Sermon for Year A, Proper 6
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
Saint Thomas Episcopal Church
June 17, 2012
Happy Father’s Day!
My own father is currently on his back porch,
Or as he calls it, his front porch,
Which has created no end of confusion for the rest of us.
Dad’s location is generally one of four places at any moment:
On his back porch (front porch?), or hanging out at the neighbor’s house,
Or at Walmart, or – and this is a pretty good candidate – fishing out of an inner tube.
Dad grew up in Dodge City and found his way to Oklahoma soon after,
Where he worked in insurance and later was a roughneck on several oil derricks,
And before all that he was a pastor for a few years.
(This morning he asked me if I was going to preach on God the Father,
And I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if he wanted to know
That I was planning to preach about him instead;
Still, it seemed like a good idea he had.)
Anyhow, after a quick jaunt out to Las Vegas to work as a carpenter,
And then in California as a member of a tree crew,
He went back to Oklahoma, where he has been contented.
In Oklahoma he started a furniture restoration business of good repute,
And then a few years ago he retired.
He bought some land and built a house a stone’s throw from where he was living,
And to my brother’s and my great surprise,
A few years ago this old bachelor dad of ours,
Who’d high-rolled his way through three marriages already and swore off women,
Went to his high-school reunion
And fell in love with a classmate,
And the two of them retired to his back/front porch,
Where I believe they are very quietly and very deeply in love,
And why not. Why not.
As is the fashion, when I was in my twenties I foamed and raged at my father:
All the things I wished he’d been that he never was,
Everything he should have provided me and my brother and my mother,
Emotionally and financially, that he never could;
The responsibilities I believe he’d shirked;
The potential he’d thrown away; the chemicals he’d ingested; the chaos he’d caused;
The hideous way I thought he’d left things with my mom, …
And the odd, mixed legacy of a triangle between him and my brother and myself.
In other words, pining away about something I never had,
And learning – oh so slowly – … to be content with things, instead, as they are …
Learning to let my imagination of a “Leave It to Beaver” type childhood
Of a perfect family in a perfect house, and two growing boys
And a mom in pearls
And a dad at a respectable white-collar job who mows the lawn on Saturdays …
Learning to let all that go.
(By the way, I have seen my dad mow more than his share of lawns.)
At any rate, it sure takes a lot of work sometimes
To let go of an image you like, an image that suits you,
Something you’ve come to depend on and define yourself by.
I’m on the cusp of 40 now,
And I look at all that and I ask myself
Why it seemed so necessary at the time
To separate myself in such a caustic way from my dad,
From about age four on,
Living my life, in a highly-charged reaction to his, as this overachieving good boy,
Until I finally saw, with the help of some very good men,
That if I didn’t let it start to drain out, that anger –
The anger caused by not getting what I wanted,
By life not being what I thought it should be –
That anger was just going to poison my heart.
Nowadays, if my father and I are oceans apart ~ and some days we are, others we aren’t ~
I have to admit that it’s because for most of my life I’ve preferred it that way.
But I’d say in general we’ve made our peace.
We love each other – even like each other.
You know, letting go of the image of any perfect thing we have in our heads –
The way we really want things to be when we shut our eyes tight and wish so hard –
Letting go of that is a pretty biblical way to live. A Christly, godly way to behave.
It takes years, generations even, to uncurl our fists enough
In order to let the fantasy fly away so that we can learn to love reality.
Years to stop fighting our lives.
Even in today’s gospel lesson, it’s right there:
Jesus knows that his people have for years been told
That they are like the mighty towering cedars of Lebanon,
That can grow up to be forty feet tall and eight feet wide.
The mighty cedars of Lebanon: Isaiah’s metaphor:
Isaiah, who said, This, O Israel, is what you are like: this cedar tree,
Rising, massive and unrivaled, above the world.
Jesus says, No, you’re not.
You’re not a cedar. You’re not a world power. You’re not a player.
You may as well give up that image right now,
Because it isn’t serving you.
