November 17, 2013



Sermon for Year C, Proper 28
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
November 17, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

“Where were you when President Kennedy was shot fifty years ago in Dallas?”
That’s a question you may hear a lot this week.

I want to give you permission to tell someone this morning, if you want,
In the safe space of church community, in the comfort of fellow believers and seekers.
To remember it in your prayers as well.
To tell about it at our coffee hour downstairs
 With someone who will generously listen to you.
Be a little more healed, in God’s name, by bringing what’s left of that pain to the level of speech.

As for me, I was nine years out from even existing, so I have no memory.
I have what people my age have: a mental storehouse of pictures and videos,
 Mostly in grainy black-and-white, with a few critical ones in color.
Memories supplied by others.
I have nothing unique from experience to add, so I have never felt the need to provide comment before.
All I could say is what many could say:
 That I, like other pilgrims and tourists, have also stood at the open window on the sixth floor
 Of what, in 1963, was the Texas School Book Depository;
 And that when I did stand there,
   Looking down onto Elm Street where the President was shot,
   I could not breathe, could not move,
     But was only left to wordlessly ruminate on why people openly perpetrate evil on each other.
It was the main driving question of my life at that time,
 And I’m afraid that after 20 years it still is. It probably always will be.
“Why are we so cruel to each other?”

But a lot of you do know precisely where you were when the news came down.
You couldn’t scrub it out of your minds or hearts; it is indelibly stamped there, the violence of men.
A lot of you, I know, have deep sense memories and feelings about what happened in Dealy Plaza.

Everything turned over that day, taking us with it, rolling us with it.
History is cumulative, of course, and one thing leads to another,
 But that day -- November 22, 1963 -- was the landmark day
 That our nation finally lost whatever was left of its innocence
   After the costs of war, slavery, intolerance, forced repatriation, and division would be added in
     From all of the previous generations of living on this continent.
After Medgar Evars, Kennedy’s would only be one of the first
 Of many political assassinations in this country,
 When hope after hope would be strangled and voice after voice would be silenced:
   Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and the President’s brother, Robert.
The news would come in -- and I do know this feeling very well -- we would be shocked all over again,
 And ask ourselves, When is this ever going to end?
History would not be kind on that score,
 Even though the 1960s were also the seed-bed for freedoms and liberations
 That today we take for granted as God-given.
Bullets, unrest, insurrections, revolutions and counter-revolutions and movements and anti-movements.
With every assassination, we would be ceaslessly plunged into colder and colder water,
 Finding less oxygen and light the further we were dragged down..
Some days it would seem everything was turning into chaos and uncertainty.

When change comes, it upsets us; we have to adjust, and that’s almost always painful.
Yet there’s a promise at the root of it.
It doesn’t necessarily make sense out of senselessness;
 It doesn’t render tragic moments into good ones,
   But there is a promise for people of faith to extend to the whole world.

“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,”
 God declares through the consecrated mouth of the prophet Isaiah.
The people of Israel are tired and crabby and filled with uncertain dread about the future.
They have been released by their captors in Babylon,
 Ordered to come home and rebuild the Temple.
They have come back, but only to find
 That a few of the ones who didn’t leave with them are now their landlords,
 And that’s a surprise they didn’t need.
Everyone is at odds about how they should govern themselves.
They’re immobilized by panic and conflict.
But Isaiah steps in with the good word from the mouth of the Lord:
 “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
   The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
   But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating....”
“No more shall there be in [the land] an infant that lives but a few days,
 Or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
 For one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
   And one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;
 For like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
 And my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity.”

The promise at the root of Israel’s return to Jerusalem
 Is not that God will come and fix absolutely every little thing;
 It does not dismiss the pain of the past; it leaves room for inevitable doubt and sincere confusion.
Isaiah’s people were going about their daily rounds in fear and darkness.
But Isaiah also laid before them hope -- laid it before a troubled and exhausted people.
Isaiah drew them a word-picture of a world that was a little better than the one they knew.
The promise of God is to build up a people and to be everlastingly faithful to them.

All in all, Isaiah seems to be on Jesus’ mind quite a lot
 As he moves through his ministry five centuries years later,
 Teaching and healing and touching and feeding many thousands of deeply troubled souls
   Living in dark, temporary, and conditional times.
Jesus seems well attuned to the dance and the dynamic
 Of a hard agrarian life eked out under the thumb of Roman oppressors;
   He seems to embrace pragmatism as he sketches out his vision of the Kingdom of God.
He seems to embrace uncertainty as a major facet of just being alive at that time;
 He seems to recognize that things quickly turn over like the pages of a calendar,
 And that when they do, they bring along with them chaos and disruption.
That life changes on a dime.

Jesus and his disciples stand a stone’s throw from the Temple.
They gesture in his sight at the great building:
 “My, such large and magnificent stones,” they say.
But he’s unimpressed; he sees the bigger picture; he dismisses this edifice,
 Which even as impressive as it is, is but a sliver of a hint of the grandeur and majesty of the Lord.
Looking beyond the present moment means recognizing this building is impermanent.

Then again, as he goes on to imply, so many things are temporary.
False teachers come and go, he says; wars and insurrections, too.
Nations rising up against one another, kingdoms against kingdoms;
 Earthquakes and dreadful portents.
Lots of things will come and go, he says,
 And he remembers to add to this list the many persecutions his followers would undergo.
But none of this, he says, is the end.
None of this is to be confused with the end itself.

Every stone of every great temple will dissipate into dust,
 And even that dust will one day be swept into the ocean to become the floor of the earth.
Wars and rumors of wars will come and go, as will rulers and empires.
Kings will be loved, and kings will be slain; and new ones will be crowned.
People will be loved and people will be persecuted.
There will be darkness, chaos, and uncertainty.
Day will follow night; night will come at close of day.

Someday, too, after we are long gone, even the sun will die a spectacular death.

Yet none of this is to be confused with the end itself.

God’s creating, redeeming love is beyond all definitions of time;
 All we can say is, It runs through us and everything there is or ever will be.
It is God’s nature.

Life -- or at least the life we know now -- it will always be temporary, provisional, and confusing.
We will always find new reasons for chaos, upheaval, darkness, and uncertainty.
Seasons will change and pages will turn.
But in and among it all, God will always be God.

Some days that just has to be enough.
On days like these especially, when we turn our eyes heavenward and ask unanswerable questions,
 Putting ourselves back in touch with the pain of constantly adjusting to new realities --
 God is still God.
The mystery can’t be penetrated, but the truth at the center of it holds.

No disaster, no amount of unrest, and certainly no bullet will ever change that.

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