April 8, 2012

I'm clueless about today

Sermon for Year B, Easter Vigil
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
Saint Thomas Episcopal Church
April 8, 2012

There is something so lovely, so simple and true about today
  That I would really hate for it to get lost, since it’s kind of the point.
So instead of using a lot of words that seem lofty but don’t add up to anything,
  I propose that we skip everything else and get right to it,
    So we can spend the most amount of time with the good stuff.
Sound okay to you?

Look: No one who claims Jesus Christ as Messiah
  Really has any idea what that means, ultimately,
  And no one sitting – or standing – in this room has a corner on the truth.
You know this, and I know you know this,
  Because it’s about all I hear anyone say these days,
  And I’m not throwing it back in your face – I’m actually affirming it!
No one in this room has any better idea
  About what’s going on than anyone else.

Oh sure we’ve built a really lovely building around it,
  Even, you might say, an entire narrative and system of belief.
We have books and liturgy and logos and mottos and specialized clothing.
We have a budget and bylaws and (so people tell me) decently comfortable pews,
  And we can even afford to buy coffee and host events.
But don’t be misled: Being a follower of Christ
  Is not about having the answers.
At best, it’s about being willing to ask the questions,
  And to live within the deep ambiguity that marks this age as a creature of faith,
  Who somehow has decided to trust and lean in on something beyond him- or herself.

What we do know is practically nothing.
If anything, this: This something beyond us,
  Whom we call God for short,
  Loves us recklessly and wastefully,
    And has given us Jesus as a kind of teaching-sign
    That no matter what knuckleheaded stunts we may pull,
      That love and that grace will never ever be revoked.
It will pursue us and call to us and one day bring us to itself,
  And for now, all we can do is struggle to live in the light of it.
Allow ourselves, in this jaded and cynical age, to be shocked and gobsmacked by it.
That’s really it,
  And I defy you to prove much more than that.

Just so. In today’s first lesson from Acts, you heard in the reading
  That Peter stood up to speak and actually placed himself at great risk
  To say that he now believed and understood
  That the truly amazing events he’d been witness to the past few years in Jesus
    Weren’t just for Jews – they were for Gentiles, too.
(He was speaking up for you and me, by the way, when he did that.)
The argument he makes for this is based on something
  That just happened a few minutes ago.
He’s had no time to process it all,
  But he stands up anyway and speaks.
And he says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”
He’s right, of course, but the translator of the text has misrepresented him.
Read it in Greek, and you get a real shock:
  Peter doesn’t “truly” understand anything;
  He’s clueless, dumbstruck.
He’s had half a minute to stop and collect his thoughts,
  And that first realization has occurred to him:
  Well, fellas – he seems to suggest he’s hearing this for the first time himself –
    Well, fellas, I suppose … in light of all I’ve just seen …
      God actually shows no partiality, so ...
I guess this Jesus thing is meant to be open for anyone who’s willing to follow…
He’s not “in the know,” in this one huge moment
  Anymore than you are, or I am.
Is that paralyzing? Or maybe liberating?
Well, in any case, it doesn’t keep him from speaking his mind.

Let me go one step further with this.
In Mark’s gospel on the resurrection of Jesus, the reading you heard went like this:
  “But [the young man] said to [the women],
   ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
    He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.
    But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee;
      There you will see him, just as he told you.’
    So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them;
      And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
    And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter.
    And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west,
      The sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”
If you keep reading, it goes on for eleven more verses:
  Jesus shows up, everyone is suitably impressed, he gives them a few instructions,
  Then he’s taken up to heaven and everyone lives happily ever after.
Which is all fine, as far as it goes,
  But scholars have no evidence that very much of what I’ve just reported
  Ever existed in Mark’s gospel until well after it was actually written.

In all likelihood, Mark ends like this:
  “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them;
      And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
That’s it: Sick with terror, they were speechless and seized with fear,
  And they ran away as fast as they could and they didn’t say nothin’ to no one.
The End.

That’s it.
That’s it?
Oh, come on, Mark, we can do better than that.
Mark, Mark … (what a lousy writer, this guy).
Haven’t you heard, man? Readers require a feeling of completion.
Mark, Mark, baby, listen:
  You don’t end a story like that;
    You gotta finesse it a little, man.
End it on an “up” note. Give the reader a little pep.
Just keep writing, Mark – you’ll get there.
But he didn’t keep writing.
And not long after Mark handed in his completed manuscript and died,
  The hacks in Hollywood started cranking on it.
About hundred years later they finally stood back and surveyed their work,
  And said, Okay – now it looks like a bestseller – let’s get it to the publisher.

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them;
      And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
The End.

Does that sound like it’s meant to describe a process
  That’s complete, whole, sound, self-understood, or even at peace with itself?
Of course not!
All it says is this: Something incredible has happened;
  Jesus is not here because he’s been raised;
  So to Galilee to receive further instructions.
And they got out of there as fast as they could.

The good news today comes in two parts:
  In the first part, Jesus Christ, whom we acclaim as the Son of God
    Is killed by humans and by human power structures and state agencies,
    And is raised by God as a sign of imperishable love and grace;
  In the second part, none of us has the ability to truly begin to fathom what it all means.

So don’t be fooled.
If we seem to know what’s going on in our liturgy,
  It’s only because we’ve done it a thousand times.
If we know where the bathrooms are or how to get coffee or anything else,
  That just means we know this particular church.

There are no experts here – only pilgrims –
  And we’re hearing most of this for the first time ourselves.

Can we – and by we I mean all of us – can we allow ourselves the space and the grace
  To be clueless about what’s really happened today?
The resurrection is not about having answers,
  Not about having all the edges neat and corners tidy.
It’s about being loved in spite of ourselves,
  And as I said last night,
  The church, as one of God’s agents in the world,
    Is not a little society for people who have it together.
Quite the contrary: the church is not for winners … it’s for losers.

People like you and me who’ve been through the mud and the muck and lived to tell.
Folks who’ve seen what they’re really like when no one else is looking,
  And have been shocked by their own depravity,
    Who need a little help and a little community.
Lemons and washouts and flops and freaks. You and me, every one of us.

Following Jesus doesn’t make you perfect.
If anything, it makes life harder and less convenient and less certain.
It sets your dependence outside yourself.
It can be troublesome.
But other things emerge:
  You can breathe a little deeper, just knowing that you’re doing your best,
  That you love God and love the people, maybe even love yourself;
    And that really, despite all the evidence to the contrary –
    Despite the moods and hangups and all the cluelessness –
      You are loved: deeply, unconditionally, and completely.

That’s not just good news. It’s great news.

So we say, Christ is risen.

So be it! Alleluia! Amen!

1 comment:

Rev. Bryan Bywater said...

thank you for your fine example as to why standing committees are in need of review