November 14, 2014


Sermon for Year A, Proper 28
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
November 16, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

What-all has God given you to look after in your life?
And don’t say “nothing”!
If you say “nothing,” you’re not participating and it’s a cop-out.
Stay with me, okay?
Not a rhetorical question: What-all has God given you to look after and take care of?
Take a minute to think of everything that has been entrusted to you to take care of.
My gosh, the list is as long as your arm.

There are things, like cars and coats and houses and books and buildings and brooms:
 Some of them, to keep; some of them, ironically,
   That can only be appropriately cared for by giving them away.
Same goes with money -- stocks and securities, whatever’s in your checkbook or your wallet.
There are animals: beloved family pets, or farm animals, service animals, nature’s glory.
There are ideas, if that’s not too abstract: ideas that are ours to look after --
 You know, the various notions about life that really are so precious
 That they must be passed on to the next generations:
   Ideas, like the importance of God, or Faith, or Home, or Work,
     Or Country, or Freedom, or Health, or Art.
There’s the church and all of its various components and parts and people -- striving, striving.
There’s your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians says.
 (How we doing there, by the way? Looking after the temple of the Spirit?) ...
There are people: kids and grandkids and family and friends and neighbors and work associates,
 Or maybe just people you meet over the Internet or down at the coffee shop
   Or volunteering at the Pantry, or folks who walk up out of the blue and need something.
People, given to us by God to look after.
There’s also this very planet we’re sitting on at the moment, and all that that implies.
We’re in space now, too, so we have to look after that --
 Even the top of that comet we landed a space probe on this week, 317 million miles from here.
There really is a lot that has been given to us to look after
 For as long as it falls to us. We don’t get to say, “Not my problem.” We can’t check out.
And even when it does come time for someone else to look after all this,
 You don’t just chuck it over the fence, do you?
You look after it for as long as you can, and hand it off with great care.
Like the last truffula seed in that Dr. Seuss story, The Lorax.
You hand it off with the deepest care to the one person who might understand the most.

Are you taking care of what has been entrusted to you by God?

Jesus says that the Kingdom of God turns a profit, which I suppose could sound sort of crass,
 But tune your ears a little here.
He says that you know you’re in the Kingdom
 When the things you’re looking after and taking care of are thriving and growing.
The metaphor he uses is,
 When a ten-dollar bill gets turned into two ten-dollar bills, that’s the Kingdom showing up.
Somehow a five-dollar bill becomes a ten; that’s the Kingdom.
You could’ve sworn it wasn’t there a minute ago,
 But you were taking care of it, giving the growth, looking after it, and boom -- it’s there now. And it’s doubled. It’s increasing.

Money isn’t the only place that thought like this comes to rest,
 Though money is certainly not excluded either.
Ever help a plant reach double its size? or triple? or just grow out way beyond the seed?
Ever watch a child or a grandchild turn ten, blowing out the candles on the cake,
 And think to yourself, Say -- wasn’t it just yesterday she was five?
 And now she’s turning out to be such a fine person.
That’s not by accident or magic or mistake, is it?
It takes blood, sweat, tears, and a certain amount of heavenly ferocity
 To help a five-year-old become a ten-year-old.
That’s the Kingdom showing up.
A thing receives the love and kindness and compassion and mercy and direction it deserves,
 By the one (or the ones) who are responsible for it,
 And good growth inevitably occurs.
Even when growth looks like trimming and pruning, which it often does.

I said this already, but let’s avoid magical thinking here, okay?
The Kingdom of Heaven is not your vending machine.
We live in a time in which the book “The Secret” is still being passed from person to person
 Like it’s holding all the answers to life’s mysteries.
My personal feeling is that probably it’s done more damage than good.
Good intentions are fine, but you can hardly grow the Kingdom of God on the back of a whim.
Several years ago in Colorado, at a pretty new-agey church, I visited with an occasional attendee
 Who thought that if he was grateful enough,
   And visualized it enough, and prayed for it enough (ready for this?)
   He could make an actual motorcycle appear in his garage.
I scrunched up my nose, and I said, “Jack” -- his name was Jack --
 I said, “Jack, you could get a job and have a motorcycle in a couple of months.”
And he gave me a weird look, like I’d suddenly broken out into Chinese while tap-dancing.
The Kingdom is not made of penny whistles and seashells and balloons and moon pies.
It isn’t a dreamt-of future of perfection or a passive theater bench
 Or some hi-def IMAX entertainment screen with screaming surround sound.
It isn’t a theme park that exists strictly for amusement purposes.
It certainly isn’t wishes piled up like so many motorcycles.
It isn’t wearing God down until you finally hit the Powerball. That’s all just magic.

