Sermon for Year B, the Last Sunday After Epiphany
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
February 15, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
We just had Valentine’s Day,
When cards and hearts and candy and flowers are transfigured
From simple, everyday objects into symbols meant to radiate a powerful love.
I’d like, for a minute, to focus down on the candy part, if I may --
Quite honestly, my favorite part of just about every holiday --
And how one candy in particular has transfigured me.
I think I have said to many of you, over the years,
“Remind me to tell you my candy story.”
This is my candy story.
See, in Saint Joseph, Missouri, there is a modern-day confectioner to rival Willy Wonka.
The Chase Candy Company is headquartered in Saint Joseph.
Chase makes many candies you’ve probably never heard of,
Including the Hawaiian Haystack, the Coconut Bon-Bon, and something called Peanut Squares.
But for almost a century now, Chase’s has also been making the most mouthwatering concoction
Known to these Midwestern United States.
I’m speaking, of course, of the Cherry Mash.
The Cherry Mash at heart is a nougat of crushed cherries about half the size of a closed fist.
This nougat center is covered with a double layer of thinly chopped peanuts and chocolate.
The final product -- not so much a bar as a lump -- is packaged in a red and white bag
Featuring a little Keystone Cop who somehow helps to extol the virtues of the product.
My taste buds and I can assure you that this product requires no such assistance.
Now, as a kid, I worked my way through a litany of candies,
From Zero bars to Chick-O-Sticks, from grape Bubblelicious gum to Smarties.
(Children understand that different kinds of occasions call for different sorts of sweets.)
But always at the end of my roaming, beckoning me home,
There was the constancy and the ecstasy of the Cherry Mash:
… At the end of a long afternoon of summertime swimming;
… Just before fishing trips, if possible being paired with Big Red soda;
… During halftime at the concession stand during sporting events;
… And after -- and, I’m ashamed to say, sometimes even during! -- Church.
Those times were many dental visits ago,
And yet I continue my affair with the Cherry Mash to this day.
Except that, like a lover who has left nothing but a toothbrush and a vague note,
In the last two decades, since leaving Oklahoma, the Cherry Mash has mostly managed
To elude my wandering eye and my sweet tooth.
‘Round here, of course, the Bing is King. Recognize and pay homage.
“Cherry nougat covered in a hash of roasted peanuts and chocolate.”
(By the way, is your mouth watering yet?)
Sioux City, I’m glad for you. I’m happy this is working out.
Just like Blue Bunny in Le Mars or Jolly Time here in town,
What would we do around here without the beloved institution called Palmer Candy?
But I didn’t grow up here.
I grew up in Mash Land, and you have to poke around if you want to find a Cherry Mash.
It’s not in every little store here, like the Bing.
The Mash is more of a regional treat for destinations south of us.
In many of the places where we have lived, in Texas and Colorado and now in Iowa,
Well-meaning convenience-store merchants have seemed to lack the refined palate --
Or, perhaps, the genetic predisposition --
Necessary to recognize the simple genius of this candy.
Alas, I have come, desperately, to know this better than I should have to,
And Jacquie can testify to the alarming frequency
With which I have visited gas station candy aisles over the years
In the hopes of finding a supplier, some fellow traveler, someone who gets it.
What, you well ask, has any of this to do with Jesus and the Transfiguration?
All in good time. I promise I won’t forget.
BUT; like any spurned ex,
When denied the Cherry Mash over the years,
I have since turned to a life of creative fulfillment, adapting to whatever’s handiest.
In seminary, it was a seductively simple process,
Hearing all those sacred texts day after day in chapel,
To gradually allow the Cherry Mash into the theater of my religious imagination.
The concept of manna, for one, took on new meaning;
These days I can be clear that it fell to earth in little red-and-white parcels,
And that the camp of the Israelites smelled of maraschino and cocoa powder.
It wasn’t such a stretch to envision --
Well, not fruit hanging from a certain tree in a certain Garden,
But rather clusters of miniature Mashes.
And on and on I go.
Well, what in the world happened?
Whoever said that something I loved as a child
Had to run my life as an adult, even in a small way?
Other than for all those years it was denied me --
When did the One Thing from kid days become the Only Thing to rule the rest of days?
I’m frustrated to say I don’t know the answers to those questions.
And chasing after reliable answers might be just as useless
As stopping at gas stations late at night, for years and years and years,
Looking around for a lump of candy that nobody sells.
