Sermon for Year A, Proper 11
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
July 20, 2014
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
My sisters and brothers in Christ, may grace and peace abound in each of us as sacred vessels,
And in this holy house.
May we be filled with the Spirit this day, and speak and listen and build one another up
With all truth and all gentleness.
And may the name of God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- be praised.
Amen. Please, be seated.
Good morning, again. My name is Torey Lightcap.
I am the part-time rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sioux City
Where I have served for five years now;
And since January I have also served as the Diocesan Transitions Minister.
In that capacity, I work with Bishop Scarfe and his staff.
I’m the person who helps congregations that are in search to locate suitable clergy
To come alongside, walk with them, and work with them.
That’s why I’m here today. Likely you already knew this if you read your weekly email!
You have Georgia’s impending retirement on your calendar for early next year, in March.
The days between now and then will no doubt pass more quickly than any of us are prepared for.
And in moving into a place and a space where a new rector’s leadership can take hold,
There’s quite a lot for all of us to do and think about and pray over.
Quite enough for us all, and so much more than any one person can do alone.
It’s a big job. An often exhausting job.
And even if you’re not on the selection team or the Vestry,
The emotional weight alone of a process like this can sometimes feel overwhelming,
Because a lot seems to be riding on the outcome.
But now let me ask you this.
What if the process of locating a priest was not just about locating a priest?
(Because it isn’t just that. Or at any rate, it’s an important outcome, but isn’t everything.)
What if the process of locating a priest was also about clarity, and faith?
Clarity about “where we’ve been”? “Where we’re headed”? “What we’re about”?
Faith in the promises of Jesus that God does not leave us comfortless?
What if the process of locating a priest was about learning to rest and to trust,
Amidst all the chaos,
In the sanctified space of the Holy Spirit, stirring us up and leading us down the next path?
To put it another way,
What do you think would happen if the actions of St. Andrew’s in this or any process
Were only and always about God’s life working itself out in you?
Right action. Your life, God’s life. Steered along by the Spirit.
We’ve just now heard the most interesting parable about weeds and wheat.
Last week, of course, you may remember if you heard Mike preach on it,
“A sower went out to sow,”
And the Word was implanted in many soils, but only took hold in some.
The sower was indiscriminate to the point of being outright wasteful --
The seeds went everywhere, if you recall!
That’s how the real love of God works.
Today we get almost the reverse.
The good seeds are already in the ground and growing.
There’s wheat on the way.
But some knucklehead has stolen onto the field and sown in all these weeds.
The way Matthew frames it, at least in this part, Jesus doesn’t want us to spend a lot of time
Guessing about motivations as to why this has happened. It just has.
So after the speculation, what we’re left with is a simple question:
What is a good and just and loving master of the field supposed to do
When presented with this situation?
Weeds and wheat, wheat and weeds.
I grew up in Oklahoma. My family lived in Kansas. My wife grew up in Nebraska and Kansas.
Believe me when I say, at our house we know what good wheat is supposed to look like.
(Iowa corn has always been startling to me. When I look out at a field, I still expect wheat!)
You hear “wheat,” “weeds,” and you think, No big deal.
A weed is a nuisance plant clearly distinguished from wheat;
The field hands will make two piles, burn one off, and bring the other in.
But this Enemy -- he’s subtle, clever, sneaky.
He’s sown in not just any weed, but what Matthew calls zizania --
Or darnel -- also called tares -- known by scientists as Lolium temulentum.
Have you ever seen it? It’s very easy to confuse it with real wheat.
It grows in the same places as wheat, and it looks almost exactly like the genuine article.
But rather than nourish you, as good wheat does, --
Well, darnel is poison. It contains a poisonous fungus, called ergot.
Ingesting it has been known to cause hallucinations, gangrene, and miscarriages,
And it has most certainly killed many people over the years.
So here it is: one of the worst things in the world,
Cloaked in a very convincing package that resembles one of the best things in the world.
Death disguised as nourishment.
Well, thank God for discernment.
Discernment is about the knowing the difference, eh?
Living with contradiction, but choosing the better path.
Knowing the difference between a good meal and a stomach-pumping.
Discernment is knowing one’s left from one’s right,
The good stuff from the bad stuff -- especially when the stakes are high.
Discernment is about seeing clearly so as to be able to distinguish
What is needed and helpful from whatever is not needed, whatever is not helpful.
I like this parable because it’s such a clear picture of the human condition.
It’s a confession!
On our own, we fundamentally lack the tools and the insight
To be able to correctly make the right decision in a highly critical situation 100% of the time.
We don’t have what it takes. That skill, that art, is beyond us.
We are, in one sense, just powerless over our imperfection.
Yet we live lives in which we make critical decisions every day, don’t we?