You’re a boutique people practicing a novelty religion
Out on the edges of an empire that doesn’t give a fig about you –
An empire, by the way, that can crush you any time it wants
Without regard for you and without consequence.
That’s a harsh reality – hard, and harsh,
From the lips of this itinerant, preachy nobody from podunk Galilee.
Who wants to hear that kind of thing?
“Not a mighty cedar”? Who does this guy think he is?
Even so he says, Face reality.
Do the hard work of coming to grips with What Is.
Let go your fantasies.
And with that advice, he admits them into the very heart of God.
If we aren’t some magnificent, colossal cedar,
Then what are we?” …
Well, he says, you’re a terrific little mustard weed.
… Really? A mustard plant?
No, he says. Not a plant. A weed.
You mean the noxious thing that grows on the side of the road.
Sure, he says, you got it! A mustard weed, that sprang up from a tiny seed.
Aaand you’re saying that’s what we are.
Yes, he says.
Jesus, if you love us, you sure have a strange way of showing it.
No no, he says. Don’t misunderstand.
A tiny seed – a thing so small, yet it makes a weed many times its size.
That, if it’s really expanding, might actually make a little shade for a bird.
That’s what you get to be.
Buuut we don’t get to be a cedar?
Of course not, he says. You never were. But don’t you feel better knowing the truth?
And I bet if we thought about it enough, we’d agree that we probably do feel better.
That it is better ultimately to have a petty illusion stripped away
So that we can deal with with actual fact.
(Think about just the word “disabuse” and what it might mean in this sense –
To have been “disabused of our misconceptions” –
Maybe we could be relieved from unconsciously inflicting pain upon ourselves?)
Once the facts are in, and once we have dealt with them, it frees us up.
It liberates us, as Jesus intends, when he says,
“You are set free” … “Take your mat, rise and walk.”
We get to be who we are through the perfect freedom of Christ,
And if that mission is to be a noxious little weed rather than a jumbo cedar tree,
Well then, fine. We can do that. We get to make shade for birds.
I’ve seen a lot of evidence lately for what people can do
In the face of knowing who and what they really are in God.
A lot of evidence for what people can do
When pretense is dropped and reality is embraced.
Just last night at Morningside College,
Tom and Jodi Graham and Nina Anderson and I attended the reunion group
For the St. Thomas Tutoring ministry,
Which ran out of our church for eight years and touched the lives of so many
By offering an after-school and summertime tutoring program
For Asian children, mostly Vietnamese children, living in Sioux City.
Several attendees of that program stood up last night and offered words of thanks
To John and Karmon Amsler and Gene Ambroson
For the way that they had provided shade for them –
A chance to get ahead a little bit, from a position of being
In some ways pretty radically underprivileged,
To maybe go from not knowing the language to being able to speak with facility,
Getting help with their school work,
Being taken to the museum or to the circus,
Being made to feel worthy in a society that did not necessarily value them.
I walked away with the clear sense that in ministries such as these,
There can be very little pretension because there isn’t much to pretend about:
Fact is, there are people who need help;
We are commanded by our faith narrative to help, so we do.
This is what happens all the time, thanks be to God.
In other words, my dear brothers and sisters, we aren’t towering cedars and we know it.
We’re noxious little weeds, and we’re okay with that.
We don’t need to be number one in all things because we aren’t –
Because we are busily attending to the greater priorities.
And God wills it so.
See what is possible when we embrace all this.
As for Dad and me, we’re good.
We talked around 9:15.
I had been imagining that I’d be giving him a call in a little while.
His phone doesn’t get very good cell reception,
So I was probably going to end up leaving a message.
Chances are I’d tell him I’d call back later, and I would.
And I’d need to leave another message then as well.
Sooner or later we’d get caught up with each other.
That’s what sons and fathers do.
Or at least, after all these years, it’s what we do.
How good it is for God’s people to walk in the light of the real,
Away from the shade of self-delusion.
How good it is to embrace each other,
However and whenever we may,
For as long as we have each other.