October 15, 2012


Sermon for Year B, Proper 23
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
October 14, 2012
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

A rich young man comes to Jesus;
  He’s righteous and he lives a good life,
    But he seems unwilling to give up the last bit of control,
  So in the end he falls away.

Before this moment in the Gospel of Mark, back in Mark 4, Jesus tells us
  That there are four different kinds of responses people make
  As to how they ultimately choose to deal with him.

The overall image you need is this:
  A sower goes out and he sows seeds.
More on that in a minute.

The first way to deal with Jesus is to not deal with him, at all.
He says this is a little like a seed falling on a path:
  It sits there for a quick minute and then a bird scoops it up and eats it.
Done. Gone. No measurable impact.

The second way to deal with Jesus may be worse than the first.
It’s when we handle him in an utterly immature fashion.
To a person like this, Jesus is basically a boyfriend or a cool older brother.
He’s someone you follow because Jesus has his act together and you don’t.
You haven’t lived long enough or attentively enough to suffer life’s slings and arrows.
So, you sing him endless love songs and listen to only those messages
  That are designed never to really unsettle you as only God’s true Gospel can;
  Instead, you take in only that which affirms you, and makes you feel good.
Of course, at some point, life hands you a cross and things get real.

About this whole scene, Jesus says that it’s like a seed that falls on rocky ground
  … It has no depth of soil, bakes in the sun,
        And, because it never took root, it withers away.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it – why all the fuss in the first place
  If it’s just going to die?

The third way to deal with Jesus is to let the noise of the world drown him out!
We know we have a need to be in relationship with God,
  But frankly there are other things that are just more important, aren’t there?
In this mindset, Jesus is a good idea or a philosophy, but not a person, not a living being.

This is the point where someone says,
  “You know, Jesus was a fantastic moral teacher and interpeter of the law,
    But let’s not take it too far.”
This is the point where someone says,
  “I’m so glad I have an ethical framework that I get from the Bible,
    But I’m even more glad I’m not like those Jesus freaks.”
This is the point where someone says,
  “Common sense dictates – and I think we all know –
      That there is no God; just people being decent to each other;
      So just trust each other and love each other the best you can,
      And you don’t need a reason.”

About this third way of dealing with him,
  Jesus says that it’s like a seed sown among thorns;
  It really does hear and receive the word,
    “But the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth,
      And the desire for other things come in
      And choke the word, and it yields nothing.” His words.

And that is this rich young man.
This man is the third kind of seed implanted,
  And trying to thrive, in that third kind of soil, and that’s impossible.
He’s pious, and that’s fine,
  But his religion and his piety and his saintliness and his fervor
  Aren’t enough to do the job.
Not by Jesus’ lights.
Because Jesus effectively wants everything this young man has to offer.
He wants that man to turn around and run home, joyfully;
  Take down everything he owns, catalog it carefully, joyfully;
  Sell it at a large profit, joyfully;
    And then joyfully give every last cent of his money to the poor.
Jesus says to him, in effect,
  Look, I know this hurts now, but the next time I see you,
  I’m going to know before I even talk to you, just by the look in your eyes,
    That you have completely unburdened yourself,
    You aren’t weighed down by anything,
      And that you’re ready to follow me with your whole self, all the way.

There isn’t a stitch of doubt in my mind
  That if he had done everything he was told to do in that one little minute,
  He’d have been the greatest apostle, the greatest disciple, by a country mile,
  And that his name would still be on the lips
    Of every student and follower of Jesus Christ right down the ages to this very day.
No doubt.

Instead, he is anonymous; temporarily rich in things, but anonymous … a cautionary tale.

He received the word and it even took root,
  But when it came time to test it with his life, he couldn’t make it happen.
All his Stuff got in the way.
He went away grieving.

Paul Tillich, a contemporary theologian,
  Would have said the rich young man
  Had his possessions as his “ultimate concern” rather than God.
St. Augustine, an ancient theologian,
  Would have said the rich young man
  Was incapable of reprioritizing his “loves” from his things to God.

