October 7, 2012


Sermon for Year B, Proper 22
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
October 7, 2012
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

The very first thing I want to tell you this morning
 Is of a general nature about preaching - sort of an announcement.
It’s something I have meant to say for a long time now.

I see the act of preparing and giving a sermon as the beginning of a conversation.
That hearty “Ah-men” at the end of the sermon does not signify the end of the discussion.
It means you have just been handed an imperfect set of ideas
 To chew on and think about on build upon.
It would be the height of folly for me to imagine I’m offering the last word on any subject.
I want you to engage me in what you’re hearing.
I want you to engage one another in what you’re hearing.
I long and pray for you all to have a much bigger and wider conversation
 Than anything this pulpit can provide in fifteen minutes.
However, whenever, wherever you choose to do that is up to you.
And when dealing with me about the sermon, remember that I am not fragile;
 I have written on deadline and accepted much criticism for my ideas over the years;
 And I just want you to feel free to disagree if it helps make something richer and deeper
   That happens in the name of Christ, and with the charity of Christ.

Now, since I’m getting the conversation kicked off this morning,
 I guess I need to begin with a set of claims about myself.
Notice I didn’t say “disclaimers.”
In my experience, when preachers begin sermons by disclaiming or apologizing,
 They distance themselves from the text at hand,
   And today’s text is most definitely something we don’t want to distance ourselves from.

I am the child of divorced parents.
It seems odd to say it that way since it happened when I was four,
 But nothing can change that fact.
Even if my parents got back together -
 Which would be a colossal mistake,
   Seeing as how, for one thing, they’re both married to other people now -
 They would still be two people who had previously divorced.
Now, that divorce: it was a big blessing in a terrible disguise:
 It colors me and how I see my world,
 And I thank God that it has given me strength to live my life in the way that I have.

Because in the end, it was the right thing to do,
 And though it was hard,
   And though in some ways it was fought against every step of the way,
     Still, there was nothing else to be done.
The marriage could not be retrieved; it was broken.
Its demise was inevitable, and no amount of tears or fights were ever going to save it.
It was dead on the table; nothing would resuscitate it.

Some marriages can be pulled back into vitality;
 Some just need a tweak here or there;
   Some, with a lot of work, can be realigned;
     As a person of faith, I think divorce is indeed a card that sometimes is played
     With too much ease, too much nonchalance, for the convenience of a few.

But this particular marriage: Well, now.
It began in shady half-truths that grew more and more problematic, year by year,
 And in the end, when my mother and father finally admitted defeat,
 Only then, gradually and painfully, was there any liberation from the problem.
God be praised.

That’s the claim I need to make about myself;
 As I say, it impacts upon my thought process and what I say today.
So … if I had to ask myself whether I agree automatically and always
 With the logic of Jesus in Mark’s gospel
 That a woman or a man who remarries instantly commits adultery,
 I would say that particular question is really not the question I should be spending time with.
It’s a blind alley as far as I can tell;
 And many have gotten stuck in it.

Here are the real theological questions of marriage, at least from where I stand:
 … Is this relationship a blessing to one another and to the world?
 … Does it show the handiwork and creativity of God?
 … Do we love each other and work at it?
 … Do we try to understand each other even and especially when times get tough?
 … Do we feel better and safer and saner when we’re with each other?
 … Are we doing everything we can to avoid hardness of heart,
       Which, as Jesus notes, is the central problem?

If you can generally affirm this as true, then you’re making the Kingdom of God on earth.

What’s so strange about this is that through our cultural conditioning,
 We have come to create all sorts of exceptions around this that we really have to address.
So, at the risk of beating the proverbial dead horse to make it deader,
 Let me bring this into as clear a focus as I possibly can
 By speaking into the range of us in our many sorts and conditions of relationship.

In a previous parish I served,
 I was approached by someone who’d been married to a scoundrel a few years
 And whose marriage hit the rocks before the ink dried on their license.
He was a casual womanizer with no interest in monogamy;
 She worked to put bread on the table and took care of their baby;
 They had no business being together.
Their divorce couldn’t come fast enough,
 And yet years later, she was frightened of remarriage
 Because, she said, of this very passage in Mark.
She looked deeply into my eyes and she asked me,
 “Father Torey, why does my ex get to go and live his life, and I don’t?”
I told her she did get to, if she was ready,
 And that she didn’t have to ask for forgiveness or seek confession
 Just for marrying someone she loved;
   How could that be a sin? I said.
God wanted her to live a rich, joyous, full existence, I said.
Over the course of my time in that parish, I think I told her all this three or four times.
In the end, it wasn’t anything I could change.

If you are a human being at all, your job is
 To give thanks and do all you can to prevent hardness of heart.
If you’re single, and you want to be, and you feel it’s where you need to be,
 Give thanks and do all you can to prevent hardness of heart.
If you’re single and you wouldn’t mind marrying or remarrying some day,
 Give thanks and do all you can to prevent hardness of heart.
If you are single and you haven’t found a mate,
 Give thanks and do all you can to prevent hardness of heart.
If you are married now,
 Give thanks and do all you can to prevent hardness of heart.

All people deserve the blessing of the church in the sanctity of marriage.
All people need to know that they are made in the image of God and blessed by Christ.
To my gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, and questioning brothers and sisters,
 I hope you will let me speak to you right now.
I am asking your forgiveness for the many years that I just didn’t try to understand
 Who you are and what you are asking for.
I ask your forgiveness for the many times I have failed to speak up or speak out
 When I witnessed you being relegated to second-class status.
I ask your forgiveness for not pushing hard enough for a simple policy of marriage equality
 When I first arrived at St. Thomas three-and-a-half years ago.
I pray that wherever I have been in error, God will forgive me and teach me,
 And train from me the impulse toward hardness of heart.

