Sermon for Year A, Proper 16
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
August 24, 2014
St. Paul’s Cathedral
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
I greet each of you warmly this day,
And I humbly ask God’s protection and guidance
As we strive to live into the calling that has been given us
To be a holy and living sacrifice, building up the Church
And living and loving and serving all of God’s people. Amen. Please be seated.
So good morning! My name is Torey Lightcap.
I’m the Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, part-time;
And I also serve as the Diocesan Transitions Minister, part-time.
It’s that last title that brings me to you today, for you are in search mode for a new Dean,
And I am happy to be walking alongside you as you go about that search.
It’s good to see you all again, to be with you all again.
I say “again,” because I was here once before, on a Consecration Sunday, a few years ago,
And I had the pleasure of preaching then, at Cathleen’s invitation.
I can’t remember the lessons that were appointed that day,
Or much of anything I said for that matter.
And I had that feeling this week that I should go back and look --
It would be a pretty easy thing, to search my files and find what I preached.
Then I thought, as a kind of an experiment, Well, what do I remember from that day?
What, of anything, was said or done that could be recalled as sacred memory?
I pushed away and sat quietly a moment, and up onto the brooding surface of my memory
Three little scraps came floating.
One. In the sermon that day,
I said that the Church is an Island of Misfit Toys, and a hospital for souls.
The Church is a spiritual home for striving, not for perfection --
It’s a base camp, not a mountaintop --
It’s an airport, a way station -- not a destination.
(Those are all great metaphors; I stole them from people smarter than me!)
Two. I recalled that after worship, the parish hall buzzed with life of all kinds.
(Perhaps the Church is less an airport and more of a beehive!
After all, Paul talks about one body, many members, different functions.
[Queens, drones, worker-bees, etc. Hmm.]
Maybe we’ll have to play around with that metaphor.)
Three. Standing by the water garden, in my big coat, with my wife and kids nearby,
The light in the sky already lengthening afternoon shadows,
And having a simple conversation with Cathleen and Tim Bascom.
It was one of those conversations you don’t want to stop. Just keep it going, on and on.
In fact, I distinctly recall that as I stood there visiting with Cathleen and Tim,
With our kids playing in the water and yet begging also to go home, ...
I remembered what it was like to wait and wait and wait for my own mother after church --
Sitting in the car, listening to the quiet, looking out at a large, empty parking lot
(Being old enough, no problem, to sit in the car on my own) --
Wondering what was so dadblamed important to Mom when her kids were hungry for lunch --
Not realizing that she was inside getting all the adult relationship she was likely to get
And that she had to sustain herself, psychologically and spiritually, for the next seven days.
I remembered that feeling, standing there with Cathleen and Tim,
Just having this simple little conversation --
I remembered it because just for a moment I felt what it was to have been my own mother,
Having found a sense of community with two wonderful people -- just then finding it,
And then being almost torn back into reality and getting in the car and driving three hours away.
BUT. For one brief, cold, sun-shiney moment on a Sunday afternoon,
In the rain garden out back here, I experienced a moment of communion with my mother.
As life moments go, as big realizations go, I’d rate it way up there ...
Perhaps it is that epiphanies -- realizations, new insights -- are God’s way of reminding us
That the world is a bigger place than we’re usually content to think.
I mean, today Peter is asked a question, and he says what he thinks,
But Peter is an impulsive, verbose guy who does things and says things minute by minute.
Getting out of a boat to walk on the water to Jesus being just one example.
He’s recorded as saying a lot of different things in the Gospels, getting a lot of lines --
And no doubt part of the time sticking his foot in his mouth,
Revealing his fear and doubt and insecurity and lack of information.
And sometimes he bumbles his way into some larger beautiful truth.
And sometimes what he says is pretty profound. Our brother in the faith, gone before us.
Perhaps you know someone who has to process things out loud, like Peter does.
Perhaps you yourself are one such person.
Perhaps you’re not and you’re elbowing your spouse right now instead.
I’m not much of a talker myself;
I tend to sit down in a quiet room and start writing out impressions,
And pretty soon a situation becomes clearer to me. That’s how I tend to process.
But with those who need to talk it out, everyone gets to hear the thought process,
Which, really, can be fascinating.
This is undoubtedly who Peter is: he’s a talker:
He opens his mouth not quite aware of what’s going to come out,
And what issues forth, from time to time,
Is wiser than whatever else he might have planned to say.
That ever happen to you?
Without a doubt, when this happens, he’s just as surprised as anyone else!
That’s what makes him more than just a literary figure.
That’s what rounds him out and makes him human and real.
That’s what makes him our brother in the faith:
Because he is real and he does what people do:
Chief Stumbler of the Church; First Bishop of the Diocese of the Island of Misfit Toys.
Head Chaplain at the Hospital for Souls.