The seed goes in the ground – maybe it even makes headway, grows some –
  But in the end, the “cares of the world” choke the word, and it yields nothing.

I’d say there are moments in our lives together and as the congregation of St. Thomas
  When we’re like any of those seeds in just about any of those kinds of soil,
  But probably, of all of them, most likely the third kind of the three.
Our chances of ultimately doing the will of God can be diminished.
We may have piety before God, but it is so hard to give up that last little bit of control,
  Much less to do it with joy, or without fear, if we can.
But that, clearly, is the call. To be joy-full. To be fear-less.

Oh, but … say.
You know, there’s one more kind of seed in one more kind of soil.

See, after telling us about those first three kinds of soil, Jesus says
  That there are sometimes seeds that are sown on good soil.
He says, “They hear the word and accept it and bear fruit,
  Thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” His words!
A bumper crop, in other words.

It’s hard to imagine sometimes, isn’t it?,
  What all that could mean.
I mean, sure, we live in Iowa and Nebraska and South Dakota
  And we see the crops out in the fields as we drive down the road
  And we hear the farm report on the radio
    And we probably even know farmers whose lives are deeply affected
      By the changes and chances of things like weather and weeds,
      Even if we aren’t precisely those people ourselves.
But that is sort of the outer edge of this parable of the soils,
  Where we stop interacting with it.

That may be because it’s hard to think of a congregation as a seed blowing around.

This building is heavy!
It isn’t going anywhere;
  It can’t be pulled out of one kind of soil and tossed into another.
And the cornerstone says 1891.

I suppose it’s only natural to want to compartmentalize our thinking:
  We come here to worship God;
  God is in the church; the church building is at 12th and Douglas in Sioux City,
    Open limited hours on Sunday mornings. Faulty thinking, sure, but …

Even a tree, which appears for all the world to be standing perfectly still,
  Is a living, breathing organism.
The tree looks to be without movement from the outside,
  But inside its sap is running and it’s a CO2 conversion factory,
  And outside it is pushing out the world’s oxygen, funding the life of the world.
Thirty and sixty and a hundredfold
  Does it yield beyond what it receives –
  Doing unbelievable things with what it is given.

The church building looks like some stationary thing,
  And really the pillars might not be shifting visibly,
  But for those of us who make the actual church – the people –
    The time has come – and now is –
  When we will start to throw open the doors and windows
    Because we have oxygen to give,
    And I know we could never live with ourselves if we hoarded it.
And we’ll do it in a way that won’t make us tired or broke.

We don’t have to do everything for everyone.
If we lack focus, we waste energy and get frustrated.
But we do those things that put oxygen into the air,
  That help resource the life of our city and our diocese and our world.

If you had a chance to attend our classes on the book of Revelation,
  You know it wasn’t a book about pie in the sky,
  But about a very real hope that was very badly needed at the time it was written
    By Christians suffering persecution.
The final chapter of that book is a poetic summation
  Of our life with God and our ultimate union with God.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,
  Bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
    Through the middle of the street of the city.
On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit,
  Producing its fruit each month;
  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Nothing accursed will be found there any more.
But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;
  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
And there will be no more night;
  They need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light,
  And they will reign for ever and ever.”

… “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” …

St. Thomas, you have been a part of this town
  Almost since the very beginning, when Dr. John Cook first put his foot down
  Here, at the mouths of the Floyd and Sioux Rivers, in 1852.
There isn’t a reason in the world to prevent Sioux City from thinking
  That it can’t be around for another one hundred and sixty years;
  And there isn’t a reason in the world St. Thomas can’t be around for that either.

I know, change is hard; change is expensive, and inconvenient.
But what we are doing, and what we are about to do,
  Is all to set us up so as to be leaves on the tree “for the healing of nations,”
  To continue fund the world with the oxygen of the Spirit we all need to breathe.

Let us pray.
Lord Christ, we pray that as your grace always precedes and follows us,
  So you may take from us the easy fear of attachment to our things
  And give us, instead, whatever we need
    To produce a hundredfold return of what you have given us
  For the healing of the nations.

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