Lightcap-2Trinity Sunday
The Reverend Torey Lightcap, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Kansas
John 3:1-17

 


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Diocese, whenever we can, we try to have someone present from our office on the Sunday after a priest has left. And so it’s my privilege to be with you today.

I used to think that the only way to preach through a moment such as this was to be prescriptive about it: That is, that I should tell you what I see from my perch about your transition, and help explain some of what you’re about to embark upon. That’s a useful strategy at an institutional level, and I pray that it’s helpful, and I promise I’ll get to it. But there are also other – shall we say more human – needs in the mix as well, words we should probably say – not just because it’s good to hear them, but more fundamentally, because they’re true, and if we don’t say them, we risk leaving important things unheard.

Steve Lipscomb was Dean of this Cathedral for the better part of two decades. He served well and faithfully to the best of his ability, in a position that often demands more than any one person can supply. He worked through times and phases of joy, tragedy; whole seasons of busy-ness, often creating sacred spaces, and living through at least one period within The Episcopal Church when for several years nothing you could say from this pulpit would quell the controversy at hand.

That’s not to say his work was thankless. He had a great relationship with a smart, dedicated, capable staff; A Vestry that knows what it’s doing; And people passionate about the various ministries God in Christ has given you.

So you should hear that within the first week of his retirement, Steve is really doing okay. He’s in that place of mixed emotions that many people in this room occupy right now. But he’s okay – he’s good – he’s been signed up for interim work at St. Paul’s, Leavenworth, and I completely expect him to knock it out of the park. He will keep working hard, which, as you know, is where he finds his bliss. And so as he goes, Steve is wished every form of gratitude and happiness and love.

Which leaves you wherever it is that you currently are: May I say? In my view? A Cathedral that’s working hard, serving, loving, worshiping God. And, just at this time, looking through a bit of a hazy fog toward the future, A little like Nicodemus.

As that unfolds, know that this week your Vestry will interview a candidate to become the Interim Dean.

For just now, that person’s name is a matter of confidentiality, but know that I am personally very excited about this candidate, and I believe it’s someone who can lead this congregation through a necessary period of self-exploration, and vision-making, and identity work on the way to finding the next Dean for Grace Cathedral.

For a while, it may feel a little like hanging out in the wilderness. You need an experienced wilderness guide – a strong and wise interim priest – and a firm, committed, transparent, and open-minded Vestry. You already have the latter; the possibility before you represents the opportunity to have them both.

Still, change is never easy. Conversion to a new way of thinking takes time. Unplugging old assumptions, learning to live with new paradigms and personalities, takes time; it actually requires us to make a certain amount of mistakes and missteps so that we can demonstrate our care for each other when we mess up, which we most certainly have done and will keep doing. Listening and caring and kindness and being good to each other take time. To the casual onlooker, it might even appear to be unnecessarily inefficient or imperfect. learning to trust in the actions of the Holy Spirit requires patience, and fresh eyes. But as Paul tells us in Galatians, when we learn to trust that same Spirit, there is abundant “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

You can hear the need for the time and space for conversion today. It’s on us, and it’s between the lines of this passage from John, in the wrestling match between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is genuinely struggling to understand what it means to truly follow God with all of one’s self, and not merely perform the law. And you can hear the frustration and worry in Jesus’ voice as he schools Nicodemus: This guy isn’t getting it … Or is he?

Jesus does successfully open Nicodemus’s mind, but it takes some doing. We know that because later in John’s Gospel we continue to see him. He shows up. He’s the proof in the proverbial pudding. He speaks in support of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, reminding them that Jesus has a right to be heard, When everyone else is fed up and ready to be done with him. And, he shows up after Jesus’ crucifixion, bearing in his arms a hundred pounds’ worth of myrrh and aloe to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. And he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, put the body in the tomb. Nicodemus begins as a curious inquirer, and ends up as a faithful disciple.

Did he get what he needed? Time to be converted to a new way of thinking? In his own way and space and method? Without a doubt, somehow, yes.

I imagine that when the word got to Nicodemus that the body of Jesus could not be found, and later on, that he had risen from the grave, that he was not bitter about having wasted a year’s salary on myrrh and aloe. I imagine that he clapped his hands and danced and laughed and praised the Living Lord.

What we don’t see is what happened between the time he spoke to Jesus at night and the time he started showing up and demonstrating concern for Jesus’ cause. Did he tear his hair out and stomp and bargain with God? Did he diligently search the Scriptures to understand what Jesus was up to? Did he speak to his friends to get some new insight, or did he speak to his friends and suffer insults and slights? Did he look at his checkbook and wonder if he could afford to follow Jesus? Or did he simply turn the matter over to a force he understood to be greater than himself, until finally he stood on his roof and shivered in the dark and looked at the bright orange moon and had a sense of what he had to do? There is no one exact metaphor or set of words to adequately describe what happened to him.

Just as there is no one exact metaphor or set of words for what lies behind or ahead of this parish. And there is no such thing as an X-ray machine for a congregation, or some secret formula to tell you exactly what people are thinking.

What is before this congregation is, to say it roughly, a sometimes shifting landscape – a wilderness, if you will, as I hinted before.

But do let me offer this small invitation to the adventure that is ahead of you …

I was still wet behind the ears and reeking of earnest enthusiasm when I was assigned to a parish on the western slope of Colorado, in Glenwood Springs.

And on my first day, the first person who came to meet me was Violet Mooney. She shook my hand and said, “We are thrilled that you are here, Father. I’m with the B Group .”

The B Group? I searched my mental database of church lingo, came up empty. I started to confess my ignorance, but she already had the punchline: “I B here before you got here, I B here while you’re here, and I B here after you’re gone.”

And, you know, a small part of me objected, but even at the time I had to admit: she had a fair point. She saw the institution of the priesthood as a respectable and necessary component, but not the be-all, end-all of the church. In the years she had taken to become converted, she had come to know how much she was loved by God and how much she loved the world through Christ, and she could say clearly what mattered most.

We needed more of that then, and we still do now, Both on the west slope of Colorado and in Topeka: We need people who are inclined to the long view, yet who are also able to love fiercely in the moment, no matter who’s wearing the collar.

Somewhere in her life there’s a story about taking ownership in the things of the church, planting the flag, getting skin in the game, showing up, loving the people.

Thanks be to God for the B Group.

And I’ll bet you there are a lot of Violets in the pews today; is that ever a good thing. God sees that and blesses it. The tenacity. The dedication. The love that drives you. Thank you.

And if you’re newer, a little unsure, looking for a ministry to be a part of, give yourself some time to work it out, and then jump in: This is God’s church, but you manifest it.

That day that Violet shook my hand and introduced herself? That was a dozen years ago. And that congregation is a few more priests down the road beyond me.

We still get letters from her. And I thought to check the other day. Now in her mid-nineties, Violet is on the Vestry again. She’s in, all the way. And that’s a good place to be.

So do not fear. Only believe. Give yourself time. God is with this church this day, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to stir up the next generation of servants for Christ, and to walk with each of us every day.

Thanks be to God. Amen.