Sermon for Year C, Proper 9
By The rev. Torey Lightcap
Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church
July 4, 2010
By now at this point of the Gospel According to Luke,
Jesus has “set his face” toward Jerusalem.
Remember that the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles
Are but two halves of the same book by the same author.
In Luke, the Good News, embodied in Jesus, must travel to Jerusaelem,
So that in Acts, that News can be preached widely abroad.
Luke is aware of how social movements work:
They begin with something being told consistently, some message;
Then they reach a symbolic moment where they expand exponentially –
Then all these branches take off and travel organically through society,
Where they eventually find their own symbolic moment, and they blossom, too,
And before you know it, the movement is spreading itself.
This is part of what the Jesus of Luke has in mind.
It is why he’s set his face toward Jerusalem to begin with.
He’s bearing a message of peace and love
That will take him to Jerusalem for its symbolic moment –
The symbolic moment of all history.
Last week we heard some exhortations from him
About not getting bogged down in the process, and of being aware of the cost:
Let the dead take care of themselves; follow me immediately or you’re not worthy.
Now we might imagine that some have heard all these danger-filled admonitions
And decided to follow him anyway,
And so having some idea of what exists on the road ahead
He sends these messengers to bring his calling card,
Out to “every town and place where he himself intend[s] to go,”
Just as John the Baptist has done for him,
After the fashion of Isaiah – one of the greatest prophets in the mind of Luke:
Isaiah, who wrote,
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill made low;
Straighten up whatever’s crooked; smooth out the rough ways;
And all flesh will see the salvation of God.
In preparation for the journey of these volunteers, a little instruction:
Don’t take any traveling gear, and don’t speak to anyone on the road,
Or you’ll be vulnerable to thieves or be otherwise delayed.
Go directly to your destination, and stay there; don’t move around.
Eat what people give you to eat; don’t fuss.
Cure the sick.
And if you’re not welcomed to the places where you go, move on.
They’re told that whether or not they are successful, either way, they are still to declare
That the Kingdom of God has come near.
Nowadays, the situation has become clouded.
This is part of what happens when we aren’t clear about where we’re going
Or whose Kingdom we preach;
It’s what happens when we lose the thread of “preparing the way”
For God to enter and act, in “every place” where God intends to be. (All places.)
I am particularly aware of this tension of “Whose Kingdom Is It Anyway?”
On a day in which we together celebrate our collective freedom
To do things like assemble as we please, worship as we choose,
And speak as we feel called.
It’s as though everything’s been thrown in a great big blender, isn’t it?
Whose kingdom has come near?
Is it the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of the market?
It certainly feels to me on some days
That I live in the kingdom of GE and BP and AT&T and P&G and Mickey-D.
(You can almost see the oil spilling out of that pipe in the Gulf
When you hear the words of Paul: Do not be deceived; you reap whatever you sow.)
Whose flag flies this day?
The banner of Christ, or Old Glory, or the banner of Big Oil?
The ranks of Christians serving the helpless in the name of God,
Or bottom lines and cut-throat competition?
The mind becomes cluttered, the picture muddled.
How is a thoughtful Christian living in America supposed to use his freedoms wisely?
I hope you don’t hear this as some passing pot-shot.
I have my bona fides.
I am an Eagle Scout whose birthday is July 4th,
And I make an awesome apple pie,
So I believe my credentials are in order.
I can’t stand in a parade procession and see the flag go by without getting misty.
And if I really sit and listen to someone who took fire speak on what it has required
To keep even something as basic as the freedom of speech intact,
My heart goes numb at the thought of all who have ever died preserving it.
… Only I am, first, a child of God –
A child of God who believes, first,
In the perfect freedom of servitude to Christ and his message;
And a child of God who surveys the current scene with genuine wonderment
And, sometimes, not a little despair.
I despair that my legacy to my children looks to be a planet
That can’t be farmed or sustained because it might become too hot and overcrowded;
I despair that we seem oddly resigned to oil pouring onto our shores,
And that we as a country seem so easily distracted from that fact.
(And I’m one, I confess.) Or the facts of New Orleans, Haiti, and so on.
I despair the era of the all-too-comfortable, the all-too-expected public apology
For what he did and for how it let down his team, or his political party,
And the attendant lack of justice.
I despair the booze and the drugs that infect this neighborhood behind closed doors –
Doors closed long enough to make a month’s rent, and then you’re out.
I despair the silent yet palpable unease and disquiet of a neighborhood
That’s undergoing major change.
I despair that the Kingdom of God is too easily confused
With a political and psychological frame of reference that uses Jesus for its own ends,
With no eye for casting his real message widely abroad.
I despair that many have elected to run off rather than change that fact,
That our churches by and large are emptying out,
And that people are walking away from something
That has sustained culture for millenia,
While thinking they’ll find the answers to life’s questions
In an odd mixture of quests of personal fulfillment and chemicals.
I despair the phenomenon of “I’m spiritual but not religious,”
Which is a nice way of saying what church isn’t doing for me,
Or how the church has hurt me;
And I despair how that very phenomenon
Has just about drained mainline Protestantism of its lifeblood.
I despair for the man at Saturday in the Park who shook his fist at the street preacher
And declared that Jesus hadn’t done nothin’ for him,
And I despair the street preacher who bastardized the word of God
And looked down his nose, his heart so filled with judgment that it had no room to love,
To hold the other man in such disregard.
I despair that institutions of higher learning have traded their credentials
And allowed themselves to become repositories of technical knowledge,
Where passion is disdained as suspicious and too easily trained away.
I despair that so much of what I eat is genetically modified and overly refined –
Some crushed-up and recolored and mold-formed version of food.
I despair mudslides and sinkholes and tornadoes and blizzards,
All taking place where you’d least expect to see them,
And at the wrong time of year.
I despair the threat of rising tides and flooded coastlands.
… Is that it? Is that everything? Is our conscience clean now? …
Have we spoken in full? Is the list done?
It is into this despair, this hopelessness, this demoralized, resigned pessimism,
That Jesus steps.
And – please note – not for a minute does he offer to take what is bad and make it good.
He never said,
Come unto me and I will turn your rotten circumstances into preferable ones.
Rather, he came only to make the dead alive.
When we see and understand that not only does sin exist everywhere else –
It exists right here, in dead little me and in dead little you –
When we see and understand that,
Then we can take his offer for life seriously,
And work from it to change things.
When we see and understand our despair for what it is –
The worry of the moment, rooted in reality, but despair nonetheless –
When we see and understand that,
Then we can take up Jesus on his offer of life,
And find the place within ourselves that is still capable of the most realistic hope.
When we see and understand that things are far from perfect
And the Banner of the Kingdom of Heaven is obscured by all these other things –
When we see and understand and confess that,
Then oddly enough, finally God has room to get in and work,
And we will see the world differently –
That we are not chained to this doomed earth merely to die here,
But to run on to all those places here where Jesus himself intends to go.
Having done that, the Kingdom of God will have come near.
For surely, brothers and sisters, as surely as there is a Kingdom to proclaim,
So it falls to us now to do.
May the name of God be praised.