The more mature response to the problems of idolatry and objectification
Is to simply start asking, “When did I stop paying attention to what actually matters?”
When I say ‘attention,”
I mean the very simple act of giving quiet awareness to What Is.
I mean the commitment to simply remain open to Sacred Mystery.
To the open and attentive heart, God’s presence is automatically palpable,
God’s presence is always and forever available and tangible,
And the truth of Jesus’ teaching is accessible and inexplicable, all at the same time.
Jesus’ true nature is revealed upon the mountaintop
And he is shown to be part of the chain of salvation history.
He stands with Moses and Elijah,
And they have a little talk.
The important thing is to see them together --
Salvation History --
The Law, the Prophets, and the Cross.
Jesus is revealed for who and what he is; for a minute the sleep falls out of the disciples’ eyes.
Perhaps the disciples in today’s Gospel could have used
A story Eckhart Tolle tells about himself and his own lack of awareness:
“A beggar had been sitting by the side of the road for over thirty years.
One day a stranger walked by.
‘Spare some change?’ mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap.
‘I have nothing to give you,’ said the stranger.
Then he asked, ‘What’s that you are sitting on?’
‘Nothing,’ replied the beggar. ‘Just an old box.
‘I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.’
‘Ever looked inside?’ asked the stranger.
‘No,’ said the beggar. ‘What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.’
‘Have a look inside,’ insisted the stranger.
The beggar managed to pry open the lid.
With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.”
Wake up out of your fog, Mark seems to say, and see that the master of your life --
Jesus, whom we acclaim as the Christ -- is always, self-givingly, right in front of us.
We won’t know it unless we open our eyes to it.
And we’re so stuffed with candy that it’s hard to stay awake.
But God is there on the mountain,
And God is in you and me right now,
And God is in the air between us, and in the little massive spaces between the air,
And God is in the bread and the wine,
And in the breath we make to proclaim Jesus as Lord,
And in the hands we shake and the honesty we give and receive from one another.
It’s hard to see sometimes, and even easier to forget, but God really is there.
But maybe for a few minutes I can cast my eyes away from all my idols --
My need for security and affirmation and selfish love --
In other words, all the little lumps of candy in my life
That I used to cherish but am now just addicted to --
If I can get my eyes off of those things,
Or even just look at them in a new and different way,
Maybe even they too could show me Jesus transfigured as Christ.
Maybe that’s it. The simple, abiding awareness of holy presence.
That bracing attentiveness to God’s presence
When God finally breaks through and heaven comes tumbling to earth.
If the church were about the teaching of all this,
I wonder how we, too, and the world around might be transfigured in the name of Jesus.
Several years ago, as we were finishing up our time in Austin, in seminary,
And Jacquie was pregnant with Gabriel,
Jacquie and I went to see the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(A film if ever there was about having one’s mind expanded).
On the way to the theater I developed a craving for something sweet.
Perhaps, I thought, some peanut butter cups or ice cream,
But I held back at the concession stand and instead dutifully ordered a small bag of popcorn.
And I somehow convinced myself that this was not simply nutritionally smart,
This was not merely a nod to Jacquie’s low-sugar pregnancy –
No, I convinced myself that I had done something downright Heroic.
And I settled into my seat, quite unsatisfied with my popcorn.
The inner litany began:
Why must I be the victim of someone else’s requirements for living?
Why should I not get the things I want when I’ve done my share of sacrificing already?
This absurd and selfish monologue reached a fever pitch after about ninety seconds,
When Jacquie came into the theater from the restroom, ...
A small, red-and-white polypropylene package in her hand.
Unopened, of course, and pristine in every way.
It bore the likeness of a Keystone Cop.
She said, “Here, I thought you might want this.”
“It was sitting on the fire extinguisher when I went into the bathroom,
And it was still there when I came out.”
The spurned lover, ever on the lookout for some sign of life from the old flame,
Had walked right by his ultimate sweet prize.
For just a minute, I woke up
And I thought about not complaining so much about my life.
One more tiny section of Ego was chipped away,
And Something Else, something more than all that, took its place.
I found myself in awe of Sacred Mystery, desiring deeply to remain aware of its Presence.
And in the end,
Even though I wanted to take it home and build a little shrine to it,
I ate the manna from St. Joseph, Missouri.
It was whole and delicious, and I lived to tell.