And many others make critical decisions on our behalf,
Many of which we have no idea are even happening.
What a paradox is this life! -- we can’t make it on our own;
We just do what we can, and daily throw ourselves on the mercy of God,
And commend all things to the gracious care and keeping of God.
And we await instruction and discernment, the gift of the Spirit.
So, then. The master of the field instructs the farm hands
As to how to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff, and to keep it separated.
The master can’t afford to assume they understand and have it all well in hand.
After all, this is about the well-being of anyone who will eat of the bread from his fields.
So instruction must come. They must be formed up for this task and armed with knowledge.
We don’t have to imagine we already have all the answers.
God teaches us, along the way, and as needed; and life in the community teaches us, too.
Psalm 51 has that one beautiful line:
For behold, you[, God,] look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
God knows already what is true and beautiful and wise and permanent within you,
Both individually and as St. Andrew’s;
And God will elicit that from you and and teach that to you;
God will use you to the best possible end;
Indeed, it’s already happened, time after time.
I know this to be true. About you.
I know it’s already happened because I saw it with my own eyes.
I’ve seen it happening, in You.
St. Andrew’s came into consciousness for me more than three years ago,
When we all stepped into the Recasting program together.
I was coming in to help represent St. Thomas,
And we were all coming at it from different angles and with different goals,
But in a much wider sense we were all in the same boat.
None of us really had any idea of what the Spirit had thrown us into;
I just knew that for myself, it sure seemed as though we were spending time
Weeding out the poisonous plants with every harvest we went through,
Or worse yet, just bringing it all in and milling it all together for the people’s bread.
And I don’t mean simple moralistic categories that are easy to discern;
I mean weeds that looked for all the world like our very lifeblood.
Weeds! There was the zizania of believing that we could go infinitely forward
On existing resources without ever having to truly change course.
The darnel of constantly reinvesting in the physical plant rather than in people.
The tares of fear created by the specter of a shrinking endowment with a fixed timeline.
The Lolium temulentum of people who were paid generously,
But too generously, way beyond budgetary sustainability.
We were the kind of farmhands you look for a reason to give a pink slip to;
We weren’t good stewards of what we’d been given.
When find yourself sinking
Your money and your time and your energy and your people and your buildings
Out of a deep and immobilizing fear
That keeps you from evolving the way God needs you to evolve,
You know it’s time to talk. Past time.
That’s what Recasting did for us. It put us nose to nose. It removed excuses and distractions.
And as surely as I saw those hard, positive conversations start to come up at St. Thomas,
So too did I see them come up at St. Andrew’s, and at St. Anne’s in Ankeny.
Your weeds may have looked a little different from our weeds if you were close up,
But from a distance, a weed is a weed is a weed!
We found out, over time, that Psalm 51 is true -- it’s truer than true:
That God looks for truth deep within us, and will make us understand wisdom secretly.
That what we needed was for our intuition to be formed
So we could talk about the things we all saw -- all those 800-pound gorillas.
We were shaped by a line of thinking -- a series of set-your-hair-on-fire moments --
Where we were given the tools to be able to tell weeds from wheat,
And people came alongside us, put their hands on top of ours, and said,
For your own good, St. Thomas, St. Andrew’s, St. Anne’s, weed your field and divide the harvest.
I’ve seen that happen. That, and a whole host of other things.
Your kitchen. Your whole physical plant. Your engagement with the community.
Your longstanding witness to tolerance of three distinct worshipping homes under one roof.
Your energy levels. Your formation of many people for ministry.
I’ve seen that, and I can tell you, all the other folks at the Office of the Bishop have, too.
I know of a church -- it’s in Houston -- where the Rector said,
“The only way to fail at something is not to try.”
When I think of St. Andrew’s, I think of precisely that language, precisely that attitude.
An attitude of adventure and exploration and try try try.
Forget what Yoda said -- almost all of life is “try.” And you’re in the thick of it. I’m proud!
You need to know that people are watching you --
That in the best sense possible, people are starting to take notice of St. Andrew’s.
You might think, Who: little old us? But it’s true.
Wherever I go, I often tell your story -- at least as I have come to understand and appreciate it.
I told your story to people in Baltimore and Albuquerque and Cincinnati and South Sudan
And to others on the Internet logging in from lots of places.
You’ve done a lot; but you aren’t nearly finished.
Repeating: God isn’t nearly finished with you yet!
God has a mission in the world; and in St. Andrew’s, God has a church to accomplish that mission.
So we have every reason to be confident in what the next few years will bring you here.
Continued discernment. Continued formation. Continued truth-telling.
A new chapter in your life together, with new adventures and an amazing story to tell.
You want a priest who will see this for what it is, and know that it’s good, and resource it,
And in Christ’s name you need to know that we are with you in this search.
Thanks be to God. Amen.