Proper 23 Manuscript - Year A 10/15/23
Postulant Brandon Smee
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was a boy who lived in a far-off country which had grown just
wealthy enough to invest in science. So, he learned about carbon. Science
lessons typically passed him by like Boy Scouts, leaving no trace. But not
carbon: atomic number 6, symbol C, capable of up to four covalent bonds.
As the PowerPoint said, carbon didn’t come from just anywhere; it was
made in the hearts of stars. There, supercharged alpha particles zipped
around so fast that three of them could collide in a window so short the
blink of an eye would seem an eon by comparison. In that collision, carbon
was born. The stars seeded the galaxy with it, including the little cloud that
formed Earth, where it became diamonds, pencils, and the fundamental
building block of life.
The boy’s mind exploded: every living thing was carbon! That meant
everyone came from stars. The galaxies were his grandparents and
everybody his cousins. This epiphany grasped his imagination, then his
words, actions, and habits, until it was simply him. Carbon just kept
nudging him, pointing him through tough spots.
And there were tough spots. Over time, the economy faltered. The
lowlands flooded. The highlands burned. The skies and seas were choked.
Fear was epidemic, and the people empowered those who frightened them
most, a power felt first as a rumor, then as a presence, and then as the
absence of dissent.
So, one night, the boy, now grown, heard pounding on his door. He
found a breathless, wide-eyed young man pleading, “I heard you help
people.” Sharp voices approached. Fear struck, thick and sudden. But he
looked up through a passing break in the clouds to a single star. He brought
him in but didn’t foresee the consequences since, in time, helping a
stranger led to aiding countless more, a single rebellion against fear to
everyday resistance, and one star-blessed offer of brotherhood to a
boundless, revolutionary kinship. He was there when they filled the streets
as dense and bonded as carbon and the soldiers laid down their guns. When
the fireworks cleared, he looked up again to the stars. They seemed to sing
over everyone everywhere, “Behold, our children, our beloved, in whom we
Elsewhere, there was a mother who bore a daughter, and holding her,
she looked into her searching eyes and said, without reservation, “I love
you.” And she gave her everything. Day by day, she fed her and changed
her. She washed and dressed her even when she struggled, and she
comforted her when she cried out in the night’s most lonesome hours.
Resolving to give her a good life, she released the dreams she’d held since
girlhood to free her hands. She worked until her daughter lacked almost
nothing. But the daughter watched the years wear her mother down until
she who’d been so tall, full, and present seemed distant and small. At the
edge of adulthood, she vowed to transcend the woman who raised her.
So she went to college and, graduating, took a job at which she
excelled. She found a partner, and together they raised a family. The years
were happy, and she lacked almost nothing. But then she sent her eldest to
college, and soon the others, and with the children gone, she and her
partner found they’d grown different, too different to continue. So she
worked until no work could be found and retired to an empty home, and,
one night, washing dishes, she saw her reflection in the window and
thought of her mother.
Not long after, she got a call. Her mother was sick and wouldn’t get
better, so she took her in. It was awkward – yet as natural as breathing.
They laughed, fought, and cried together. But eventually, laughter yielded
to fighting and fighting to crying and crying to groans too deep for words.
As the illness advanced, the daughter resolved to give her mother a good
life. And she gave her everything. Day by day, she fed her and changed her.
She washed and dressed her, even when she struggled. She comforted her
when she cried out in the night’s most lonesome hours. And at the last, as
she held her, the daughter looked into her mother’s searching eyes and
said, without reservation, “I love you.”
You can trace these stories to an ancient source. For ages ago, the
wise told of a Father and a Son and their Love. They had no records from
before their Love, nor evidence it ended. They found no way to measure it
since time couldn’t endure it, and space would shatter trying to hold it. It
seemed their Love was before both and was thus the source of everything.
And they debated sharply since if Love was truly from forever, then it
wasn’t something the Father or the Son adopted or produced. But, ever as
they lived, they were being love, and where the life of their being embraced,
Love too was alive. And the wise who entered in found that it was so, and
they confessed the Father, the Son, and the Living Love and Love itself as
the history of everything.
But this story branched into various versions. In one, the Father is the
hope of a woman who hears the word of the Living Love and enters the
shadow of its joy so boldly she bears the Son through sheer love alone, and
when she loses him, she cries the word spoken through angels and
prophets, and her hope gives birth to life. In another, the Father is the
liberation a young man fights for until he’s captured and hung up to die,
and the Living Love is the freedom he glimpses in the Son dying beside him
and, praying the Son to free him in memory, they both that day are freed.
And recently, the Father is an unsearchable darkness over a trembling
world, the Living Love a voice calling its people, and the Son the kernel and
fruit of their toil, and as the people lift up the bread and wine of their lives,
they are lifted into the Father and behold not the fear of darkness but its
All this brings us back to the story Fr. Sean read just minutes ago, the
story Jesus told. It’s terrifying. Jesus portrays the kingdom of heaven as a
raging, enslaving king who kills and destroys any who deny him, a tyrant
who doesn’t neglect to punish a choice of clothing. If this is what heaven’s
like, do I want to go? I could get to the throne, realize I left my pants on
earth, and be tossed by an angel into the outer darkness.
But there’s another way to hear this story. If you discover the origin of
carbon, or journey with a parent and child, or fathom the endless depths of
the Living Love, you’ll see that the terrifying king in Jesus’s story is a father.
His law is loving his son. Preparing a celebration for him, he welcomes
everyone who’d join but reproves anyone who spits on his child. So what
would this king do should someone come to his son’s wedding reception
wearing business attire to sell the king shares, or fatigues to wage his wars,
or holy vestments to be appointed his chief priest? He’d banish them. It’s
not about honor; it’s not about edicts and rules. The king wants one thing:
that everyone enter into his love.
Like a tangent touches a circle in just one spot, the gospel touches this
parable precisely where a parent loves a child. What makes heaven’s reign
unlike any other is the love at its center. There, we find our Lord Jesus
Christ, within his Father’s glory and the Holy Spirit’s embrace. And down
here, when the Virgin gave birth to her son, the Three-in-One invited
everything into the primordial story of love. This parable tells part of that
story: the wideness of love’s invitation and its surprising ferocity toward
those who reject it. You could endlessly adapt the story, telling it through a
kaleidoscope of human lives, but only Jesus, with this parable and divine
power, could transform the eternal story into an invitation we must accept
Jesus invites everything to enter where the Holy Spirit abides, within
the story of Father and Son. Their love echoes in every story worth telling,
whether we narrate the interplay of star and carbon, mother and daughter,
lover and beloved, or the immeasurable web of creation and us. Even so,
Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Despite love’s
unbounded invitation, we can pursue other narratives. For money, fame,
pleasure, or power, we can carve our resentment on obelisks of stone and
produce feature-length projections of our heroism, or that of our family,
church, nation, race, or pet ideologies, as if to replace the eternal story with
self-gratifying fan-fiction, as if to conquer all worlds with fabrications more
compelling than Reality itself. No, the one word of God in Christ Jesus is
love. Everything else is just shadows cast on a fading world before the
dawn. But love remains, the love of the children of God. Will we enter the
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