a worry is a worry is a worry.

And when at last we let the resurrected Jesus into our mental headspace, ...
 Well, it’s a lot to take in.
Meanwhile, then, because we work like this,
 It’s as though God is forced to play an unplanned game of Hide & Seek with us,
   Only the stakes aren’t child’s play; they’re much higher than we might imagine.

After the sin of Adam and Eve,
 They do what? Go and hide.
And God has to play peekaboo with them.
God comes to enjoy them in the refreshment of the Garden, the cool of the evening.
Can’t find them.
Finally, there they are.
Where were you? God says. I’ve been looking all over for you!
Well, they answer, ... we’ve been hiding.

The most fundamental question in the whole of the Bible:
 God is asking, Where are you? ....

When we do this – when we check out and get distracted and end up hiding –
 When we are content with being absent from whatever God is doing in our midst –
   Our name is Thomas.
“Sorry, can you repeat that?
 I didn’t hear what you said just now. I was Thomas for a minute.”
I checked out. I was gone.
Yes, I was standing here. No, I didn’t physically remove myself.
I just mentally pulled away and took a little vacation. Sorry. Can you repeat that?

The brain will put up a mighty fight to keep us away
 From wherever we are, whomever we are with, whatever it is we are supposed to be doing.
It will check out and refuse to check back in again.

Fortunately, for Thomas and for us,
 The brain is in conversation with the heart.
Now this is a metaphor, of course, and not a very scientifically accurate one, but –
 In other words, our logistical and rational faculties
   Are competing with our emotional and nonrational faculties
   For the right to sit on center stage and get all the attention.
And the brain likes to win; it’s used to winning; so it sets up camp on the stage –
 Says, I’m not going anywhere. I have important things for us to spend our energy on.

You know that feeling, though, when you’ve just been sitting and staring off into space,
 Completely lost in a world of vague worry and fear and insecurity,
   And then something happens – click – and you’re back?
And it feels like snapping out of something unreal and back into something very real?
Know that feeling?
All of a sudden, you hear or see or smell things
 That have been in your environment the whole time – a clock ticking, a small gust of wind –
 Things that have been in your environment the whole time,
   Only just now they snap into focus.
It’s a sharp moment. It can feel shocking, forceful.
That’s what happens when you tear away the veil.
It’s the force of the revelation of the truth.
It’s the force and the shock of reality.
Sounds strange, but that moment is a gift.
Because then we get to see – really see –
 Whatever it is that has been in front of us the whole time.

We live so much of our lives just sleepwalking from appointment to appointment,
 One urgency to another,
 Tending one source of worry, then another.
Largely unconscious about what we’re doing.
Meanwhile, the resurrected Jesus stands before us, waiting to receive our acknowledgement.
Imagine – can we imagine? – what it would be like to see him in every circumstance.
To go about our lives, awake as it were, and finding him wherever we went?
Can we imagine being here now, doing what we’re doing when we’re doing it,
 And seeing Christ before us –
   Not being absent to the reality of his Easter, which, after all, is our Easter, too.

Can we just ... imagine?