Sermon for Year B, Advent 2
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 7, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
The prophet, of course, has a message about something that’s going to happen.
A message, it’s claimed, that has come from God. Which is a mighty big claim.
It may be a warning, an exhortation, or a word of comfort to an afflicted people.
It may come with a specific set of recommended actions.
These words are either heeded, or they are not --
Either taken seriously, or not.
In the Bible, you may either listen to the words of the prophet,
And take appropriate actions and be saved,
Or else, out of self-interest, you may choose to ignore the prophet,
And go down to your doom.
The old dichotomy is you’re blessed if you do and you’re cursed if you don’t.
The prophet, it seems, is usually somehow inserted or embedded into a situation,
Parachuting in from outside the centermost circles of power,
Sent by God to infuse the situation with a little common-sense and, in this case, holy fire-talk.
Because it is difficult to call people to account,
Or to beg them to come to their senses,
If you live right in the middle of all the action and you’re already a known quantity.
“Oh, that’s just Crazy Old Joe again, going on in his usual way.
You don’t have to listen to anything he says.”
You know what they say about familiarity.
Now: John the baptizer, or John the Baptist --
He hits all those points.
He lives well outside the mainstream, out in ugly barren wastes,
With a rock for a pillow and a sky full of stars for a blanket, and he talks to the river.
He is subject to misunderstanding, but he is also exceedingly clear about what he wants to say:
That Messiah is on the way,
And it’s time to straighten up,
And for some, to be baptized as a sign of that desire to turn their lives around.
With Messiah, the unjust structures in the world are going to be flattened;
The crooked will be made straight, bulldozer style;
The powers-that-be who deal unfairly, or powermongeringly, will be pushed off their seats;
The uneven ground will be leveled out.
Repentance is turning around so as to be able to witness all this, in action, as it unfolds.
Messiah is about to break in to the world and turn everything over.
So get the place ready. Some big change is on the way. That’s John.
John -- he doesn’t need Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem or Weight Watchers,
Because he lives on honey and bugs. Straight sugar and protein.
“Wild honey.” In other words, honey from wild bees.
I suppose the operative word here is “wild.”
Winnie the Pooh will tell you
That whatever you scoop out of the hollow of a tree, buzzing with bees,
You probably must eat “on the run,” lest you be stung.
There is no technology at hand to make the task any easier for John.
He’s always ordering out of the drive-through as it were.
Same with locusts, only it’s the getting to them, not the running from them,
That I should think might cause so much frustration.
Ever try to catch enough grasshoppers to make a meal out of
When you haven’t the strength to stand up?
It’s all wild. All his food is wild. There is no harvest; there is only the urgency of the moment.
My father has kept bees for years and years.
He used to come in from the field when I was a kid,
Still smelling of the charcoal smoke he used to keep his bees calm,
And he would throw down a fresh-cut section of honey comb
In a small, uncovered, clear plastic container --
Sweet fragrance of lilac or watermelon or lavender cutting up against the scent of smoke.
But mostly just assorted wildflowers.
Just some pollen that started as a wildflower seed picked up by the wind and put back down,
That some bees set up camp close enough to
To make their heavenly food out of.
You could see it in the morning sunlight, amber nectar, suspended in hexagonal wax cells.
The cells that had been cut away were oozing this honey.
Dad would throw this down onto his breakfast table in his little trailer house,
His house being in a holler in an untamed part of Oklahoma called The Cross Timbers.
This particular part of The Cross Timbers was a naked piece of red-soiled land
Grown over by nasty briars and thistles and brambles.
Unfarmable hardscrabble, so far as I could tell, though he grew his orchard and kept his bees.
He’d throw down the honey, and he’d snap an English muffin into the toaster,
And he’d say, “Watch out for them bee parts, son.”
Which is dad-talk for any part of a bee that gets snagged in the production of honey --
Any part that there is not time to strain away.
A wing, a thorax, a stinger. A stinger on your tongue! No time to check, to strain, to skim.
Perhaps he thought that raw honey lost something essential and good
If you filtered too much out
Rather than just brought it in from the field and ate it.
Perhaps the unpredictability of it was what made it special to him. I know it kept me on my toes.
All these years later and my father the beekeeper
Is still a miracle worker as far as I’m concerned.
He sends us jars of honey once or twice a year. It always tastes like magic.
But these days it comes strained clear, and there’s something small about that
That makes it slightly less interesting. It’s a step or two removed from wild. No stingers.
I might say I thought of a way not to bring this business about my dad into the sermon this week,
Because from a certain angle it doesn’t have much to do with John the Baptist.
So I got to fighting the Holy Spirit about it.
You know what happens when you do that, right?
I went to pay for a parking meter downtown and I got into my change
And the first thing I pulled out was an Oklahoma quarter.
It features the state bird, the Scissortail Flycatcher, in flight,
Coming in low over a bunch of wildflowers,
Including Indian Blanket, which is the state wildflower.
And then I ran my errand and I got back in the car,
And when I started it up, the radio was playing that U2 song, “Wild Honey.”
And there was Bono, singing,
I’m still standing
I’m still standing where you left me
Are you still growing wild
With everything same around you?
I send you flowers
Good flowers for your heart
I know your garden is full
But is there sweetness at all?
And I drove past the Tyson, and the sign said the Steve Miller Band is coming in May 2015,
And instantly I recalled that song, “Wild Mountain Honey.”
I’m cursed with a very good memory for song lyrics. Or at least I was in my twenties.
Come on mama
Heal this lonesome man
Grow the tree of wholeness
In this desert land
Come on children
Now learn how to run
By heaven, the stars, the moon and the sun
Come on papa
Your end is the means
Don’t trade your love and goodness
For the golden machine
You run for the money
You don’t even know about wild mountain honey
So. I thought, Why fight it?
Now, that’s just a story about losing a fight with the Holy Spirit.
It happens a lot, but usually it’s a little more subtle, and mundane.
I don’t know what it has to do with anything.
Maybe you have a connecting piece yourself that would tie it all up in a bow.
As for me, I’m left with John the Baptist, standing in the Jordan,
Asking us to come on in and be baptized
As a symbol of our intent to be present for the coming revolution
Of God let loose in the world in the form of Jesus Christ.
I’m left waiting for Jesus to show up and be baptized,
And for the heavens to be torn open and the wild energy of God
To be poured out over all flesh as a libation and an offering.
I’m left with the distinct impression
That the things that have failed us
Are shortly to be torn away from us,
And that a wider vision of holy justice is coming, is even now at the gate.
It’s a wider vision that must encompass and come right in to every last
Disparity, division, and source of desperation.
It’s a justice that must enfold and guide us in every step of every holy conversation
We are having at this moment,
In conversations ranging from race to gender; in conversations about power and inequality;
Justice and brutality; sexuality and economics; peace and terrorism;
From issues of class to issues of privilege; from money to politics; from ethnicity to family;
From issues faith and religion and spirituality.
Heed the prophet, my friends. Heed the prophet.
Even now the world heaves in a great birthing change we can’t begin to comprehend,
Yet the Spirit intercedes with words too deep for sighing.
For now, this word from the prophet must suffice:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
The uneven ground shall become level,
And the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
And all people shall see it together,
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
All those wild, crooked, desolate places --
The deserts, the valleys, the mountains, the hills, the plains, the ground itself --
All of it is the territory of our heart.