The Kingdom?
It’s a lot of hard, wonderful work, carried on the shoulders of a group of committed creatures
 Whose lives have been totally and completely changed for ever,
 Not because they’ve been coming to church for ever
   And have worn grooves in the pew so deep they could have them named after their thighs,
   But because they have been absolutely flea-dipped in God to within an inch of their lives,
   Dunked down hard into the living waters of baptism into Christ,
     Come convincingly face-to-face with a fearsome living God,
       Been converted by the evidence of prayer and discernment in community,
     Been picked up and blindfolded and spun around more than once by the Holy Spirit,
   And somehow lived to tell the tale.

And almost none of it is glimpsed in the past, up in the rear-view mirror. It’s lived in the now.
The Kingdom is built brick by brick
 By folk who got away from this amazing experience of God long enough to take a breath,
 And who wondered about it for a while, and then they came back for more,
 And then they just decided it’d be easier if they stayed in this crucible
   And they made a home directly in the cold shade of the cross
     (A home that, by the way, has very little to do with where their membership letter lives);
   And they kept one foot firmly rooted in the needs of a dying, crying-out world
 And another firmly rooted in the prophetic imagination of the church
   Where their indispensible -- their indispensible brothers and sisters could be found.
These co-builders of the Kingdom.
They became convinced by this cloud of witnesses that their lives would never be the same,
 And they settled down out of the abstractions of the ethereal theoretical cloud,
   And into the unclouded concreteness of getting up and walking with God every day
   Right into the dark and the sick, and it would be okay, it really would, no matter what,
     Because God’s Kingdom needs builders and expanders,
       And if not them, then who?
The Kingdom needs them to put down their resources and then double the result.
The Kingdom needs them --
 God needs them, and you can bet your bottom dollar they know how much they need God.
“Every hour, every minute, I need thee,” they say in their prayers,
 And it’s simply put, and they mean every word of it,
   And they pray it with urgency like the saints they are.
And they say, Well, here I am. I shall not be moved. Count me as Christ’s own for ever.
To use an overworked word, they fell in love with God once,
 But that wasn’t nearly the end of it.
They kept falling. They keep falling.

You and I, we keep falling. Do we? Don’t we? Let’s do if we don’t!
I’m not just talking about other people. I’m talking about us.
Let’s get gobsmacked by the Creator, and let’s never want to walk apart from that.

In fact, upon reflection, let’s admit that we have no idea what it was about us
 That God found so attractive in the first place --
   We’re just so grateful to have been found and saved despite ourselves.

Grace really is amazing, sisters and brothers,
 And it makes a sweet saving sound in the ear of us wretches as it continually pours forth,
 “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, pouring into our laps.”
Much have we received, much are we given to look after --
 Run with, risk with, build with, not bury in the ground fearfully awaiting judgment.

What builds the Kingdom, my friends, isn’t fear and hoarding and withholding, a cramped fist.
It isn’t shovels and dirt and X marks the spot and midnight extractions of treasure
 When we find out that master is coming to punish.
It isn’t magical wishing.
It isn’t the long, dumb odds on the Lotto.

What builds the Kingdom is Kingdom-Builders, Kingdom-Doers,
 Kingdom-Expanders, Kingdom-Doublers.
People with skin in the game. People who obviously, visibly care.
People for whom talk is often far too cheap,
 And cheap grace is no grace at all.
Folks who take what they are given by God
 And who shrewdly expand it to at least twice its size
 Before handing it back, even as they are ushered into the joy of their master
   Again and again and again.

What are you going to do with what you’ve got? For as long as you’ve got it?
Hide it away, or make something wonderful out of it?
What are you building?

It’s a question for your soul.

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