As a priest in the church, I’m proud to say
That at my ordination my head was touched by hands that were touched by hands
That were touched by hands that, if you care to look and trace it, go all the way back to Peter.
That ordination was also, for me, a big epiphany and a big confession.
Of what exactly, I’m not quite sure. I’ll spend my life chasing it.
But it kind of went like this:
The Messiah has come into the world in the person of Jesus,
Who is the Christ, the Anointed One.
My ordination into the one holy catholic and apostolic Church
Is made official by association with a long procession of bumblers and truth-tellers --
Men (and, I’m proud to say women) who were given a confession of true faith,
About who Jesus was and is,
And who brought that confession up into a self-startling confession and utterance.
God surprised them at the telling -- surprised them with joy and peace.
They confessed, as the hymn says, that Christ is the world’s true light.
And it isn’t just priests, is it? It can’t be!
It’s also -- what? -- deacons and bishops, sure --
But mostly it’s YOU. You, confessing Christ and being “surprised by joy.”
My sisters and brothers in the faith:
Every time we gather, every time we pray --
With every eucharist and baptism and celebration and time of grief in community --
Every moment of faith formation and every chance for inquiry --
Every single act of service that helps to lift the condition of another human being --
Every time we state the substance of our faith or say prayers for each other
Or stand and sing, let a song fall out and rise to heaven --
Every single time the Church is the Church,
It’s a description about who or what God is and what or who we need or want God to be;
It’s a link in the narrative, historic chain of our faith about Jesus;
It’s yet another moment in our need for the Holy Spirit to come and comfort.
It’s a confession and an epiphany that God is good and that God loves what God makes --
That God does not abandon or forsake, but loves us all the way down the line, for ever.
Every time the Church is the Church, it’s a confession
That occasionally startles the living daylights out of us.
Now, let me ask the question you may be thinking of yourself:
What does any of this have to do with the fact
That the Cathedral is in the middle of a search process for a new Dean?
Well, for one, the Cathedral, being the sort of symbol it is,
Needs to be a place where Christ is confessed, “not only with our lips but in our lives,”
As we say in the General Thanksgiving in Morning Prayer.
Where Christ is praised, studied, and imitated.
As I said before, you are the fullest authority on how this gets done,
And to some that may seem a bit shocking to say;
But the Dean will be your partner, not your patriach or matriarch;
Not Superman; not Mr or Mrs. Fix-It.
He or she will come alongside and help to make ways for Christ to be confessed and lived.
Everything about this Cathedral must be the confession of a true and shocking faith --
A moral and valued and respected voice in the public discourse
Speaking out with clarity and conviction about What Matters.
Confession and epiphany are like truth and revelation.
For another thing: this may come as a big shock as well,
But a priest is a human being (!) .
A priest opens his or her mouth and sometimes life-affirming wisdom comes out;
And sometimes, even when he or she is good and prayed up, it’s just this bumbling thing,
Like listening to good old Saint Peter ramble on, painting himself into corners,
Til he strikes oil, finds gold, says the truth he couldn’t have calculated on his own.
Like any parent, like any person who is given authority,
A priest is often just a study in self-contradiction,
Stumbling around in the dark looking for the light, and all the while asking you to follow.
His humanity, his foibles, her humanity, her inability to find the right word -- ...
This is precisely and paradoxically what brings value to your relationship and allows you to bond.
I think that’s why so many churches who are in search like to say,
We want a person with a sense of humor or, We want someone who’s approachable.
It means a good parish priest, a good Dean, is someone not afraid to come limping into the service,
Laughing at his scars, and praise God alongside you.
Perfection is a lie. Keeping on Trying? That’s the Gospel.
Confession and epiphany reveal the beauty and the trial and the humor of just being alive.
Finally, just this:
Confession of Christ means looking after what God gives you to take care of.
People of St. Paul’s, you are in an extraordinarily good place and time to be looking for a Dean.
You have strategic plans and goals and specific challenges and are raising funds to meet them;
You have a map for the road ahead; your next phase is not guesswork.
You have the ability to greet your new Dean, not with crises upon crises,
But a firm foundation upon which to stand and begin.
There is a spirit of invention and enterprise and entrepreneurialism here;
It’s in the walls and in your bones.
I’m confident in your Cathedral Chapter, and your Selection Team;
And I am encouraged beyond words by the candidates you’re working with.
It was my deep privilege to help bring them your way.
You have much to commend your selves going forward,
Beautiful confessions of Christ before you,
Epipany upon epiphany waiting for you in your life ahead.
You and your candidates are constantly in my prayers as you go forward in your process.
I close with Saint Paul’s words, from his writing in Hebrews:
“[L]et us approach [the sanctuary of God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith,
With our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
And our bodies washed with pure water.
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,
For he who has promised is faithful.
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”
May it be so. Amen.