Sermon for Year B, Proper 20
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
Saint Thomas Episcopal Church
September 23, 2012
About a year ago I went running out on the track at North High.
It was almost dark; but for the lane markers, I could hardly see where I was going.
This was typical for late summer –
Typical for me and for others I’d seen out there –
In fact, I knew there were a few other people out there with me.
But I think I also had that thing going in my head,
Where I secretly thought I was probably working just a little bit harder
And being altogether just slightly more athletic than anyone else out there.
So I ran along, feeling pretty good about myself,
Sweating, working, watching the light fade,
Listening to inspiring music and knowing no one was going to outpace me.
As I began a turn in my lane, moving at top speed,
Someone less than half my height – I would say a little boy of about six –
Pulled up on my left, practically idling his engine, smiling broadly, waving,
As if to say, C’mon old man, let’s see whatcha got.
He wore regular street clothes,
As though this whole track-running thing were just an afterthought to his day.
Another smile. Another rev of his engine.
So I stepped on it a little, and so did he.
It seemed to be no challenge to him whatsoever;
I had the feeling, and probably so did he, that he could f l y on and on and on.
Three-quarters of the way around the track, a stitch in my side flared up
And I had to pull back a little.
I waved to him, and smiled at him, and let him pass me up.
Frankly, I was happy to end the contest.
He waved and smiled back, and off he went like a shot into the dusk.
The next generations of faith are waiting, hungry, to be mentored,
So that they can find themselves in relation to God through Jesus Christ
And know beyond all doubt that in Christ they are all beloved children of God.
It isn’t a matter of competition or ambition;
No one needs to feel threatened;
It’s actually a matter of teamwork.
We need them to overtake us so that eventually we can pass responsibility to them
Knowing that they have their own race to run,
A race that is, in one sense, an extension of our own race,
And the beginnings of the race that even the generations of faith after them will run.
Jesus calls to the next generations of faith same as Jesus calls to us,
Demanding that we all be his witnesses in a world that has been broken;
Demanding that we all be his voice, his hands, his healing words:
That we learn the story of who we are and how we got here,
So we can sing it out:
Free at last!
The story of perfect liberation and restoration and healing and peace of Christ
In a weary time, in a weary world.
We need to be overtaken eventually, for our sakes and for the sake of those who follow.
The older we get, the more we need to know
That someone will arise and engage us and overtake us and succeed us
And run even when the daylight is gone and our eyesight isn’t so good anymore.
The older we get, the more we need to learn and re-learn
That no matter how or when this happens, it’s going to happen,
And the best we can do is to prepare ourselves and find this generation and prepare them
And throw open the doors in welcome
And say to them, Blessed are you, children of God –
Carry this message of divine and unconditional love out into the world;
Love and serve the Lord wherever you may find him.
We need to run knowing in deep faith
That even now God is bringing to us, in dribs and drabs and droves,
And that we are being called to reach out, in dribs and drabs and droves,
To those who will one day break the bread of fellowship,
Join hands in prayer, share their burdens with one another,
Proclaim the Good News of God and Christ in word and deed,
Selflessly serve and give to the needs of the saints,
Gather together to eagerly dive in to the Word of God for healing and insight,
And say our names in a loud voice, commending our spirits to God,
When they are called upon to remember the dead, their ancestors in the faith.
A few millennia ago, in the Gospel of Mark,
Jesus didn’t want anyone to know that he was the Messiah.
He shushed the people that wanted to speculate about his identity.
He didn’t need good press; he needed anonymity;
If word had gotten out that would have allowed him to be seen at the time
As anything but a Galilean peasant and the insignificant son of migrant day-laborers,
It truly would not have helped his cause.
He needed for everyone around him to keep a lid on it – not to tell of their suspicions.
Not right then, not at the time, not two thousand years ago…
Scholars even have a term for this phenomenon: they call it the Messianic Secret.
It means a few different things to those scholars which we need not downplay,
But to me it only means one thing, and that is simply this:
It isn’t a secret anymore, and it’s no longer supposed to be kept as one.
The arc of the gospels, in part, is this:
In Jesus, God became one with us so that we could become one with God.
That was something he could not proclaim lest it endanger his ministry.
Now, it seems, if we do not proclaim it, it will endanger our ministry.
In just this moment of Mark, you can see Jesus doing great signs and wonders,
And dispensing wisdom with the tongue of an inspired teacher.
When people get so excited about what God is doing that they just can’t stand it,
And they want to go and tell everyone they can find
That this, at last, is the one we’ve hoped for,
He shocks them – shocks them! – and us, by putting his finger to his lips – Shhhhh.
It isn’t time. Don’t tell.
Now we, his church, as his hands and voice and heart in the world,
Engage in much the same behavior.
Only it’s as if we’re looking at ourselves in a mirror – Shhhhh. Calm down.
Don’t tell. Don’t be a Jesus freak. Don’t risk it. Play it safe.
Last week, you heard me quote from The Baptismal Covenant.
Today I want to remind you that we also have something called The Great Commission.
It’s the very last thing you read about in the Gospel of Matthew.
The women go to keep vigil at the tomb of Jesus’ burial,
And a snow-white angel meets them there. Tells them, Nevermind about the grave.
Jesus isn’t here; he’s been raised, just like he said he would.
He’s gone on ahead to Galilee, and that’s where you all need to go to meet up with him.
So they go; they find him on the mountain; they fall down and worship him.
He tells them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,”
Or in other words, God authorized and commanded me to commission you.
He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
And teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Or in other words, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life,
Marking them by baptism in the threefold name...
Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.
I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, [the whole way].”
Brothers and sisters, our job here is clear.
God is always faithful to us; we have, somehow, to be faithful in return
By fulfilling the promises we have made,
Whether it’s comfortable for us or not.
For our sakes, yes, but much more,
For the sake of those who even now are sneaking up behind us on the track.
Until they overtake us, they remain our responsibility.