May 2, 2014


Sermon for Year A, The Third Sunday of Easter
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
May 4, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

The post-resurrection Jesus just keeps showing up, doesn’t he?
He’s at the empty grave;
 He comes through locked doors into the upper room;
   He makes the disciples breakfast on the beach;
     And now, walking along on this road to Emmaus.
It’s like he doesn’t have anything better to do than to show up again and again.
It’s like showing up has now become his vocation.

The Gospels take great pains to show this all very clearly.
And every time they do, it’s a terrible shock to the system
 For Jesus’ poor friends and followers.
Sure, the resurrection is a joyous thing,
 But perhaps more joyous in hindsight.
For now -- let’s be honest -- they keep getting shocked over and over;
 They just get settled down from the last time, and here he comes again!

I imagine that every time he leaves a scene,
 They all stand around and ask themselves, Did that just actually happen?
Their hearts are beating wildly up in their throats; their mouths are dry, their foreheads, sweaty;
 It’s all they can do to sit down and catch their breath.

I don’t know about you, but for a while I’ve had a hard time connecting with all this.
For two simple reasons.

One: I grew up in a Christian household in the Great Plains
 In the south-central United States in the 1970s and ‘80s.
We went to church -- well, in my memory, we basically lived at church.
I knew the Jesus story front and back. (Or thought I did.)
He was born, he lived, he died, he lived again, thanks be to God.
You couldn’t spring the resurrection of Jesus on me
 And expect it to come down like some terrible shock to the body;
 I remember saying very clearly to myself at the time,
   Well, if I lived back then, I would not have been scared to see Jesus come through the wall;
   I would have worshipped him instead, and then asked him what he wanted me to do.
I can now say with total certitude that I was full of malarkey!
We all need a way to cope with new and shocking and incongruous information,
 And that was mine -- I lied to myself about how cool I would play it.
At the time, I was unwilling to admit that I would have been freaking out along with everyone else.

Now that I’m a little wiser, I understand why Jesus says “Peace be upon you” to the disciples
 When he comes through the locked doors of the upper room --
 It’s because they need to calm down!

The other reason I’ve always had a hard time connecting with all this
 Is of a more general nature.
More of an indictment of society in general.
It’s that today we don’t value shock and astonishment, except maybe as novelties,
 But novelties are there as the exception to the rule, right? To prove the rule.
The main way to achieve cultural currency these days
 Is to harness and use information. To show and tell what you know.
Cool people are people who are in-the-know.
Whoever gets the story the fastest and tells it most compellingly wins the day.
Information flows uninterruptedly day and night;
 All existing knowledge doubles and triples in a week or even overnight.
If you don’t know what happened, you’re the low man, so stay on top of it.
If you show up late, then better luck next time.
There’s always one guy who shows up late -- Hey, everybody: what’d I miss? -- like Thomas --
 And we dismiss him and push him away and turn him into an outsider.
Knowledge is power; the lack of knowledge is the lack of power;
 Ignorance looks bad on a résumé.

That may have always been true in a sense, but it seems particularly true today.
We operate out of this odd belief that there is no mystery we can’t immediately probe and solve.
It’s a fallacy, to be sure, but there you have it.

Our nine-year-old son is learning how to negotiate the world.
His response to everything these days is, “I know.”
We even put things to him that he could not possibly know: “I know,” he says.
Or, “Yeah, I knew that, but I just forgot it for a second.”
He’s taking in the whole of the world around him,
 And he’s beginning to see that not knowing is not cool.
Cool is knowing. And so he knows. He knows everything.
Playing and imagining and wondering are beginning to yield to knowing.
Facts are tangible and testable; knowledge is rewarded; comprehension pays the bills.

You may sense some loss or feel some grief when I talk about these things.
What you may be feeling is the desire to connect with that part of yourself
 That just used to play and imagine things. That little boy or girl.
What you may be feeling is the desire to simply admire things you cannot explain
 And have no need to explain them. They’re beautiful as they are, and that’s enough.
The sense of loss comes from the unavoidable tragic error of having grow up.
It’s felt as an absence; as something we have not had in a very long time.

And so, because we must Know All That There Is To Know, and that includes our spiritual life,
 We start to think that we can’t afford to be caught off-guard.
Shock and astonishment are signs of weakness.


Now, perhaps all this seems just a bit too academic. Make it real, Preacher!

Well ... if we can’t be truly astonished, then we can’t be truly joyous.
Because Joy is the feeling we get after we have been genuinely surprised by something wonderful.
“Something wonderful,” meaning something lovely all on its own
 That we didn’t have to judge or evaluate or critique.
Just something wonderful that we loved that happened, and oh my gosh.

We can be happy, elated, or amused. We can feel satisfied, or glad.
But until we can allow ourselves
 To be astonished and even shocked by the amazing grace and mercy and compassion of God,
 We can’t really know the deep abiding joy of God.

Matthew 18:
 “The disciples came to Jesus and asked,
     ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’
   He called a child, whom he put among them, and said,
     ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children,
       You will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
        Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
       Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’”

You might close your eyes and remember a place where you used to play as a young child.
A favorite spot.
You might imagine yourself fully engaged in the act of playing, imagining, wondering.
Just beginning to see how big the world was, and what a wonderful mystery, too.
You might remember what a certain favorite toy felt like in your hands,
 The way the place smelled or what sounds were in the air.
How good, not to have to know things or critique anything or be responsible for anything,
 But just to play.

You might remember all that, and you might invite into that most precious and hallowed space
 The presence of the risen Jesus Christ.
After all, he just keeps showing up, doesn’t he?
I wonder what he might look like.
I wonder what he might do.

I wonder what he might say, or ask.

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