By doing the very bold thing of asking the church to recognize and uphold your marriage,
 You are actually asking for something so simple,
 And that is to also be officially submitted to the common standards of Christian marriage:
   Fidelity, mutuality, genuine partnership, and growth together in the life of Christ
   And in the loving, uncompromising, communal embrace of the church
     That you and we all so badly deserve and need.
If there is one place in this world outside of our homes where we can experience
 The radical and all embracing love and acceptance of God in this way,
 It should be within the church.
So thank you for asking for that;
 Thank you for standing up even when it has been dangerous to do so,
   And demanding and asking and begging consistently
     For a life of complete and whole inclusion in the church.

To those who have suffered or are suffering any form of abuse in marriage,
 Be it verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, economic, or isolation,
   Be it you or your children, be you a woman or a man:
 The point of Christian marriage, as I say,
 Is fidelity, mutuality, genuine partnership and genuine growth together in Christ.
These cannot be accomplished when the stumbling block of abuse is present.
What is abuse if not hardness of heart expressing itself in a dark way,
 Just raw power being exercised for its own sake?
Please know that help is possible;
   If you are alive and listening, the point is not lost and it’s not too late.
We have a safety net built into our society for people who are hurting,
 Although letting go of whatever situation you’re in may feel like a freefall.

Our parish, like many, has had its share of elder male deaths in recent years,
 Leaving widows.
Our parish, too, has widowers.
There should be no stigma for you if this is your place in life right now.
Again, of all places where you can seek and find refuge from the way society wants to paint you,
 The church should be the one place where you are accepted, period, for who you are.
If your prayer directs you to seek a mate and it seems sensible, fine.
If your prayer directs you to hold your present course, fine.
But either way, know that as long as you and I are here, we are brother and sister.

To those who are married, no matter how you managed to get here:
 Whether you’ve been to a judge or stood in this church before a member of the clergy,
   Whether you just walked right up and asked for the privilege to be extended to you
     Or had to fight to get it recognized in court over a period of years:
Let’s recognize that a marriage is not something we enter into once and then are finished,
 But in fact is something we must commit to anew each and every day,
   If God has anything to do with it.

Let’s recognize that even in the best of times we are never done evolving,
 That it’s a special and strange calling to be a partner for life
   With someone who wasn’t the same yesterday and will be a little different tomorrow;
 And that when times get tough,
   Sometimes the best response, the only acceptable response to the pain of the other,
     Is to simply be present to it, hard as that is.
That when we are divided by argument and enslaved by the need to be right,
 Nothing is as important as the other person.

Because what does Jesus say?
He says God made you, made us all, made us for each other,
 And that if we do all we can not to fall victim to hardness of heart,
   We’re going to be fine.

Not only fine, but amazing.
Growing. Evolving. Changing. Getting better.
Deepening in trust and mutuality and fidelity and deep union and friendship with each other.
And I truly believe this:
 That when all that’s happening and deepening,
 So, in some crazy and inexplicable way, is our relationship with God.

The call, sisters and brothers, from the beginning of time,
 Is to “be fruitful and multiply.”
That isn’t just about having kids: It’s a whole way of being in the world.

May God richly and beautifully bless every love-relationship in this room,
 Keeping our hearts softened and receptive,
 To see the hand of the divine at work in the world around us.
In Christ’s name.


Marcia Powell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allison said...

This is the sermon I wish I had heard this morning. Such an important text to engage, and sadly skirted around by many clergypersons. Admittedly, were I preaching this morning, I may have gone for the collect. Luckily (blessedly?), I am only a licensed lay preacher and get to pick and choose the Sundays (and the texts, generally) on which I preach. I've never had to engage this text.

As a fellow child of divorced parents, thank you.

Jason Lillis said...

Very powerful and challenging stuff, Torey. Thanks for your insights!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Torey. Honesty from the pulpit is an awesome thing and all too rare. I also went right at divorce and hardness of heart and called for the church to be a "no shame zone." Blessings,

Meredith Gould said...

So much I could say but it all boils down to this: thank you.

Anonymous said...

This sermon has overwhelmed me. You speak to a wide audience inclusively and keep us focused on all being called to prevent hardness of heart. Those words are key because the feeling is palpable. We all know the boundaries that are built when we aren't attentive to this. Wow. As a married mom I thank you for your comments on marriage. I hold with me the idea of embracing the project anew each day. Thank you for this.
(Icy Blue)

Glenn said...

Let's continue the conversation. "Hardness of heart"...may we please have some references to Biblical texts for your statement that Jesus says this is the central problem? So, if we are to leave judgment to God and Jesus and then they "reject evil," are they themselves practicing hardness of heart? What of Jesus' parables about the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46); the talents and the minas (Matt 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27); the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9); the wheat and the weeds (Matt 13:24-30,36-43); the net (Matt 13:47-50); and the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13)? By raising these questions, I am not saying GLTBs or their lifestyles are wicked or evil. I leave that to God. But are you saying that there is no wickedness or evil? I am asking you and the Episcopal Church to reconcile explictly your understanding of Jesus' teachings about peace, love, acceptance, and non-judgment with his teachings about righteousness and the rejection of sin, wickedness, and evil. Is there no Final Judgment Day, with its Biblically-described consequences? Don't we really believe that there are parts of the Bible that must be ignored because it omits exceptions to the rules or it is simply wrong, outdated or whatever? And aren't you saying that marriage is a case in point?