Sermon for Year C, The Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
February 3, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
“Surprise! You’re not ready yet!”
That’s the moment I had yesterday.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I wrote what I thought
Was a fair, clear, fun, grounded, and convincing sermon about this gospel lesson.
It had no fewer than three jokes in it – good ones, too.
It was ready to go.
But you know, sometimes you look at something you’ve done
And you realize that for some reason it just isn’t what you think it’s supposed to be.
It doesn’t quite sing the way you think it should.
So I threw it all out and started over again.
Less artifice and more truth – that’s what I want and it’s what sits well in my own ear,
And I think frankly it’s what we all deserve,
And more than any of that, it’s what God wants. A holy longing. The truth.
If there is a single value to be most embraced in this pulpit, it is to tell the truth.
If I made this confession every time I started over and rewrote a sermon,
You’d get sick of hearing about it. I’d be a diva.
But it seems to be in the spirit of things that I might call attention
To this facet of my life this week.
Because getting things down to the level of truth-telling, and only truth-telling, …
Quite frankly, that’s a tough draw.
Simplicity, sometimes, is the hardest thing.
Have you ever tried to rake your yard when the wind was blowing?
Or tried to dig a hole in soil that was loose and dry?
You can only seem to see what you’re working at for a few seconds at a time,
And then it sort of slips away unless you keep at it.
The truth can be a little like that, if the lies aren’t regularly bulldozed out.
Jesus gave his mission statement to the crowd in his hometown last week
And they went nuts over him.
Then, in the exact same moment, in the reading we just heard,
He cut across their adulation
And he let ’em have it. Whammo.
He reminded them that a significant portion of their own narrative as a people
Was of stories about divine punishment and retribution – famines and sickness.
He reminded them of stories about how they had skipped out on God
And had seen other deities on the side, just like we do.
(Their gods had names like Baal and Rimmon,
Whereas we’re idolatrous about things that we know aren’t actual gods,
But perhaps we treat them like they are. Like our phones, maybe.
This is tricky. For starters,
Maybe ask yourself if you’re addicted to anything, and if so, What?
And you’ll be better than halfway to locating the name of your deity.)
At any rate, these stories about people being unfaithful
Have some pretty grim dimensions, and they draw a bad reaction;
Jesus reminds his hearers that many widows and lepers died
Because of how misplaced people’s priorities had been over the years.
That the cause of justice isn’t served when God isn’t served,
And that by contrast, all he is here to do is to serve God.
I suppose he may even be saying that unlike them,
He’s planning to be a better example of faith.
So that’s why they don’t like him,
And that’s why they want to get rid of him.
Hometown boy or not.
See, the miracle isn’t in the depth of his teaching:
It’s that he’s able to get through to them at all,
Or, at the very least, that he’s able to get away from them
When they decide they want to throw him off the cliff and be done with him.
Jesus won’t sugar-coat what he has to say.
For him, it always comes down to “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
For us it should be the same value.
And that attitude will cost you. Cost you a lot.
There’s no such thing as a convenient gospel …
Grace that comes cheap …
A life that doesn’t involve hanging on a cross at least once or twice, maybe a lot.
All of us are misunderstood, reviled, and gossipped about at some time in our lives,
Maybe a lot.
The difference is, Jesus is willing to go there
And to pay the price for going there
If it means getting the whole story out.
All the dimensions of social niceties are insignificant.
Think of all the prophets of the recent age:
Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa.
Were they interested in public opinion, what people thought about them?
Or did they march forward not caring what others thought, because they saw the truth?
The truth just drills into us, through all our layers of superstition and self-deception.
Right through the armor of social standing and being well-regarded.
The truth exposes the lies we tell ourselves,
And it dries them up like a sponge so we can’t get them back as easily.
The only protective mechanism we have to fight against the truth
Is sinking into the crowd, our anonymity in the crowd, our hiding ourselves away
And finding a scapegoat upon which to heap all our sins.
Drive Jesus out of the synagogue and over a cliff,
Challenge him in the public square with your best teachers of the law,
Catch him at midnight in a garden when he’s deep in prayer,
Take him to the highest courts and try him,
Or just hang him on a cross until he dies:
One way or another, human nature will fight the truth as it emerges.
There is the undeniable power of naming reality – pulling back the covers on the Real.
In his brilliant letter to the Ephesians,
Paul says that “everything exposed by the light becomes visible;
“For everything that becomes visible is light.”
Here’s a plain translation of it:
Whatever the light touches, itself eventually becomes light.
Truth is like the light.
Whatever it exposes becomes visible;
And wherever you can see things for what they really are,
That too becomes a place that has been touched by the truth.
Of course, if we want to hide, repress, and deny it,
I suppose the capacity to return to the lie always exists if we really want to;
Nevertheless, the word of God stands fast;
And when we know the truth, Jesus says, sooner or later it sets us free.
For Jesus, it’s two-sides-of-the-same-coin:
He says, Let me tell you how it really is –
The captive will be set free and the eyes of the blind will be opened
(Is it any wonder he says this last bit? I’m sure that’s for you and me!)
But, he says, The price you will pay is your denial, your refusal to see life as it is,
Your rejection and renunciation and disavowal and pretending.
All these are gods you must give up in the bargain.
Now I suppose it just comes right down to you and me.
What’s not working? …
What are the lies you’ve been hanging on to that you know are lies?
What are the convenient stories and clichés you like to quote to yourself?
What are the things you keep telling yourself to make it all go away one more day?
These things are endless. These lies.
But so is the liberation and the love of God.
Jesus didn’t come to fix everything and soothe every last pain;
There isn’t a box of Band-Aids big enough.
Instead, he came to take what was dead and to make it alive:
To resurrect: …
His close friend Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain
And the daughter of Jairus, who was such a bigshot at the synagogue.
He raised them all out of death.
And the kicker, of course, the ultimate resurrection, the raising of Jesus himself.
God did that.
Jesus rose out of death and renewed all of life with him,
Bringing the light and spreading the truth.
That’s all God wanted then, and it’s the same today.
May we learn to trust that God is strong enough
To bear the burden that we can shuck off
When we learn to let go and to trust the Holy and the Real.